I have mentioned before that during my seminary days I worked in a fish market. This work involved scaling the fish and also delivering fresh fish to various restaurants in town. Often these deliveries would bring me to first class restaurants, like the Peninsular Club in Grand Rapids. After spending the morning scaling and packing fish in ice, my wet and fishy clothes made it clear that I was not a customer of the exclusive club. But there was also something else that made it clear that who I was: I seemed to have a particular odor about me that identified me as the “fish-delivery-person.” When I would come home after working with fish all day, I made sure that I left my soggy shoes right by the door as far away from where we were as possible. They had their own unique aroma that we didn’t want in our apartment. That aroma identified me as working in a fish market.
What aroma do we have as a Christians? Now I am not talking about if we use the right deodorant. Rather what is distinctive about us as Christians? Is there something about us that marks us, identifies us as followers of Jesus Christ in the same way that the odor of fish identified me as a fish-market worker? 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 talks about Christians having the aroma of Christ. Let’s read this.
Paul likely had in mind a familiar setting in these verses: that of a Roman victory procession. When the Roman armies would conquer a land, they would take prisoners. Defeated military leaders and other people of the conquered country would then be taken back to Rome and forced to take part in a victory march. The victory march or triumphal procession was a homecoming parade for the victorious general to show all that he had done. His victorious army would march through the streets. And his prisoners taken from their homeland would also be led through the streets as proof of his victories. Now throughout this triumphal procession, sacrifices and incense would also be burned. This odor would be the smell of victory to the soldiers and people watching the parade. But it would be the bitter smell of defeat to the captured prisoners.
Using this picture, Paul says that he too is in such a parade or procession. Christ is the conquering general and Paul is also in the procession. Christ defeated sin and evil by His death on the cross. Paul is in the procession as both a prisoner and also a victorious soldier. Paul, a sinner who had opposed Christ, now has been captured by Christ. He is a prisoner, but not to any general or empire. He is a slave to Christ and he couldn’t be happier about it. And he is also a victorious soldier, who is a part of Christ’s army. Because of this he can also joyfully share in Christ’s victory march. He is both a slave and a victor with Christ.
And this is true for all who confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Those who believe in Christ know that sin has been defeated. Moreover, those who believe in Christ know that their old sinful nature is being put to death by Christ’s death. But this death makes us able to share as victors with Christ. With this picture in mind, Paul explores the idea of the aroma of the victory procession.
First, Paul makes it clear that the fragrance itself is Christ, not ourselves. What Paul is talking about here is the gospel of Christ. The fragrance is the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Because of this, there is good news that salvation is possible. That is the beautiful fragrance that God is spreading throughout the world.
But while the gospel of Christ is the fragrance, Paul says that he and his co-workers are the aroma. They are the channels used to disperse the beautiful fragrance of Christ. Perhaps it is helpful to think of a rose. We say that a rose has a beautiful aroma to it. But is there an aroma without the rose? Of course not. The aroma of a rose points to the rose. We, as the aroma, should point people to something besides ourselves. We are an aroma that has a purpose.
Our purpose, according to Paul, is to be an aroma first of all to God. Our primary purpose is to bring praise and glory to God in our lives. Romans 12:1 says that we are to be living sacrifices, pleasing to God. So as we try to live our lives of gratitude for what Christ has done for us we should first of all be concerned about living a life that pleases God. Our goal is to glorify God in absolutely every part of our lives. That means that as you do your job, you do so with the express purpose of doing it so that God’s name is glorified. The ultimate calling of a Christian need not be a missionary to some foreign land.
Our ultimate calling is to do whatever we do so that God’s grace is seen and his name is glorified in what we do. If you provide health care, you do so in such a way that people see the love of Christ in your practice. If you are a teacher, you teach so that people see God’s love in how you teach. If you work in an office, you do your work in a way that others see Christ in you. We express our thanksgiving and gratitude to God in this way.
And as we do this, God uses this aroma to spread the fragrance of Christ to others. Our words and actions can be sensed by everyone and in every place around us. It is true whether we are working in our yards or in our offices. In every situation of our lives, God is using us to disperse the fragrance of Christ to others. That is why Paul says in verse 15 that we are the aroma among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. We are the aroma of Christ no matter where we are.
III. And we must remember that sometimes this aroma convicts others.
Paul says that as this fragrance is spread about, two things can happen: it can bring life or death. It is important to note that there is only one fragrance. Like in the Roman victory march, there was only one odor in the air. There wasn’t a foul incense that the captives were forced to smell and a pleasant incense that the victors smelled. It was the same aroma for both victors and slaves.
Sproul commented, “Billy Graham had said nothing about God, Jesus, or religion; yet the pro stomped away after the game accusing Billy of trying to ram religion down his throat.” What had happened was simply this: the evangelist had so reflected Christlikeness that his presence made the pro feel uncomfortable. Sproul says, “I wonder. Do unbelievers sense our godly influence? If we are identified with Christ and walk in holiness, they will -- before we even mention religion.”
To others, however, the gospel of Christ is an aroma that brings life. To hear of being saved from eternal punishment by believing in Christ is to them wonderful and life-giving. The thought of who Jesus is and what He did is a marvelous thing that causes them to rejoice and live in freedom.
But then there is another task that we as followers and disciples must be aware of as well. For there are many who do not believe in Christ. Paul says that it is the task of him and all believers to preach the gospel and spread the fragrance of Christ to everyone.
We as a church can be used by God to spread the fragrance of Christ to our community. People are sensing the Gospel in different ways in the way they use our building or when they garden in our community gardens. Those who garden or who come to the building for AA or martial arts or support groups, will sense through what we say and do, the aroma of Christ in how they see us. However, remember that you are most effective in spreading the fragrance of Christ by being the aroma of Christ where you live and work day after day. If we believe in Christ and are truly striving to live for Him, we will be the aroma of Christ to everyone we meet and live by and with. Our lives will be a visible demonstration of the gospel of Christ.
And what we must remember is that this is a matter of life and death. In 1981, a car was stolen in California. That is not uncommon anywhere but particularly in California. But the police now were staging an intense search for the vehicle and the driver, placing announcements on radio stations to contact the thief. On the front seat of the stolen car sat a box of crackers that, unknown to the car thief, were laced with poison. The car owner was going to use the crackers as rat bait. Now the police and the owner of the car were more interested in apprehending the thief to save his life than to recover the car. So often when people run from God, they believe it is to escape his punishment, but what they are really doing is trying to elude God’s rescue. We have message that may convict people of sin, but its intent is to save them from death.
I wonder how many people pass by us Christians and never really notice us. Or perhaps they wonder what we are but can’t figure it out because we aren’t doing what we are supposed to be doing as followers of Christ. If we, however, are active and conscious of the fact that we carry the aroma of Christ, people will see Christ in our lives. Are you aware that you are the aroma of Christ? Are you doing all you can to spread the fragrance of Christ’s love to those around you?