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A Pleasing Aroma

Date: Oct. 11, 2020

Author: Bob Henkins

2 Corinthians 2:12-3:6

Key Verse: 2 Corinthians 2:14

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.

How many of you in the past several months have been asked the question, “Do you have a loss of smell or taste?” I too have been asked this question so many times. The reason this question is so popular is because one of the symptoms of having the Coronavirus is the loss of smell. Therefore, it’s one of the screening questions for Covid-19. Outside of the pandemic, we often take our sense of smell for granted, and maybe it’s the least relied upon sense trailing behind sight, sound, and touch. It may be ahead of only taste unless you’re a “foodie” and even that ranking can be debated because without smell we couldn’t taste very well.

However, we can’t be to quick to dismiss the sense of smell because it’s vital for our survival. It can alert us to danger: such as a gas leak, smoke from a fire and even rotten food. The sense of smell is tied to the olfactory nerve in our brain which is part of the limbic system which plays a major role in controlling our mood, memory, behavior, and emotions.

Of all the senses, scent is most closely linked to memory. Studies have shown that people can remember a scent with 65% accuracy after one year, while our visual memory drops to 50% after only a few months. Also there have been studies that indicate that certain scents can even influence our perception of time. For example, in one of the studies they found that the smell of coffee actually reduces our perception of time, while the smell of baby powder lengthens our perception of time. Likewise, pleasurable fragrances have been shown to create a longer “dwell-time” that’s why realtors will often have their clients bake cookies when they are showing their property to potential buyers to get them to stay longer. Also, some organizations, like hospitals or nursing homes, will often use lavender fragrances to create a relaxing atmosphere for their patients. And one Japanese company even tried using lemon oil scent to boost their data entry operator’s productivity by 54%. And if that isn’t enough to convince you that smell is important, then how can the global perfume market be valued at more than 31 billion dollars? (2018) Just think of the times when you came home to the smell of one of your favorite meals being cooked, there is nothing like the smell of bacon or fresh bread being made.

You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about such an odd topic of smell or aroma, that’s because it’s connected to the passage we’re studying this morning. So, the title of my message is “A Pleasing Aroma.”

Our passage starts with verses 12-13. “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, 13 I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia.” As Paul was proclaiming the gospel in the city of Ephesus, he couldn’t get the people in Corinth out of his mind. While he was there in Ephesus, a big riot broke out across the city, because of this he headed up the coast to Troas. While he was there, he found that the people were open to hear the word of God. One night many people gathered to hear Paul talk, he talked until past midnight when suddenly a young man who had been sitting in a window fell asleep and fell out of the third story window and died. However, God worked through Paul and raised the young man from the dead and the people were greatly comforted. And yet he still couldn’t get the Corinthians out of his mind.

Paul was worried because he didn’t know how the Corinthians would respond to his previous letter (which he probably sent by Titus), and his worry was compounded because Titus hadn’t shown up in Troas when they were supposed to meet. So, Paul thought that Titus, not being there, was a sign that they rejected his letter. Even though the people in Troas were open to hear the gospel, Paul really wanted to hear the news from Corinth. And since Paul knew that Titus was following their previous route only going in reverse, they should have met up in Troas. But, Titus was a no show, so, Paul packed his bags and said his goodbyes and headed out to Macedonia in the hopes of finding Titus. From this event we can see how Satan worked through the conflict in Corinth by agitating Paul so much that it sabotaged the ministry at Troas. Satan distressed Paul enough to make him leave a place that God may have wanted him to stay awhile.

But even though Paul was distressed, he still managed to praise God. Take a look at verse 14. “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.” Here we see that Paul poured out his heart praising God’s for his grace no matter what the situation. In sports there are different kinds of fans. There are two that come to mind at the moment, you have diehard fans and fair-weather fans. Fair-weather fan are the ones that only show up when the team is winning and doing well. But diehard fans are in it for the long haul, they support their team during the good and during the bad times, they are there no matter what. Paul was like a diehard fan of God praising and thanking him no matter what the situation.

When Paul got to Macedonia, his anxiety was relieved when he finally met up with Titus, because Titus brought good news that the Corinthians hadn’t rejected Paul’s letter, quite the opposite. They accepted it and repented of their actions. This was more than Paul could hope for. And this good news is what prompted Paul to write this letter (2 Cor) back to them.

From this one verse we can see three things that Paul was thankful for. First, he was thankful for God who is always leading us through all situations even if it sometimes feels like we are walking alone through difficult period in our life. This reminds me of what King David said when he was going through a very difficult time in his life. He said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Ps 23:4) God is always there for us, leading us through difficult times. He is like our diehard fan.

The second thing Paul thanks God for is HOW God was leading him. It’s interesting how Paul phrases it as, “leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession”. Paul was connect this to a  Roman triumphal procession which was a common scene back in those days. This is where a victorious Roman general would display his spoils of war. He would lead his soldiers and their captives amidst a cloud of burning spices they presented for their gods in a festive procession through the streets crowded with applauding people. However, this sounds strange to us because Paul is connecting us to the captives and being a captive doesn’t sound very victorious or triumphant. In ancient Rome, captives were common, and they usually had one of two destinations, either to live as a slave or be executed. But if they became a slave, the quality of their life depended upon who became their master. If you got a terrible master, then you could live a hard life, but if you were fortunate to get a good master, a slave could lead a pretty good life and even be set free. And that’s what Paul is referring to here. He was like God’s captive that lived with all the benefits; like being under God’s protection from his enemies, like living under God’s roof with all his provisions and blessings, and without any of the negatives that a harsh master would bring because God was a kind and loving master. It was as if God was leading him from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Paul compares it to what God does for believers in Christ. In a sense, God was leading him in a triumphal procession, making use of him as a prisoner captured from our enemy, Satan, and now Paul was available to accomplish God’s good purpose to bring knowledge of Christ to as many people as he could.

And that’s the third thing that Paul was thankful for, that God was using him to “to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.” Paul was thankful to be able to share the good news of Jesus all over the known world at the time. Even though Paul was God’s captive, he was locked up in a cell somewhere, he traveled the world, met new people, built meaningful, loving relationships, and shared the knowledge of God. And just like the aroma of a delicious, cooked meal sticks around after the meal is finished, the knowledge of God that Paul shared with the people also remained long after he was gone and Paul was thankful for that. 

Expanding that concept Paul continues, take a look at verses 15 & 16. “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” Here Paul is expanding on the concept of aroma. I’m going to flip this and address verse 16 first. Thinking back to the Roman procession to the captives which were divided into two groups, the first group were going to be slaves and the second group were going to be executed but both groups carried the burning spices. So, what you have here is the same scent having two different effects. To those who would live, the aroma was sweet; but to those destined for death it was repulsive. This effect can also be seen when we share the word of God to people. When Christians share the gospel, it is good news to some and repulsive news to others, because those who believe in Jesus recognize the life-giving fragrance of the message but to unbelievers, its foul, it stinks and they don’t want to be around it.

Going back to verse 15, because of Jesus and what he has done for us, (his death and resurrection) Jesus’ followers give off a sweet scent that rises up to God and pleases him. When we believe in Jesus, his grace covers over us, and our stench of sin is washed away. Not only that, this pleasing aroma is recognized by other believers who are also living lives of faith. To them, we are a great encouragement, like a sweet smell that brings life. But to those who do not believe (who have rejected Jesus) they treat us more like the stench that comes from a rotting fish. This explains why other believers are happy to see us and unbelievers are not. In other words, connecting it back to the intro, Christians smell like fresh baked bread to other Christians, but to non-Christians we smell like rotten eggs.

Apparently in Paul’s time there were people that went around preaching, but they were more like con men than shepherds. Take a look at verses 2:17 – 3:3. “17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God. 3 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” Paul didn’t serve God for money, he did it because he loved God and people. But not everyone was like that. There were some in it for the money, for power, for influence, or for tradition. If you remember from our study of Philippians, some people preached the gospel in order to try and get Paul in trouble, so their motive were political.

But Paul was genuine, not counterfeit. He did it for love not for profit. Also, I think it’s important to point out that he preached God’s word with sincerity and sent by God because if he did it just with sincerity that wouldn’t be enough. Because he could be sincerely wrong. I like how the Message translation says it, “We stand in Christ’s presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can.”

Also apparently those people that preached God’s word with wrong motives, must have been easy to see their falseness, so they brought recommendation letters to “prove” they were good. But here Paul is saying that people who genuinely love and serve God, don’t need recommendation letters to “prove” who they are because the proof of God’s work will be seen in the people, through their changed hearts. I really like how verse 3 says, “… written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” I think that verse is so beautiful. The sign of God’s work is a fruitful ministry with many people coming to God.

Paul continues about confidence and competence in verses 4-6. “Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Paul meant that he and Timothy were sure of what they were proclaiming before God. They weren’t claiming to be self-competent, as if they somehow attained it by themselves, but that God trained them to proclaim his word. Paul never went to school to learn about Jesus, Jesus met him on the road and established a personal relationship with him. All of Paul and Timothy’s wisdom and abilities came from God.

As a Jew, Paul was familiar with the old covenant, which was the law - Ten Commandments, (that’s what Paul is referring to in verse 6) but now that he met the Risen Jesus, he learned of the new covenant through Jesus. The letter (refers to the letter of the law) condemns us and points out where we fall short. It’s a list of rules that we have to follow but you follow them 100% of the time, but through the Holy Spirit we can have life.

The conclusion ties both the first and second parts of this passage together. As believers, and as leaders, we are called, by God, to be ministers of a new covenant. (Heb 8) That means we are to be a good influence upon others, or in other words, we should leave a pleasing aroma. Recently I read a story about a criminal who thought he got away with the perfect crime. He thought that he hadn’t left any clues at the scene of the crime, only to be apprehended later.  And much to his dismay he was identified by a witness that never saw him. How? Because of the way he smelled. He didn’t realize that he left his scent at the scene of the crime. And this witness, who just happened to have a good sense of smell, picked up on it and he was apprehended.

As believers, and as leaders, like Paul and Timothy, we are called by God to be ministers of a new covenant. And what that means is that we are to let our life’s influence make a favorable impression upon the people around us. In other words, we are to leave a pleasing aroma. One time when I was younger, someone visited our house, I can’t remember who, but after they left my dad said if she stood still she would leave a puddle from all the perfume that she was wearing. And you could still smell it long after she had left. Like this visitor, whether we know it or not, all of us leave behind some kind of aroma with our influence. Either we leave behind a pleasing smell or an unpleasant one.

If you are at work, at home, at school or with family or friends is your influence a positive one, Christ-like? Do you spread the love of God with respect and gentleness or do you leave behind a smell that will make others gag? A heart that is full of love for God will naturally overflow with the sweet aroma of God. When a person is filled with Jesus, and the word of God, God’s love will be evident for everyone to see. That’s because they are kind, they’re loving, they’re gentle, they’re faithful, they’re encouraging. They are not demeaning and critical and accusatory. They like to build others up and share encouraging words and support others when they need it. This is the kind of influence we need to leave behind. Not something that will cause people to grumble.

So, it comes down to this: what do we leave behind. Do we leave a pleasing aroma or a nasty stench? The New covenant that we received is a precious gift that we got from God through Jesus. The New covenant is Full of grace, truth, love. This is the gospel, and it is good news for everyone, and it is like a sweet smell. And as you know sweet smells attract us. There is nothing like the smell of fresh brewed coffee. Near us is Maxwell street depot and their grilled onions smell so good it makes you want to go there. Compare that to something that smells fishy, it’s no good no one wants to go there.

The offering of grace is an aroma not only to those who accept it, but also to the perishing for grace is still grace even when it is rejected. When we share God’s word with others, it’s like spreading the fragrance of Jesus, then we can become the aroma of God. By us, God spreads the knowledge of Christ, as a fragrance to those we share the gospel with. We are an aroma of Christ in that we are the means or the instruments in which we can share the knowledge of God. So it all comes down to this: what kind of aroma are YOU going to leave behind; a pleasing one, or a nasty one? It’s all up to you.

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