Paul is writing from the Greek province of Macedonia to the Corinthians in the Greek province of Achia in the fall of 56 AD. After a three-year stay in Ephesus Paul had fled from the riot against his teaching instigated by the guild of silversmiths. He escaped north through the city of Troas into Macedonia hoping to meet Titus whom Paul had sent to the church of Corinth with a strong letter of criticism (a letter sent between First and Second Corinthians, 2 Cor.7:8, 2:3-4) intended to resolve conflicts and tensions between Paul and the leadership in the Corinthian church. While he passed through Troas (ancient Troy) Paul found the people of Troas were open to the Gospel, but Paul felt pressed from behind after fleeing Ephesus and anxiety before him concerning Titus’ safety and success in Corinth, so he did not stay in Troas, but kept moving towards Corinth hoping to meet Titus.
“When I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia.”
– 2 Corinthians 2:12-13
The pressure and the anxiety that Paul was running from and rushing towards may not sound like a life of faith that celebrates the victorious life of Christ, so Paul explains it this way: He is a captive in Jesus Christ’s triumphal procession and in this march of victory Jesus is using his “captives” to spread the knowledge of the gospel everywhere they are driven:
“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.”
– 2 Corinthians 2:14
A Roman triumphal procession was a civil and religious ceremony celebrating the military success of a Roman general returning from a foreign land after having secured dominance over a foreign people. The victorious general would return to the city of Rome in a procession displaying his spoils of war, which included exotic flora and fauna from the conquered land along with samples of the enemy’s weapons and insignia. The conquered leaders, their troops and the people on their way to a slave auction or the arena would be next. Then following the plundered people would be the decorated general and his troops.
Paul sees himself (1 Cor. 4:9) being lead through life by his conqueror, Jesus Christ, “to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.” The spiritual aroma is the knowledge and information that Paul was introducing and teaching in the Gentile cities. The Gentile response to this “aroma” of knowledge went in two directions: come rejected it and some accepted it. Some supported it and others opposed it violently, but their response did not alter the message Paul had been given.
Independent of the Gentile response Paul stayed true to the message he was given. Even though many Gentiles (and, Jews) rejected the message and acted hatefully, Paul did not waiver. Paul continued to realize he was sent by God with a message and he stayed true to his calling and to his message. Paul says that others altered the message and began to use their opportunity to present the “aroma” of the knowledge of Christ as a means to profit financially. Paul refused to “peddle the word of God for profit (kapeleuo).”
“Unlike so many, we do not peddle (kapeleuo) the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.”
– 2 Corinthians 2:17