2 Corinthians 2:14-16
By Drew Zuverink
"But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ's triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life."
Alisa Childers describes the context of 2 Corinthians 2 in her book, Live Your Truth and Other Lies. To paraphrase her, she writes that back in Paul's day, Roman soldiers would hold triumphal processions (think parade) after a victorious battle. Citizens would crowd the streets, cheering loudly as the soldiers walked through the city. And as part of their celebration, the soldiers would burn incense to their gods. To the Roman citizens, the smell of the incense would have been associated with victory, safety, and joy. But to the conquered prisoners of war, the smells would trigger intense feelings of dread, as they were destined for slavery or death. Same smell; two radically different responses.
Paul uses that analogy to make the point that Christians are like incense. We smell!
Once we experience victory over the destructive powers of sin, through the grace of Jesus Christ, we will start to change. And as we start to change, we will start to have an aroma about us. As our behavior slowly changes from selfish to selfless, and as we share of what Jesus has done for us and what Jesus now means to us, and as other people learn that we are Christians, we will most certainly smell.
Some people will love how we smell. Like a field of flowers, it will remind them of goodness, and life, and of a better world to come. It might attract some and even fill people with hope that they didn't have before. It might even make them want to be around us. When people react this way, it will feel good. Just like receiving a compliment, "you smell good," would make us feel good. But not everybody is going to enjoy our "perfume." There will be some who find our aroma repulsive. Like bad body odor, It will not make them want to be around us, they'll want to avoid us! The truth is, to some people, we will smell like death. And just like realizing that people don't want to be near to us because of our BO, this can hurt.
The fear of that rejection can sometimes tempt us to cover up our smell. Someone might think, "Maybe at school, if I just don't mention much about my faith, my classmates won't realize that I'm a Christian. That way I won't have to find out how they'd react if they knew that about me." Or perhaps we don't want to "stink up" our workplace by being too open about our faith and our commitment to Christ. People will put up with even a smell they don't like, if it doesn't linger too long.
But we smell like Christ when we live as we ought, in our newness of life. He is the smell that some people find alluring but others find repulsive. God loves this aroma dearly. Just like the incense from the Roman parade symbolized victory, the aroma of Christ signals God's victory for humanity. And in verse 14 he says that he uses the aroma to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere. So to continue the analogy, we should be confident in how we smell! We shouldn't be self conscious or worried that some people might not like it. If God loves it, and if he is using it to draw people in to his salvation, then I am more than willing to deal with the occasional rejection that I might experience. Those moments will hurt, but they will be nothing in comparison to the times where God uses my life and my story to reach people.
We never know who God is trying to reach through us. Don't be ashamed of smelling like Christ, no matter how the people around you respond. God enjoys it and that is enough for me.