The smell of Christ ∙
For we are a fragrance of Christ to God. – 2 Corinthians 2:15
2 Corinthians 2:14-16
14 But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume.
15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.
16 To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?
Our sense of smell is physically rooted in the olfactory bulb of the brain. It is sometimes referred to as the “emotional brain.” The sense of smell is closely connected with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. A smell can bring on a flood of memories. When a new scent is first encountered the brain often forges a link between the smell and memory. When the same smell is encountered again, the link is already there. The smell may almost instantly elicit a memory of an event, a person, a thing, a mood, or a moment in time.
For example, suppose your mother made her own spaghetti sauce which had a very distinctive fragrance. Decades later, when you smell that aroma, it may conjure up a visible image of your mom cooking her spaghetti sauce. At times in your mind’s eye, you may see her standing before the stove smiling. You may hear her voice. Along with the image comes a flood enduring warm, loving feelings and emotions.
Of course, the images that we connect to aromas with are highly subjective. Some aromas can be lovely and delightful to one person yet distasteful and horrid to another. Suppose the first time he ever smelled a particular lily, it was a beautiful Spring day. The memory of that aroma would be pleasant and uplifting. But if the first time you ever smelled that type of lily was at a funeral, your reaction would be entirely different.
So it is with spiritual aromas.
The ideas in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 are somewhat difficult to understand by themselves, but when set against the background of the images in Paul’s thoughts, they become vivid, pungent pictures (Constable).
Without a doubt the apostle Paul’s intellectual capacity was immense. He could easily handle complex and divergent streams of thought simultaneously. On the one hand, Paul pictures the Father’s children participating in Christ’s triumphal procession (2 Corinthians 2:14).
Triumphal processions were like the Super Bowl. The Roman Triumph was a magnificent event. Roman generals would celebrate their victories with glorious marches into the city of Rome. It was all about pomp and circumstance. It was their time to show off. One aspect of the triumphal march was the burning of incense and its resulting fragrance.
For the victorious general, the fragrance would be reminiscent of joy, triumph, and life. But for the wretched captives, it was the aroma of death, for it reminded them of their past defeat and their coming execution (Constable).
In his mind’s eye, Paul envisions the Lord Jesus Christ leading us in a universal triumph celebrating His victory over sin, death, and the enemy. Paul’s then fixates on the term fragrance and switches over to Old Testament offerings. Many sacrifices are described as producing a sweet savor before the Father.
For Paul, the ultimate sweet-smelling sacrifice was the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What a paradox. Many would ask, “How can death be pleasant?” Death itself is not pleasant but often grievous, brutish, and gloomy. But Paul’s focus is not on death itself, but rather on the results. Paul’s perspective is the same as the Father’s. From the Father’s perspective, the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ provided redemption for the world. Therefore, although in and of itself it was horrid, the results were delightful. This remains of paradox, a delightful yet horrid paradox.
REFLECT & PRAY
Pause and consider. All children of the King bear within themselves the incense of the sweet aroma of Christ. How wonderful!
Father how I crave to smell like the Lord Jesus Christ. May I never lose His sweet fragrance.
2 Corinthians 2:14-16
14 But thanks be to God, who at all times leads us in the train of his triumph in Christ, and who, through us, displays the perfume of the knowledge of him in every place.
15 For we are the sweet scent of Christ in God to those who are destined for salvation and to those who are destined for destruction.
16 To the one we are a perfume from death, to the other a perfume from life to life. And who is adequate for these tasks? (Barclay)
In this passage, two Greek words are translated aroma or fragrance. The first Greek term is osme. This refers to a smell of any kind. The aroma can be pleasant or unpleasant (2 Corinthians 2:14, 16).
The second Greek word is euodiafrom eu– well, good and ózo – to smell. This refers only to a pleasant aroma, a good smell, odor, or fragrance (2 Corinthians 2:15). It refers to people or things that are well-pleasing to God.
The aroma of the Lord Jesus Christ is perceived differently by believers and unbelievers. For children of the King, it has a very pleasant smell, like a life-enhancing balm. But for unbelievers it has a dreadful stench, it is reminiscent of death and doom. It is a deadly, frightening odor, from death to death.
The same word that brings life to one group brings death to another. “Paul was not unfamiliar with the notion of a message that could be both healing and poisonous in its effects” (Shillington). Anyone would feel inadequate conveying such a message.
We often find ourselves at a loss for words when trying to describe the smells encountered on planet Earth. How much more, the heavenly aroma of the Lord Jesus Christ. We can only imagine what would it have been like to be with Him and to experience such a wonderful and pleasant aroma. How delightful it must have been.
But here and now, His aroma is still present. The life of Christ is present within the Father’s children. As His life force radiates out from within, the sweet-smelling fragrance of Christ oozes out as well. When the truth and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ are shared, His sweet fragrance is exuded.
The Lord Jesus Christ was very clear in calling the Father’s children salt and light. He went on to explain that when salt loses its flavor it is basically good for nothing. Each child of the King carries within the sweet-smelling aroma of Christ.
What happens when we no longer smell like Jesus?