The Pruning

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“You Think You’re Strong? Then You’re Wrong”: Understanding Paul’s Words in 2 Cor. 2:14-16

In Charlie Kang on February 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm

by Charlie Kang

As famously stated by MC Trebla Kim at winter retreat 2011 (shout outs), those who think they are strong are wrong.  Little did he know that his rap carried such theological depth!  As Christians, there is a great desire for us to declare our strengths by the display of our ability and autonomy.  However, we do better service to Christ when we parade our weaknesses.  Strong people are wrong people.  Weak people are…better.  HAHA.  Paul echoes the sentiments of our very own MC at OMC with his words in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, which state:

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?”

It’s difficult to understand Paul’s words without entering into the world that Paul was writing to.  Let me give you some important historical information in hopes that these facts will make the words come alive and hit you with the force that Paul intended in his writing.  First, we need to figure out what a “triumphal procession” meant to Paul’s 1st century hearers.

The triumphal procession was a parade held by the Roman Senate to honor the victorious Roman general and also to thank the god Jupiter for the war that was won.  This victory parade could last several days and brought great joy to the citizens of Rome as they exclaimed the glories of Rome over other nations.  It functioned much like the Laker parades we experienced in LA when the Lakers won the NBA Finals.  The Laker players would go throughout the city in proclamation of their victory .  Onlookers would join the festivities by coming out onto the street that the parade went through and reveling in the glory of their conquering king, I mean, team.  HAHA.  Not only did it change the mood of the city, but the very smell of Rome was changed as the temples would fill Rome with the smell of incense as thanksgiving offering to their gods.  A triumphal procession brought a parade into the city and filled its people with joy.

What the main spectacle of this procession however, was not the incense or the soldiers, but the captives who marched in the parade.  Those who had lost the war marched to the derision and taunts of the onlookers in total defeat and total surrender to the Roman Empire.  Could you imagine how entertaining the Laker parade would be if the Boston Celtics were forced to march in front of the Laker bus through LA?  That would be one glorious parade.  Anyway, back to 1st century Rome, these captives were marched all the way to the Roman coliseum, where they would soon meet their demise.  The total display of Rome’s power was displayed as the weakness of the captives magnified the strength of the glorious Roman Empire.

This text does not say that we march together hand-in-hand with our Lord Jesus Christ, but states that we march as CAPTIVES being led by Jesus our conquering general!  The purpose of this text in the Bible is to give us this fundamental principle: we display the greatness of Jesus in our weakness.  Paul uses this loaded image of a triumphal procession to remind Christians that it is in weak people, not the strong, that the fragrance of Christ is spread throughout the world.  When we think we are autonomous and put up the front that we’re strong, capable people, we undermine the power and work of Christ and his gospel.  The display of God’s strength doesn’t come when we’re the strong, but His power is made perfect in our weakness. Weakness is our strength because it brings us to the end of ourselves.  Let’s proclaim the greatness of our God in church as we march together as captives of His grace and power.  It is in our weakness that the mercies of Christ shines forth to the nations!  Be weak!

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