7 January 2012

2 Corinthians 2:12-17

"For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing." (v. 15)


It's amazing how smells can bring memories flooding back. There's almost the sense of being transported back to a particular time or place, or experiencing again the emotions of the past. From the scent of pine needles at Christmas, to the smell of blossom in spring; from the aroma of suncream reminding you of holidays, to the smoke from a bonfire that can recall firework displays of childhood. Some smells have a seasonal regularity; others may remind you of one-off events that you'd rather forget. Remember Peter in the courtyard, by the charcoal fire, denying his friend (John 18:15-18)? How would the smell of charcoal on the beach a few weeks later make him feel? But even then Jesus turned that into an opportunity for a new beginning (John 21).

Our passage today is part of a controversial and sometimes confusing letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, and here he was on his way to catch up with Titus, whom he sent on ahead of him. Titus wasn't where he expected to find him and Paul was restless in his ministry until he found his friend.

And then, seemingly out of the blue, Paul talks about "the aroma of Christ". This is not referring to Jesus' brand of aftershave or deodorant, but is a metaphor for something else. He speaks of himself and his fellow missionaries being the aroma of Christ. In other words, their very presence brings to people's minds the salvation of God that is in Jesus Christ. They're like a smell that won't go away! Paul says that for some this is a pleasant fragrance and for others it's an unwelcome stink.

Imagine, in ancient times, a conquering general or king returning from battle and leading a procession of triumph through the city. With the fanfares and the cheers, there would be incense burning: the scent rising in thanksgiving to the gods, or to announce the victory wherever the wind blew. For the grateful citizens or the joyful soldiers this would be, quite literally, the sweet smell of success. For the prisoners they dragged in their wake, it would be the odour of impending doom.

The presence of Paul and the other followers of Jesus, spreading his gospel message around the known world, is the aroma of Christ's victory which has already been won. To those who have turned to faith in Christ and accepted God's salvation for themselves, the presence of such fellow-Christians devoted in God's mission only serves to remind them of the love, peace and grace that they now know for themselves - leading to life. But those who have turned away in anger or disgust, refusing to hear God's gracious invitation for forgiveness, hope and joy, well ... theirs is not the way that leads to life, but denies the very life of God revealed in Jesus. And the presence of such people will only be like an annoying stench that won't go away. But even for these people, Jesus still waits: "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me" (Revelation 3:20).

To Ponder

Paul was restless until he found his friend Titus (verses 12-13). Sometimes our friends are not where we'd like them to be when it comes to God. Who are the friends you would like to see recognise the sweet aroma of Christ? In our restlessness, let's not stop praying ...

But Paul was keen to point out that they weren't "peddlers of God's word" - like door-to-door salesmen offering something nobody really wants or needs - but rather "persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence" (v. 17). How can we make sure that we are not only sincere in our faith, but remain standing in the presence of God?

The aroma of Christ is not only like a victory procession, but also a fragrance "to God" - like a sacrifice in Old Testament worship. Do we sometimes forget to include God in our triumphs or to consult God in our missions? What might help you to remember?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy is married to Emily and they have two beautiful children, Phoebe (aged 3 and half) and Benjamin (who's just turned 1). Andy is the superintendent minister of the Market Harborough Circuit (a small circuit in the south of Leicestershire, and into Northamptonshire), having moved there in the summer of 2016.