Thursday 3 May 2018

The Power of A Scent!

You can’t see it, hear it, or touch it, but scent is powerful. The smell of things like crayons, petunias, and colognes evoke memories that transport me to the past and bring to mind people and places I might not otherwise recall.

Some celebrities have fragrances named after them. Fans can identify with an actress or singer by dabbing on the scent bearing her name. Along those lines, Ladies Home Journal published a quiz to help readers determine the perfect fragrance for them. The idea is that every woman, to be memorable, should have a specific scent associated with her.

The idea of a signature scent is not new. God introduced it as part of worship. In the tabernacle, a certain scent was to be associated with the Lord (Exodus 30: 34-35). The people were forbidden to use this fragrance for anything but worship (vs. 37-38).

This idea continues under the new covenant, but with a stunning difference. Instead of using incense to make people think of Him, God uses Christians as His “signature scent” to the world (2 Corinthians 2: 14-15). The fact that God identifies Himself with us in such a powerful way is a truly humbling thought, and causes me to ask, “What do people think about God as a result of being around me?”

Introduction: 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 odors were used; so the name and salvation of Jesus, as ointment poured out, was a sweet savor diffused in every place. Unto some, the gospel is a savor of death unto death. 

They reject it to their ruin. Unto others, the gospel is a savor of life unto life: as it quickened them at first when they were dead in trespasses and sins, so it makes them livelier, 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.

How do we smell?
1. Fragrance of Christ’s Knowledge (v. 14) ~
The victory we have in Jesus is always constant, not occasional. Christians are always victorious in Christ. As Paul points out in the verses which follow, the victory we have in Christ is not measured in terms of the number of those who are saved due to our proclaiming the gospel. The victory and triumph Christians experience are results of the faithful proclamation of the gospel, whether or not men believe in Christ.

When Titus gave Paul good news about the Corinthians (Chap. 7: 5-7), Paul bursts forth with a hymn of praise. This interruption became an extended digression. Paul did not resume the story of his trip to Macedonia and his meeting with Titus until chap. 7: 5. In chap. 2: 14 – 7: 4 there is a long account of his ministry. God … leads us in triumph: Paul used the metaphor of the Roman triumphal procession to praise God. When a Roman general was victorious in a war, he led his army and the captives in a parade down the main street. God is the General Who has conquered. Paul is one of His officers following in His train. In the Roman procession, priests carrying censers filled with incense followed the conqueror. Paul the priest set forth the fragrance of Christ by preaching the gospel. The KJV translates verse 14 in a way which indicates that Christ leads us to triumph. 

There is a sense in which this may be true, but the term is never employed in this way. The form of the verb indicates it is Christ who triumphs over us. For this reason, A. T. Robertson writes, “… [The] picture here is of Paul as captive in God’s triumphal procession.”

While we are sharers in the victories of our Lord, the point here is that Christ is victorious over us. He has “taken us captive” by saving us from our sins. Paul paints a somewhat different picture than Robertson does. Is Paul so burdened with his cares concerning the Corinthian saints that his deeply troubled spirit hinders his ministry in Troas? Who is adequate for the gospel ministry when the minister’s heart is deeply troubled about truly spiritual concerns? God is! God is victorious over our weaknesses, so that He actually employs our weaknesses in a way which brings about His purposes - to His glory. He triumphs over our weaknesses; He triumphs in and through our weaknesses. Now we see how Paul can give thanks for the successful ministry he has in Troas, even though he is troubled in spirit at the time.

2. Smelling of Christ (v. 15) ~

Paul further explains how the preaching of the gospel (even by those troubled in spirit) is always God’s triumph in Christ. Through His saints, God produces a sweet aroma, the aroma of Christ. Have you ever noticed how godly saints exude a kind of Christ-likeness? This is what Paul describes for us. He says that where Christians live out the life of Christ (which surely includes righteous suffering - such as Paul’s suffering in Troas), a sweet aroma ascends God-ward. Godly living, which includes the proclamation of the gospel, manifests Christ to men, and thus, it brings pleasure and glory to God. The preaching and the living out of the gospel are sweet smells to God. We say, “That is like music to my ears.” Paul says, “Godly living and the preaching of the gospel are perfume to God’s nostrils” (compare Philippians 4: 18).

When I think of the word fragrance I think of that which has a pleasant smell - a flower out of the garden. But there are many wonderful fragrances when you live out in the country as I do. The smell of new mown hay, the smell of a cornfield in July on a late summer evening about dusk, the smell of the farm field after having just been turned over (plowed) in the spring. All evoke pleasant thoughts; arouse an inner peace and contentment, a satisfaction with God’s creation, and a comfort in knowing he is out there Lord over all his creation. Strange how smells can direct one to thoughts of God but then God created them that way. Nature is a witness of God (Romans 1: 20, also read God’s answer to Job beginning in Job 38).

If we are a Christian when we think of Christ the thought of him should have the same kind of effect on us as the aromas we have been talking about. It is pleasant to think about Christ. Like the pleasant smells of a country evening in late summer thoughts of Christ should bring a peace and contentment to our souls and they do, that is if Christ is in us and we are in him. When Paul preached Christ those who accepted Christ found the tree of life for Christ was and is that tree, a tree figuratively speaking, with pleasant blooms, a sweet fragrance of life, bearing as its fruit - life itself.

But, as there are pleasant smells there are also unpleasant ones - the open sewer, the hog pen, skunks, decaying animals killed in the road, etc. From those we flee. Christ and his gospel are like the unpleasant offensive smell of death in those who are rejecting him. Ever wonder why some just do not want to hear it, the gospel? I am persuaded that deep down they know their guilt and their need but the desire is to live their life as they please (the Bible in the newer translations sometimes uses the phrase "selfish ambition," or the word "selfishness," or "self-seeking" with regards to a certain state of mind) and they thus harden their heart as they do not want to hear what they will not accept and that which condemns them.

To the one who hears the gospel and accepts it there is a sense of freedom, the conscience is made clean, and burdens are lifted as the song goes "at Calvary." To the one who will not hear, does not want to hear, his view of Christ and his gospel is a message of enslavement, of the loss of personal freedom. Thus the fragrance of Christ is to the one party pleasantness while to the other offensive. One man’s heart is hardened by the gospel of Christ while the other man’s is softened and made tender but it is always a personal choice as to which it will be for either way we allow it.
Illustration: Putting on a beautiful fragrance / scent to suppress or completely expel the real smell of our body odor. That’s what the fragrance of Christ does. It kills the bad stuff and makes Himself profound. Some may like that fragrance and are able to associate themselves to it, whereas some get offended and reject it completely. The fragrance of Christ is the fragrance of life, of pleasantness. Each of us must choose either the fragrance of life or the fragrance of death.

3. Aroma of life and death (v. 16) ~
In a Roman triumphal procession the leader would be followed by priests, officers, soldiers and captives. The Roman leader would display his treasures and captives amidst a cloud of incense burned for the gods. The Aroma of the event represented victorious life to the soldiers and slavery or death to the captives. In the same way, when the gospel is preached, it gives life to those who accept it, but it represents death and judgment to those who reject it. Believers recognize the life-giving aroma of the message. To non-believers, however, its odor is foul, like their own death.

Some Christians suppose that God is glorified only when unbelievers are converted by the preaching of the gospel. But this is not what Paul says. Paul says God is glorified (and pleased) by the preaching of the gospel, period, whether men believe or reject the gospel. And so, that sweet smell of the gospel (to God) is the smell of death unto death for those who are perishing in their sins, while it is the smell of life unto life for those who are being saved. The gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive to unbelievers. Using Paul’s analogy here, the gospel “stinks” to them, smelling like death, which is the exact outcome of those who reject the gospel. But to those who are being saved, the gospel is like perfume, attracting them to Christ and leading them to eternal life.

We are not adequate for “these things,” as Paul makes clear in this text. What “things”? For what are we inadequate? We are not adequate to manifest Christ to a dying world. We cannot live like Christ, in and of ourselves. And we are not adequate to present the gospel in a way which convinces and converts sinners. Saving sinners is an impossible task. When Paul asks who is adequate for these things, he wants us to understand that no one is - in their own strength.

We are not adequate to save men because we must not employ humanly deceptive or persuasive devices to “con” people to faith in Christ. The gospel is offensive (it stinks) to the unbeliever. It is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1: 23). When we proclaim the gospel, we should do so knowing that there is no human way unsaved men will receive the gospel and repent. Our only hope is that God will sovereignly intervene, bringing about conversions that would not happen in any other way. Apparently Paul answers this question in chap. 3: 5 – it is God alone who makes us sufficient.

4. Perfume of sincerity and integrity (v. 17) ~
And then, once again, in the closing verses there comes the unhappy echo. Some preachers in Paul’s days were ‘peddlers’ of God’s Word, preaching without understanding God’s message or caring about what happened to their listeners. They weren’t concerned about furthering God’s Kingdom – they just wanted money. The gospel peddlers do not believe that salvation is the work of God, and they do not trust Him to give sight to the spiritually blind or to give life to those spiritually dead. 

They are, however, very concerned with results. They want to be successful, and their motivation for such ambition is questionable. Many such peddlers considered Paul not fit to preach Christ and thought he was using the gospel as traffic, an excuse to line his own pockets. Today there are still religious teachers who care only about money (evidence on most television and radio ministries), not about the truth. Those who truly speak for God should have sincerity and integrity, and should never preach for selfish reasons (1 Timothy 6: 5 – 10).

Once again Paul uses the word eilikrineia for purity. His motives will stand the penetrating rays of the brightness of the sun; his message is from God; it will stand the very scrutiny of Christ Himself. Paul never feared what men say, because his conscience told him that he had the approval of God and the “Well done!” of Christ. Paul and his fellow-laborers in the gospel are not gospel peddlers. They speak the truth of the gospel, plainly, and with purity of motive. They do not speak so as to please men and gain their approval and applause; they speak in the sight of God, seeking to glorify Him by accurately representing His Son, and thereby pleasing Him with the sweet smell of Christ.

A life lived for Jesus Christ has a pleasing aroma. Do we really smell like the sweet aroma of Christ?

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