Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Good King Caractacus

When I was growing up, one of my favorite records (yes that means I’m getting old) from my parent’s collection was one that contained several comedy-type folk songs. I don’t remember who recorded the album but it contained such hits as I’m my own Grandpa and The Court of King Caractacus. Today, we have a video from the Wilds where they perform their own version of the Caractacus song – it’s a riot! The background for the song comes from the Roman custom of parading the spoils of war, including the conquered king, through the streets of Rome. The song pokes fun of all the things that accompanied King Caractacus as he passed by the jeering crowds. It ends with the famous, “Now if you want to take some pictures of the fascinating witches who put the scintillating stiches in the britches of the boys who put the powder on the noses on the faces of the ladies of the harem of the court of King Catactacus...YOU’RE TOO LATE…because he just passed by!” So, even though now I would prefer to listen to Handel, Bach, or even Gilbert & Sullivan for comic relief, I can still appreciate a well-performed King Caractacus.

I was reminded of this ditty by an observation made by Thomas Schreiner in his Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ on 2 Corinthians 2:14. In the KJV, the verse reads as follows: Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. Unfortunately, this translation probably does not reflect the underlying language very well, being unduly influenced, according to Dr. Schreiner, by Calvin’s misunderstanding of the verse. The “triumph” of this verse actually refers to the Roman triumphant procession of conquered enemies but the phrasing in the KJV makes it appear as if Paul shares in that triumph. Calvin didn’t understand how Paul could be the object of that type of procession, and yet the grammar of the passage, according to Dr. Schreiner, does not permit any other option. A better understanding of that passage would be something like But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession...(ESV) or But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display [i.e., in triumphant procession] in Christ...(HCSB) The idea is that Paul has been put on display, like a conquered king in a Roman procession of triumph.

The typical Roman triumphal procession would normally end with the execution of the conquered king. It is interesting that Paul switches metaphors mid-verse to being a sweet-smelling savor. In this part of the verse, Paul pictures himself as a sacrifice that produces a pleasing aroma to God and that aroma also spreads the knowledge of God “everywhere.” Consequently, Paul pictures himself as a former enemy who is now a trophy of God’s conquering work of redemption. His service, which is on display in the form of suffering that leads to death (cf., 1 Cor 4:9-13), was designed by God as the means by which His knowledge would be spread abroad. It is an amazing picture.

Here is what all this means to me. I am used to the idea that I am supposed to be a servant, even a bond-slave, for Christ, but I tend to think of that in terms of being a middle-class American living in relative comfort, if not out-right luxury. I don’t picture myself as a conquered and bound slave paraded before the world. I don’t like the idea of suffering and I especially don’t like the idea of dying. Instead of thanking God for being in that position (as the Apostle Paul did with his, “But thanks be to God…”), I tend to resist it and do whatever I can to reduce my chances of suffering for Christ. For me, this an area in my life where I have to repeat with the disciples – Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.