Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Sweet Aroma

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” 2 Corinthians 2:14-15

Sasha the dog and I love our morning walks. This morning was especially beautiful. After an oppressively hot and humid day yesterday, Canada sent us a shot of cool, crisp air overnight. The air is refreshingly clear and clean. As we walked along, Sasha sniffing the ground and me sniffing the air, we came upon a honeysuckle bush in full bloom. The sweet scent of the blossoms made me stop in my tracks. The aroma was absolutely delicious.

One of my childhood memories is of the many bus trips we took into Hartford to go shopping for the day. Each time as we neared the Connecticut River, I would press my nose to the window in anticipation of what was coming. The Wonder Bread factory stood by the side of the road, and a delicious aroma always came wafting in as we drove by its doors. Every passenger on the bus breathed deeply as the bus lumbered on.

Smells can trigger happy memories. When my mother died, I took her perfume bottle home with me. It may sound silly, but sometimes, these many years later, I open the bottle and just sniff. It makes me remember the fun times we had together and how much she loved me. Just the scent triggers a happy emotion in my heart.

Paul spoke of himself and his fellow workers as an aroma. Two things would have come to mind for his original readers when hearing this comparison. First, the Roman army had a custom of holding a triumphal procession to honor a conquering general returning from a military campaign, who marched along with his recent captives trailing behind. Fragrant incense was customarily burned in this type of parade. The second thing that might have come to mind, at least for his Jewish readers, would have been the number of times in the Law that God described the smoke of a burning sacrifice for sin as a “soothing aroma.”

When Mary broke the neck of precious oil to anoint Jesus in the days before his crucifixion, John tells us that the aroma spread throughout the house (John 12:3). Paul speaks of Christ’s sacrifice and physical suffering as a fragrant aroma (Ephesians 5:2). Paul again uses the term aroma to describe the sacrificial giving on the part of the Philippian church (Philippians 4:18). As I looked through all the uses of this term in the New Testament, it jumped out at me: all of the aromas mentioned involved some type of sacrifice. It is costly to produce an aroma.

Paul could use the term about himself because he had indeed suffered and sacrificed much in his service to God. He wrote the Colossians: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” (Colossians 1:24) What Paul suffered for the sake of Christ was a pleasing aroma to God.

God, the conquering hero, leads those he set free in His victory in His own triumphal “procession.” But rather than burning incense, He presents his people as the aroma, to make known to all the knowledge of Himself. In other words, God uses what we who know Him have shown with our lives to bring people to Himself. I don’t know about you, but I find that thought pretty scary.

Paul urges the Romans to present their bodies a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God.” (Romans 12:1) How much do I allow Jesus Christ to impact my life? What sacrifices do I make for the cause of Christ? How often do I remove myself from the center of my universe? How do you rate in these things? Before you throw up your hands in despair with me, know that Paul himself knew he was insufficient in ability for the task. He cries, “Who is adequate for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16) None of us are. We are faulty, self-centered, wayward people. Left to our own devices, we will fail every time.

Fortunately, later in chapter 3, Paul gives the solution to our problem. “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant.” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6) We can’t do it. But God can do it through us. He chose to use the imperfect to display His perfect glory. It is a mystery as to how He can accomplish this. But we can rest in the fact that He has promised it is His way.

Like the honeysuckle blossoms that stopped me in my tracks this morning, our lives will cause others to pause and inhale when we are surrendered to Him. That’s all. No big accomplishments needed. Just yielding to the One who has done it all for us.

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