In the charismatic and house church movements that I grew up in (as a Christian) Paul's first letter to the Corinthians was required reading. It covered the gifts of the Spirit, the age to come, the functioning of the church, body-ministry, apostolic authority etc. (Funnily enough, I don’t remember hearing much from the thirteenth chapter). Paul's second letter to the Corinthians was often left in the shadows. But over the years this letter has grown to be a favourite of mine. And more recently it's message has resonated more than ever.
Here of course we have the reference to the new creation (5:17). And to the new covenant and its promise of glorious transformation by the Spirit (chp 3). And there we find a verse that was much quoted among us:
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Cor. 2:14)
The idea of the victorious church, the triumphant gospel, and the glorious advance of the kingdom has been the bread and butter of the restorationist movement. And I believe it. And it's a welcome corrective to a negative and defeatist spirituality. But if we misunderstand it or see only its surface meaning, it can do more harm than good. For in this letter we also see Paul at his most transparent, where he admits to getting to the point where he despaired almost of life itself (1:8-9). And where he speaks honestly about the glory of this message, power and new life being placed in fragile clay pots (4:7). We are moved by the strange beauty of the passage about power made perfect in weakness (chp.12). And impressed by how the claims and assertions of the super-apostles are met with the meekness and gentleness of Christ, which have the greater power (10:1f).
This juxtaposition of power and weakness, of triumph and trial, of death and life so evident in this letter is so important for understanding the gospel, this life and salvation, this kingdom we have received. Otherwise our faith and hope in power, triumph and resurrection become empty triumphalism. One problem with triumphalism is that it hinders the healing journey in that it breeds unreality and denial, a lack of honesty and transparency with ourselves and each other - and reality and authenticity are essential for the healing journey. But what is worse, it denies the essential truth of this gospel of the kingdom. Jesus won through a cross. The glory came through suffering. This is what makes the fragrance so sweet. And this is why the recurring theme of this blog is that at the heart of this different kingdom is a cross. It helps with the healing too. I'd encourage you to re-read 2 Corinthians.