BEING THE FRAGRANCE OF CHRIST
2 Corinthians 2:14-17
1. Fragrances enrich life and influence actions.
a. In fact, various aromas so impact us that the mention of one may cause us to smell it in our minds: think of a rose, or rolls in the oven, or a ball glove.
b. No doubt the experience of all kinds of scents and odors, pleasant and unpleasant, was even more pronounced in the world of the New Testament.
c. It is said that in even earlier times some considered smell as something charged with energy, supposing it to contain a life-giving force. (NIDNTT, 3, 599)
2. It is not surprising, then, that an aroma and a fragrance might serve as a fitting illustration of the impact of the gospel of Christ in the world.
a. 2 Corinthians 2:14-17
b. What does Christ smell like? How do we go about leaving that fragrance in the community? What impact can we expect it to have?
c. The answers to these questions had huge implications for Paul--and they must for us!
1. Thanks Replaces Unrest
a. Our text marks a definite and abrupt change of tone in this letter. Up to this point the distress that burdens a person beyond his strength has been apparent.
i. The themes running in the background have been affliction, changed plans about the timing of a visit to Corinth, and insinuations regarding the apostle’s integrity.
ii. By sending Titus to them with a letter, he had tried to address a painful situation that had developed among them and he was anxiously seeking news of whether it had been resolved.
iii. Paul had grown so deeply concerned over the well-being of the church at Corinth and the health of their relationship with him that his spirit could not rest and he could not take advantage of doors open for the gospel.
iv. The reason appears to have been that he was “not ignorant of” Satan’s “designs” (v. 11).
(1) Our enemy can take advantage of circumstances like these to sow seeds of doubt, discord and distrust.
(2) The authority of the apostle could be discounted and a root of bitterness could develop that would allow an atmosphere of division to prevail.
(3) That would make the congregation at Corinth smell like a fraud for a generation, and it would hinder every effort to take the gospel to that entire part of the world.
v. So the apostle had determined his only hope for relief was to head off into Macedonia to find Titus. After all, a man cannot do positive things when his mind is overwhelmed with negative things that might happen.
b. That is when the phrase from our text that re-frames the discussion bursts upon the horizon: “But thanks be to God!”
i. This need not be taken as an off-the-subject intrusion into the line of thought.
(1) The Corinthians would have known what we do not learn until verse five of chapter seven: Titus had come to Paul with news that relieved his anxiety and let him rejoice.
(2) Paul could not write about that moment without engaging in some valuable reflection on the nature of ministry.
ii. The picture that emerges is so realistic and meaningful: those who serve experience things which are beyond their strength but God sustains them.
iii. What our text says, then, allows a spirit of thankfulness to be the predominant tone in our ministry even though we all pass through seasons of distress.
2. God Leads In Triumph
a. The truth that transforms everything, the fact for which Paul expressed grateful praise, is that in Christ God “leads us in triumphal procession.”
i. The only other use of this term occurs in Colossians 2:15 where it refers to what Christ did with the rulers and authorities he had already disarmed. He made a show of them by triumphing over them.
ii. In the environment of the New Testament the word meant the triumphal procession of a ruler, with his defeated enemies on display, his victorious army following behind, and censers carried along spreading a glorious perfume. (TNIDNTT, 1, 649)
iii. A Roman triumphal procession was an especially elaborate and memorable affair.
(1) A parade up to the Capitol with a victorious general as the central figure was an honor that could be granted only by the Roman senate in keeping with very strict rules.
(2) The magistrates led the procession, followed by the senate, trumpeters heralding what was to come, spoils captured from the enemy, a white bull to be sacrificed to Jupiter, the principal captives in chains, impressive flags and banners, the victorious general himself in a four horse chariot and wearing the dress of a king--including scepter and crown, followed finally by his conquering army shouting out their triumph..
(3) When he at last reached the Capitol, the general placed a laurel wreath on the lap of the god. What a spectacle such a thing must have been! (ZPEB, 5, )
b. The way things had turned out at Corinth reminded Paul that something like that is always in progress as the gospel moves through the world.
i. God is leading a triumphal procession in which Christ is being honored as the conqueror. Those whom he has disarmed are on display. Soldiers of Christ follow along proclaiming the victory.
ii. They pass through battles and known their weaknesses, but God still makes something of their ministry.
iii. He is “always” and “everywhere” leading his people in triumph, whether the circumstances make them feel that way at the moment or not.
3. Triumph Spreads A Fragrance
a. When a triumphal procession occurred, it had an impact on everybody around because of its aroma.
i. Censers with sweet-smelling incense burning in them were carried before the victorious general and flowers were strewn along the way.
ii. All along the route the fragrance spread over the spectators as well as everybody in the procession, slave or soldier. (Kruse, 86)
iii. No one could ignore the smell.
b. The fragrance we spread comes from our being part of the triumph, not from our trying to produce a fragrance. God spreads it by leading the procession.
i. The Christ who gave himself as a fragrant offering to God is the source of it (Eph. 5:2).
ii. We who are “in Christ” and “of Christ” are the aroma by which the benefits of his loving sacrifice are made known.
iii. The of knowledge of him is the fragrance that pervades the community, always leaving some kind of impression of him.
4. The Fragrance Draws A Reaction
a. The fragrance that descended all around a triumphal procession would not have struck everybody the same way.
i. What the aroma meant to a person would have depended on how that person stood in relation to the one whose victory was being celebrated.
ii. To his soldiers and his countrymen, the celebratory fragrance would have been the sweet smell of joy.
iii. But to those who were being led captive and were about to be enslaved or killed, it was the objectionable odor of doom.
b. The knowledge of Christ is that way, too. It strikes people according to where they are headed in relation to God.
i. The very same aroma goes out among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, but it has very different impacts.
ii. To those who are perishing, the proclamation of the gospel smells like death and confirms them in their own death in trespasses and sins.
iii. But to those who are being saved, the proclamation of Christ is the fragrance of life that refreshes them and encourages their living hope.
iv. The power is in the gospel which divides men and calls for a decision from them. It is never proclaimed in vain.
v. It is not merely a scent which leaves a passing whiff of influence; it is an aroma that reveals hearts and impacts destinies.
5. Who Is Sufficient For These Things? With so much at stake, we may well wonder who is up to such a responsibility. Paul’s answer is essentially, “We are, because our sufficiency is from God. He is the one who spreads the fragrance through us” (cf. 3:5; 2:14). But he also clearly indicates that, unlike so many, we must cooperate with God in some important ways.
a. We will be sufficient if we are real in our purpose.
i. Our task is to smell like Christ “to God,” and only then can we be the aroma of him “among people” (v. 14).
ii. We have to realize that being the fragrance of Christ and pleasing everybody are two very different things.
(1) We are called to be the first, not to do the second.
(2) Not all have ever liked how Christ smells; not everyone will now.
iii. This has always been a crucial point wherever the church has had to be itself in a worldly setting (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23-24).
b. We will be sufficient if we are genuine in our spirit (v. 17).
i. We cannot merely be using spiritual things to get the best deal we can for ourselves and smell like the Christ who came to do the Father’s will.
ii. We must handle God’s word honorably, sincerely seeking to act and speak according to what he wants us to do, not like peddlers.
iii. Being the fragrance of Christ means living honestly in the sight of God and being prepared to give an account to him.
c. We will be sufficient if we are true in our lives.
i. As the aroma of Christ, our moral conduct is to be proper among those who belong to him (Eph. 5:2-5).
ii. A fragrant offering that pleases God is made when we work and worship together as his people (Phil. 4:18; Heb. 13:15-16).
iii. A thoughtful, kind deed by one person might fill a whole house with the fragrance of the love of Christ (Jn. 12:3).
1. What is your favorite aroma in the whole world? What fragrance pleases you most?
2. For God, the answer is what he smells when people come to him through the gospel and then live in a manner worthy of it.
3. He wants to spread that lovely fragrance through the whole world, and he will use us to do just that if we will cooperate with him.