Sermon on 2 Corinthians 2:12-3:6
Text: 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.
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. 15 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? 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.
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 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.
4 Such confidence we have through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 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.
Think for a moment of your favorite smell. What is it? Maybe it’s the smell of freshly baked rolls. There are few smells more enticing than those rolls coming out of the oven. Perhaps it is a perfume smell that takes you back to the time when you were dating your spouse. Others might list the smell of freshly cut grass. These are aromas that are very inviting. Now, think about an odor that the very thought of it makes your stomach turn. Maybe the smell that comes to mind is that of a skunk. Another odor might be when you find that leftover that has been sitting in the back of the refrigerator. You open the lid and the odor blasts you right in the face. The sense of smell is a very acute one for many of us. The apostle Paul uses the word picture of an aroma in our text, and that is THE AROMA OF CHRIST. It is 1. An Aroma That Saturates Us and 2. An Aroma That Spread By Us.
In our text, Paul uses an event that would have been familiar to the people of his day. The Roman generals and emperors came back from wars and led a triumphal procession through the streets of Rome with treasures of every kind: captured slaves or foreign rulers, exotic animals and gold and silver on display, flowers would be strewn in the path, and the sweet smell of incense for the sacrifice of thanksgiving in the temples of their gods. This smell would have been pleasing to the victors, but to the conquered, it meant death.
In verse 14, Paul writes, “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.” We are part of that triumphant procession, following our triumphant King, Jesus. Paul said that wherever they went, the aroma spread. The aroma that Paul spread was the knowledge of Christ. The pursuit and passion of Paul to know Christ caused him to smell of Christ in a manner that he could not mask. It is similar to someone cutting up onions. You can smell it when you come into the room. If you are the one cutting up the onion, that smell stays on your hands for quite some time. When Paul did his missionary work, people could smell Christ on him. He absorbed Christ into himself through the working of the Holy Spirit.
The same is true of us, as well. In verse 15, Paul writes, “We are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ.” We have been transformed so that we smell differently to God. Think of the noxious odor that emanated from us before we were brought to faith. All the stench of sin offended God’s holy nostrils. If we were left on our own, think of all of the ways that we would stink to God. There are the unkind words that are said to one another. There is the lack of compassion for those who needed us. There would be the times when we insisted that things have to be our way, trampling on the wants of others. Just like those rotten leftovers in the back of the refrigerator, God would have had every right to throw us away into the garbage pile of hell.
However, we are a pleasing aroma. It’s not because of anything that we could do to make us smell good. Rather, as Paul says, “We are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ.” It is because of the work of Christ that we smell good to God. Jesus came to the earth to cleanse us. He did so, first of all, by living a life that was pleasing to his Father. He spoke in love to those around him. Jesus always showed compassion to those who needed him. He came to serve us all. This servant attitude showed itself so clearly when he suffered and died to wash away the sins of the world. We celebrated his victory over sin, death, and the devil just two weeks ago, as we heard the angels declare that he had risen. Furthermore, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts when we were brought to faith. At the moment, the stench of sin was taken from us. We were washed clean. As a result of Christ’s work, we are now a pleasing aroma to God. This aroma saturates us. We smell like Christ.
This aroma is smelled by those around us. It says, “We are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.” (Verses 15&16) Our aroma will have different effects on those around us, because it is the aroma of the gospel message. The power of the gospel has great power. It has the power to make alive. When some people hear the gospel, and the Holy Spirit works through that gospel to create faith, it is the most wonderful smell they could ever imagine. They are brought to realize what God has done for them. They see that no one is ever lost too deeply in sin. The gospel is able to rescue them, and it gives them life. Right now they have life with God. It is a complete life, a happy life, a life with no traces left of death or weakness. They have been brought from an eternity of separation from God to spending their eternity in heaven. God used us as the tool to share this life-giving message to them. To them, we are the aroma that brings life.
Paul also mentions, “To the one we are an aroma that brings death.” You might ask, “How can that be? How can the gospel bring death? The message of the gospel brings life.” However, this is speaking to people who reject the gospel message. They are told what Jesus has done for them. Yet, they refuse to believe it. They have rejected the only way to salvation. This sweet smell of the gospel is like those flowers and the incense that were smelled in the triumphal procession to the enemies of the Roman generals. Just as it meant death for the enemies of the Roman general, the sweet smell of the gospel will mean death to those who rejected it.
This thought, that we are an aroma to those around us, gives us a moment to think about what kind of aroma are we giving off? Do we, at times, give off a noxious odor? When we are with those who do not know Jesus as our Savior, what smell do they smell? Are there times when we are acting just as smelly as those around us? Do we always give off the beautiful aroma of Christ in our words and actions? When we catch ourselves being just as smelly as those around us, we come to God in repentance. We thank him that he has washed us clean from the noxious odors that we have emitted. We ask him to help us to let the sweet smell of the gospel permeate all that we say and do, always praying that God would work through us, so that others may be drawn to the gospel. We pray that they would smell good, too.
If you were to say to someone, “You smell,” they probably would be offended, because the connotation is that they stink. Now, however, if you say to them, “You smell good,” they would feel good about themselves. If you were to say to someone, “You smell like Christ,” that would be the greatest compliment of all. May God help us so that, more and more every day, we smell like Christ. Amen.
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