The Aroma of Christ

One of the true graces of God is the amazing physical world in which we live. Accordingly, the Lord gives us the senses by which we appreciate that world. Eyes to see the millions of shapes and colors. Ears to hear the whispers and tones. Taste buds to savor the savory.  Yet, perhaps one of the senses taken most for granted is the sense of smell. What wonderful smells fill our world!

Fragrances which remind us of a person; just a whiff of the cologne my father used to wear bathes me in memories.

Scents which draw us back to our childhood remembrances; I remember the smell of the fruity vitamins wafting as I opened the bottle.

Scents which call to mind an era; I can still recall the innocence of childhood wonder as I inhaled the smell of freshly baked bread as I toured the factory in grade school. Aromas which prompt our salivary glands to react.

Paul draws upon this olfactory imagery as metaphor in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17:

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.”

The “consensus” here is that Paul is referring to a triumphal procession of military victory. He has been communicating about some difficulties in Christian ministry. Yet, in the midst of trial, he communicates that we are allowed to walk in a celebratory march of conquest. The picture here is of a Roman victory parade; a “ticker-tape” celebration so-to-speak. The conquering general is in the lead atop his chariot, followed by the victorious army, followed then by the vanquished opposition in shackles and chains. Inserted in this troupe is the ministerial component who swings the censors of fragrant incense; it floats over the procession. We as Christians have the very great privilege to carry this “sweet aroma” of knowledge throughout the world. And, by the way, I don’t believe this imagery needs to be relegated merely to the clergy, but applies to the entire Body of Christ.

That sweet smell filled the nostrils of the victorious as a reminder of that savored position they had – the sweet fragrance of life; yet, that same smell was odorous in the nostrils of the vanquished as it represented their impending doom. It was to them an odor of death. It stunk!

As we Christians walk the aroma wafts over the body of mankind. To those who walk in God’s army the smell is an affirmation of victory in Jesus; to those enslaved it is the dismal indictment that they walk in death.

Yet, who is adequate for these things? Verse 16 reminds us of this humbling task to be in this position of witness – and thus, the following admonition. We are not to be a “huckster” of the knowledge of God. It is not a commodity, it is not a Ponzi scheme; it is not trivial, but the words of eternal life. Therefore, as we witness, we are to do it “as from sincerity”. First, this means we are to be authentic. It had better be real to us, and our walks need to be genuinely devoted to Christ.

Second, “but as from God” communicates that we are appointed by God for this very task; we are divinely commissioned to carry the truth of God – the knowledge of Him everywhere.

Third, we speak “in Christ”; we have the authority of Christ our General to engage in such a charge. And finally, “we speak…in the sight of God.” Our witness is scrutinized in the sight of God, a very high and sober calling indeed.

“Pretty heavy Kelly. And who is adequate for these things?”

Exactly. In our commissioned role as emissaries to this world, both the perishing and the redeemed, we better take it seriously, and we would do well to lean heavily upon God’s Holy Spirit for the strength and wisdom to be the sweet aroma of Christ.