“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.”
“We are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
This has to rank as one of the most olfactory passages of the entire Scriptures! If you’re like me, you need as many ways as possible to understand God and His ways and as many ways as possible to remember His call on your life. This picture of us as Christians being the very fragrance of Christ captivates my imagination so that it may be set free to imagine who God has called me to be.
The basic idea is that we are so closely related with Jesus Christ that we smell like Him to the world. We all know that we are supposed to think, speak, and act like Jesus. But smell like Him?
Yes. Wherever we go, if we are faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who have spent a lot of time in His presence, we carry the aroma of our Master with us.
I remember growing up how it struck me many times that in going to friends’ or relatives’ houses that houses and families each have their own familiar fragrance. If you spend some time at that house, you get used to the aroma, and if you spend enough time there you will begin to smell like it.
This is the way it is with Christians. If we actually live in the house and family of God, we will begin to smell more and more like Jesus Himself. And if we hang out there only one hour a week we will still smell mostly like ourselves.
When you get really near someone, you can smell them, and so it is with Jesus Christ and Christians. Haven’t we all had the experience before, when meeting a stranger, that we think to ourselves: “I’ll bet she’s a Christian.” That is like smelling Christ on a Christian. I believe that we should so reek of Jesus Christ that others, Christians or not, should be able to sense in a short time who we are.
St. Paul clearly believes that Christians are to have a distinctive spiritual odor. We are the fragrance of Christ to those who are perishing, Paul says in verse 16. To those who are perishing because they do not have faith in Christ and who want to remain that way – we stink! We often fear the rejection of others when we contemplate whether or not to share some part of Christ with them, and we are right to expect rejection. You may have seen some of them holding their noses in your presence: it’s not you they smell and reject – it’s Jesus Christ! You may have been around someone who didn’t exactly wash the way they should and whose body odor was a powerful social repellent. That is how Christians smell to those who reject Jesus Christ.
To those who are perishing but in some way are seeking God, we are a combination of fragrances, and some are enticing and induce spiritual hunger, while others are repulsive. Sometimes, too, we unfortunately mix the fragrance of Christ with worldliness or our own selfish odors. Have you noticed that over time, selfish behavior often creates unpleasant smells? When you mix the fragrance of Christ with the stench of sin, people smell hypocrisy. Do you want to know what hypocrisy smells like to non-Christians? It smells like a recently used bathroom into which an air freshener has been sprayed in vain.
But to those who are seeking salvation, we are the aroma of Jesus Himself: we are the smell of fresh-baked bread to a hungry soul!
I’m reminded of a famous line from the movie Apocalypse Now!, a Vietnam movie in which Robert Duvall’s character says: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. . . . Smelled like victory.”
My version is: “I love the smell of Christians in the morning. They smell like . . . love.”
Paul connects the fragrance of Christ with love in verse 4, when he says: “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.” This Paul, who so many think is arrogant or judgmental or narrow, is, like St. John, an apostle of love. Paul prays daily for his sheep. He anguishes and grieves for them like a mother over her children. And he loves them. Even when one of the brothers has sinned, after he has been punished and restored, Paul counsels the Corinthians (verse 8) to “reaffirm your love to him.”
This is the fragrance of love. This is the fragrance of Jesus Christ.
Because Jesus has created and called us to be His presence on the earth, we must smell like Him to others. Whether reminding unbelievers of the judgment of God (the aroma of death leading to death) or reminding believers of the love of God (the aroma of life leading to life), we must be the aroma of Jesus Christ in the world.
We do it by making ourselves a whole-burnt offering whose sweet-smelling aroma, mixed with the incense of the prayers of the saints, is pleasing in the nostrils of God and those who seek Him.
Prayer: Father, accept my offering of the one thing I can bring You today: myself. Keep me so close to Yourself, through Your Son Jesus, that I might take on your heavenly fragrance and spread it to a dead and dying world and spread Your love to both believers and unbelievers.
Points for Meditation:
1. What are some situations likely to arise today in which I can be the aroma of Christ either to a believer or unbeliever?
2. In what ways do others still smell the stench of sin on me and not Jesus Christ?
Resolution: I resolve today to offer myself wholly to God as a sacrifice that I might be the fragrance of Christ to the world.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day