After these directions concerning the excommunicated person the apostle makes a long digression, to give the Corinthians an account of his travels and labours for the furtherance of the gospel, and what success he had therein, declaring at the same time how much he was concerned for them in their affairs, how he had no rest in his spirit, when he found not Titus at Troas (2 Cor. 2:13), as he expected, from whom he hoped to have understood more perfectly how it fared with them. And we find afterwards (2 Cor. 7:5-7) that when the apostle had come into Macedonia he was comforted by the coming of Titus, and the information he gave him concerning them. So that we may look upon all that we read from this second chapter, 2 Cor. 2:12-7:5; as a kind of parenthesis. Observe here,
I. Paul’s unwearied labour and diligence in his work, 2 Cor. 2:12, 13. He travelled from place to place, to preach the gospel. He went to Troas from Philippi by sea (Acts 20:6), and thence he went to Macedonia; so that he was prevented from passing by Corinth, as he had designed, 2 Cor. 1:16. But, though he was prevented in his design as to the place of working, yet he was unwearied in his work.
II. His success in his work: A great door was opened to him of the Lord, 2 Cor. 2:12. He had a great deal of work to do wherever he came, and had good success in his work; for God made manifest the savour of his knowledge by him in every place where he came. He had an opportunity to open the door of his mouth freely, and God opened the hearts of his hearers, as the heart of Lydia (Acts 16:14), and the apostle speaks of this as a matter of thankfulness to God and of rejoicing to his soul: Thanks be to God, who always causeth us to triumph in Christ. Note, 1. A believer’s triumphs are all in Christ. In ourselves we are weak, and have neither joy nor victory; but in Christ we may rejoice and triumph. 2. True believers have constant cause of triumph in Christ, for they are more than conquerors through him who hath loved them, Rom. 8:37. 3. God causeth them to triumph in Christ. It is God who has given us matter for triumph, and hearts to triumph. To him therefore be the praise and glory of all. 4. The good success of the gospel is a good reason for a Christian’s joy and rejoicing.
III. The comfort that the apostle and his companions in labour found, even when the gospel was not successful to the salvation of some who heard it, 2 Cor. 2:15-17. Here observe,
1. The different success of the gospel, and its different effects upon several sorts of persons to whom it is preached. The success is different; for some are saved by it, while others perish under it. Nor is this to be wondered at, considering the different effects the gospel has. For, (1.) Unto some it is a savour of death unto death. Those who are willingly ignorant, and wilfully obstinate, disrelish the gospel, as men dislike an ill savour, and therefore they are blinded and hardened by it: it stirs up their corruptions, and exasperates their spirits. They reject the gospel, to their ruin, even to spiritual and eternal death. (2.) Unto others the gospel is a savour of life unto life. To humble and gracious souls the preaching of the word is most delightful and profitable. As it is sweeter than honey to the taste, so it is more grateful than the most precious odours to the senses, and much more profitable; for as it quickened them at first, when they were dead in trespasses and sins, so it makes them more lively, and will end in eternal life.
2. The awful impressions this matter made upon the mind of the apostle, and should also make upon our spirits: Who is sufficient for these things? 2 Cor. 2:16. Tis hikanos—who is worthy to be employed in such weighty work, a work of such vast importance, because of so great consequence? Who is able to perform such a difficult work, that requires so much skill and industry? The work is great and our strength is small; yea, of ourselves we have no strength at all; all our sufficiency is of God. Note, If men did seriously consider what great things depend upon the preaching of the gospel, and how difficult the work of the ministry is, they would be very cautious how they enter upon it, and very careful to perform it well.
3. The comfort which the apostle had under this serious consideration, (1.) Because faithful ministers shall be accepted of God, whatever their success be: We are, if faithful, unto God a sweet savour of Christ (2 Cor. 2:15), in those who are saved and in those also who perish. God will accept of sincere intentions, and honest endeavours, though with many they are not successful. Ministers shall be accepted, and recompensed, not according to their success, but according to their fidelity. Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, Isa. 49:5. (2.) Because his conscience witnessed to his faithfulness, 2 Cor. 2:17. Though many did corrupt the word of God, yet the apostle’s conscience witnessed to his fidelity. He did not mix his own notions with the doctrines and institutions of Christ; he durst not add to, nor diminish from, the word of God; he was faithful in dispensing the gospel, as he received it from the Lord, and had no secular turn to serve; his aim was to approve himself to God, remembering that his eye was always upon him; he therefore spoke and acted always as in the sight of God, and therefore in sincerity. Note, What we do in religion is not of God, does not come from God, will not reach to God, unless it be done in sincerity, as in the sight of God.