Because our Pastor has encouraged us to read our Bibles with a little more involvement, I have been intentionally slowing down the pace with which I travel through the verses of Scripture. I must admit that I’ve been missing some pretty significant stuff.
My most recent encounter is an event in Paul’s life, one that would probably play out much differently today with our current evangelistic strategies. A door had been opened for the gospel in Troas and things were looking really good (2 Corinthians 2:12).
From the way this is worded, the adjoining statement we expect to hear is that Paul sees a great number of people come to faith in Jesus Christ. Instead, what comes next leaves the reader with raised eyebrows. Here is a city ripe and open to the gospel!
So what does Paul do? He leaves! He packs his bags, leaves Troas, and heads for Macedonia. Personally, I’m thinking at this stage it’s time for the Super Apostles to convene and do a little chastising of this man’s ministry! “Have you lost your mind, Paul? The door’s wide open!”
He doesn’t hear my protests… he departs.
We learn that Paul is concerned because Titus hasn’t shown up, so he moves on to find him… away from the open door (much was obviously said of this by the church in Corinth: negatively).
How then did Paul respond to the missed opportunity in Troas? Against my expected reading, he responds in much the same way as he responds to everything that occurs in his life; with absolute optimism. (Huh?)
Read the verses that follow for yourselves. All of a sudden, Paul is in a victory parade! He shouts, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ…”
At this point, I’m thinking “What a failure,” and Paul… he’s setting off fireworks. How can he manufacture this kind of attitude in the face of such discouragement?
Could it be that he believed we play a very small (if any) role in God’s work… that we’re simply vessels as he explains? He goes on to describe how he can be so optimistic even in what looks like a serious Casey-at-the-plate-strikeout… because the aroma of Jesus was left in the air. (Wow!)
“Hey Paul, didn’t they beat you in that city and cast you out-of-town?”
“Yeah, but the aroma of Jesus remains there.”
“Didn’t you leave town before the great revival could break out?”
“Yeah, but the aroma of Jesus was left there.”
“Aren’t they about to kill you for preaching the gospel?”
“Yes they are. Do you smell that pleasant aroma?”
What I’m desperately trying to share here is that the effectiveness of our lives in Christ can’t be judged fairly by what we often deem as profitable evidences. Even further, isn’t it amazing to realize that the Apostle could find such confidence in his simply being an aroma of Christ wherever he journeyed?
It is as though Paul knew without doubt that God is the author and finisher of salvation, and His work couldn’t be thwarted by human choices. Paul had to make a decision. He chose to walk away from an open door and look for his missing friend. But the aroma of Christ went with him… and remained in Troas.
What then is the definition of an effective and competent ministry? At its apex, it must be a ministry that leaves no doubt that Jesus has come near.