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2 Corinthians 2:16

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

To the one we are the savour of death unto death - There are several sayings among the ancient Jewish writers similar to this. In Debarim Rabba, sec. i. fol. 248, it is said: "As the bee brings home honey to its owner, but stings others; so it is with the words of the law;" לישראל חיים סם sam chaiyim leyisrael, "They are a savour of lives to the Israelites:" העולם לאומות המות וסם vesam hammaveth leomoth haolam, "And a savour of death to the people of this world." The learned reader may see much more to this effect in Schoettgen. The apostle's meaning is plain: those who believe and receive the Gospel are saved; those who reject it, perish. The meaning of the rabbins is not less plain: the Israelites received the law and the prophets as from God, and thus possessed the means of salvation; the Gentiles ridiculed and despised them, and thus continued in the path of death. The same happens to the present day to those who receive and to those who reject the Gospel: it is the means of salvation to the former, it is the means of destruction to the latter; for they are not only not saved because they do not believe the Gospel, but they are condemned because they reject it. For how can they escape who neglect so great a salvation? The sun which nourishes the tree that is planted in a good soil, decomposes and destroys it if plucked up and laid on the surface.

That the saved, σωζομενοι, and they that perish, απολλυμενοι, mean those who receive and obey the Gospel, and those who reject it and live and die in sin, needs no proof. No other kinds of reprobate and elect, in reference to the eternal world, are known in the Book of God, though they abound in the books of men. The Jews were possessed with such an exalted opinion of their own excellence that they imagined that all the love and mercy of God were concentrated among themselves, and that God never would extend his grace to the Gentiles.

Such sentiments may become Jews but when we find some Gentiles arrogating to themselves all the salvation of God, and endeavoring to prove that he has excluded the major part even of their own world - the Gentiles, from the possibility of obtaining mercy; and that God has made an eternal purpose, that the death of Christ shall never avail them, and that no saving grace shall ever be granted to them, and that they shall infallibly and eternally perish; what shall we say to such things? It is Judaism in its worst shape: Judaism with innumerable deteriorations. The propagators of such systems must answer for them to God.

Who is sufficient for these things? - Is it the false apostle that has been labouring to pervert you? Or, is it the men to whom God has given an extraordinary commission, and sealed it by the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost? That this is the apostle's meaning is evident from the following verse.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

To the one - To those who perish.

We are the savour of death unto death - We are the occasion of deepening their condemnation, and of sinking them lower into ruin. The expression used here means literally, “to the one class we bear a death-conveying odor leading to their death” - a savor, a smell which, under the circumstances, is destructive to life, and which leads to death. Mr. Locke renders this: “To the one my preaching is of ill savor, unacceptable and offensive, by their rejecting whereof they draw death on themselves.” Grateful as their labors were to God, and acceptable as would be their efforts, whatever might be the results, yet Paul could not be ignorant that the gospel would in fact be the means of greater condemnation to many; see the notes on 2 Corinthians 2:15. It was indeed by their own fault; yet wherever the gospel was preached, it would to many have this result. It is probable that the language here used is borrowed from similar expressions which were common among the Jews. Thus, in Debarim Rabba, sec. 1, fol. 248, it is said, “As the bee brings home honey to the owner, but stings others, so it is with the words of the Law.” “They (the words of the Law) are a savor of life to Israel, but a savor of death to the people of this world.”

Thus, in Taarieth, fol. 7,1, “Whoever gives attention to the Law on account of the Law itself, to him it becomes an aromatic of life (סם חיים cam chayiym), but to him who does not attend to the Law on account of the Law itself, to him it becomes an aromatic of death (סם מות cam mowt) “ - the idea of which is, that as medicines skillfully applied will heal, but if unskillfully applied will aggravate a disease, so it is with the words of the Law. Again, “The word of the Law which proceeds out of the mouth of God is an odor of life to the Israelites, but an odor of death to the Gentiles;” see Rosenmuller, and Bloomfield. The sense of the passage is plain, that the gospel, by the willful rejection of it, becomes the means of the increased guilt and condemnation of many of those who hear it.

And to the other - To those who embrace it, and are saved.

The savor of life - An odor, or fragrance producing life, or tending to life. It is a living, or life-giving savor. it is in itself grateful and pleasant.

Unto life - Tending to life; or adapted to produce life. The word “life” here, as often elsewhere, is used to denote salvation. It is:

(1)Life in opposition to the death in sin in which all are by nature;

(2)In opposition to death in the grave - as it leads to a glorious resurrection;

(3)In opposition to eternal death; to the second dying, as it leads to life and peace and joy in heaven; see the words “life” and “death” explained in the notes on Romans 6:23. The gospel is “the savor of life unto life,” because:

(a)It is its nature and tendency to produce life and salvation. It is adapted to that; and is designed to that end.

(b)Because it actually results in the life and salvation of those who embrace it. It is the immediate and direct cause of their salvation; of their recovery from sin; of their glorious resurrection; of their eternal life in heaven.

And who is sufficient for these things? - For the arduous and responsible work of the ministry; for a work whose influence must be felt either in the eternal salvation, or the eternal ruin of the soul. Who is worthy of so important a charge? Who can undertake it without trembling? Who can engage in it without feeling that he is in himself unfit for it, and that he needs constant divine grace? This is an exclamation which anyone may well make in view of the responsibilites of the work of the ministry. And we may remark:

(1) If Paul felt this, assuredly others should feel it also. If, With all the divine assistance which he had; all the proofs of the unique presence of God, and all the mighty miraculous powers conferred on him, Paul had such a sense of unfitness for this great work, then a consciousness of unfitness, and a deep sense of responsibility, may well rest on all others.

(2) it was this sense of the responsibility of the ministry which contributed much to Paul‘s success. It was a conviction that the results of his work must be seen in the joys of heaven, or the woes of hell, that led him to look to God for aid, and to devote himself so entirely to his great work. People will not feel much concern unless they have a deep sense of the magnitude and responsibility of their work. People who feel as they should about the ministry will look to God for aid, and will feel that he alone can sustain them in their arduous duties.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
A believer's triumphs are all in Christ. To him be the praise and glory of all, while the success of the gospel is a good reason for a Christian's joy and rejoicing. In ancient triumphs, abundance of perfumes and sweet odours were used; so the name and salvation of Jesus, as ointment poured out, was a sweet savour diffused in every place. Unto some, the gospel is a savour of death unto death. They reject it to their ruin. Unto others, the gospel is a savour of life unto life: 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. Observe the awful impressions this matter made upon the apostle, and should also make upon us. The work is great, and of ourselves we have no strength at all; all our sufficiency is of God. But what we do in religion, unless it is done in sincerity, as in the sight of God, is not of God, does not come from him, and will not reach to him. May we carefully watch ourselves in this matter; and seek the testimony of our consciences, under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, that as of sincerity, so speak we in Christ and of Christ.
Ellen G. White
Evangelism, 631

Meek and Lowly in Heart—The value of our work does not consist in making a loud noise in the world, in being zealous, eager, and active in our own strength. The value of our work is in proportion to the impartation of the Holy Spirit. The value of our work comes through trust in God, which brings holier qualities of mind, so that in patience we may possess our souls. We should continually pray to God to increase our strength, to make us strong in His strength, to kindle in our hearts the flame of divine love. The cause of God is best advanced by those who are meek and lowly in heart.—Manuscript 38, 1895. Ev 631.1

God's Work, Not Ours—Now, here is the very thing that we want to understand, that it is not our work but God's work, and we are only instruments in His hands to accomplish it. We want to seek the Lord with all our hearts, and the Lord will work for us.—The Review and Herald, May 10, 1887. Ev 631.2

Sacrifice at Every Step—We are nearing the end of this earth's history, and the different departments of God's work are to be carried forward with much more self-sacrifice than has yet been practiced. The work for these last days is a missionary work. Present truth, from the first to the last letter of its alphabet, means missionary effort. The work to be done calls for sacrifice at every step of advance. The workers are to come forth from trial, purified and refined, as gold tried in the fire.—The Review and Herald, November 18, 1902. Ev 631.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 144-5

There needs to be an elevating, uplifting power, a constant growth in the knowledge of God and the truth, on the part of one who is seeking the salvation of souls. If the minister utters words drawn from the living oracles of God; if he believes in and expects the cooperation of Christ, whose servant he is; if he hides self and exalts Jesus, the world's Redeemer; his words will reach the hearts of his hearers, and his work will bear the divine credentials. The Holy Spirit must be the living agency to convince of sin. The divine agent presents to the speaker the benefits of the sacrifice made upon the cross; and as the truth is brought in contact with the souls present, Christ wins them to Himself, and works to transform their nature. He is ready to help our infirmities, to teach, to lead, to inspire us with ideas that are of heavenly birth. TM 144.1

How little can men do in the work of saving souls, and yet how much through Christ if they are imbued with His spirit! The human teacher cannot read the hearts of his hearers, but Jesus dispenses the grace that every soul needs. He understands the capabilities of man, his weakness, and his strength. The Lord is working on the human heart, and a minister can be to the souls who are listening to his words a savor of death unto death, turning them away from Christ; or, if he is consecrated, devotional, distrustful of self, but looking unto Jesus, he may be a savor of life unto life to souls who are already under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, and in whose hearts the Lord is preparing the way for the messages which He has given to the human agent. Thus the heart of the unbeliever is touched, and it responds to the message of truth. “Ye are laborers together with God.” The convictions implanted in the heart, and the enlightenment of the understanding by the entrance of the word, work in perfect harmony. The truth brought before the mind has power to arouse the dormant energies of the soul. The Spirit of God working in the heart cooperates with the working of God through His human instrumentalities. When ministers realize the necessity of thorough reformation in themselves, when they feel that they must reach a higher standard, their influence upon the churches will be uplifting and refining. TM 144.2

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, 322

To many, education means a knowledge of books; but “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The true object of education is to restore the image of God in the soul. The first and most precious knowledge is the knowledge of Christ; and wise parents will keep this fact ever before the minds of their children. Should a limb be broken or fractured, parents will try every means that love or wisdom can suggest to restore the affected member to comeliness and soundness. This is right; it is their duty. But the Lord requires that still greater tact, patience, and persevering effort be employed to remedy blemishes of the soul. That father is unworthy of the name who is not to his children a Christian teacher, ruler, and friend, binding them to his heart by the strong ties of sanctified love—a love which has its foundation in duty faithfully performed. 5T 322.1

Parents have a great and responsible work to do, and they may well inquire: “Who is sufficient for these things?” But God has promised to give wisdom to those that ask in faith, and He will do just as He said He would. He is pleased with the faith that takes Him at His word. The mother of Augustine prayed for her son's conversion. She saw no evidence that the Spirit of God was impressing his heart, but she was not discouraged. She laid her finger upon the texts, presenting before God His own words, and pleaded as only a mother can. Her deep humiliation, her earnest importunities, her unwavering faith, prevailed, and the Lord gave her the desire of her heart. Today He is just as ready to listen to the petitions of His people. His “hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear;” and if Christian parents seek Him earnestly, He will fill their mouths with arguments, and for His name's sake will work mightily in their behalf in the conversion of their children. 5T 322.2

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Ellen G. White
Selected Messages Book 1, 163

Dwell upon the lessons that Christ dwelt upon. Present them to the people as He presented them. Dwell upon questions that concern our eternal welfare. Anything that the enemy can devise to divert the mind from God's Word, anything new and strange that he can originate to create a diversity of sentiment, he will introduce as something wonderfully important. But those things that we cannot clearly comprehend are not a tenth as important to us as are the truths of God's Word that we can clearly comprehend and bring into our daily life. We are to teach the people the lessons that Christ brought into His teachings from the Old Testament Scriptures. The language of divine truth is exceedingly plain.—Letter 16, 1903. 1SM 163.1

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