Wednesday, July 30, 2014

WHAT'S THAT SMELL? (2 Corinthians Chapter 2)

2 Corinthians 2:14-17, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.  Who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”

Our church sits next to dairy.  Sometimes we experience something called “dairy-air.”  The dairy business is pretty simple—cows eat grass, cows digest grass, cows make both milk and cow-pies, cow-pies make manure, manure makes grass grow, cows eat grass.  It’s the “manure makes grass grow” part of the cycle that leads to that which we refer to as “dairy-air.”  A manure spreader is used to broadcast the liquefied, grass-fertilizing, brown stuff across the surrounding acreage.  Wind works to spread the fragrance all-around.  What smells like profit to the dairy farmer, stinks to the rest of us. The sense of smell is a powerful thing.  It warns us of things to avoid or rectify (think soiled baby diaper).  Other aromatic fragrances are pleasing to our nostrils.  Sometimes we might smell a thing and be readily reminded of some long ago experience connected to that smell. 

The Apostle Paul compared the ministry of the gospel to a “triumphal procession” led by God Himself (Cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14).  A great Roman victory was celebrated with a lavish parade, with the victorious general leading and his army marching behind.  Priests would accompany the parade waving censers of incense, filling the streets of Rome with a sweet smelling aroma.  Conquered foes followed behind in the procession--the aroma served but to remind them of their vanquished estate.

The ministry of the gospel is likened to such a thing.  And in God’s triumphal procession “the fragrance of the knowledge of him” is “everywhere” spread “through us” (2 Corinthians 2:17).  It should be noted that we are aromatic in a positive sense only in relationship to Christ, who “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).  His death on the cross, and its attending suffering and sacrifice, is deemed “folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23), but not to God.  The OT sacrifices, which looked forward to Christ, which were likewise said to represent “a pleasing aroma to the Lord” (Cf. Leviticus 1:13, 17; 2:2, 9, 12; 3:5, etc.).  The fragrance aroma, sourced in Calvary’s sacrifice, lingers on and goes with Christ’s followers wherever they go.

The fragrance meets with divergent response.  “Among those who are being saved” it is a “fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:16).  “Among those who are perishing” it is a “fragrance from death to death” (2 Corinthians 2:16).  We, God’s people, stand in such a fragrance-emitting position in this world.  The ministry of the gospel is a “triumphant procession” in which God’s victory has already been won and in thereby assured.  The proclamation of the gospel amidst suffering is akin to the sacrifice from which it was born.  It is likened to a fragrance pleasing both to God and His children.  God’s children have had their senses trained to sense the beauty in it.  It is a fragrant aroma representing life.  But it is not so pleasing to the nostrils of the lost.  It works to remind them of pending judgment and hence the cause of suffering for God’s people in this world.  The perishing would sooner eradicate the source of the fragrance than deal with root of the problem (i.e. sinful unbelief).

How smelly are you?  And in what sense?  It is not just the gospel that emits the fragrance, but the gospel lived out.  And, not just the gospel lived out, but the gospel lived out by means of loving sacrifice amidst suffering.  Paul’s opponents didn’t understand how an Apostle of the Risen Christ could suffer so (indeed, suffering is a major theme in this epistle).  But it was in his sufferings that the life of Christ and grace of God were made manifest (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 12:9-10).  A rose petal emits a beautiful fragrance to those who draw near, but in a more effusive manner when crushed.  The gospel—that Christ died for sins and rose from the dead—is a fragrance of life unto life in this sin-decaying world.  In the lives of His followers “the fragrance of the knowledge of him” is spread all around.  It meets with varying responses, but it is beautiful thing to those having a Spirit-borne sense of smell.

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