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? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV)
There are many ways to describe what we should be as followers of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus compares his followers to salt (taste) and light (sight). Paul chooses the sense of smell to describe how the world perceives Christ followers. We are to smell like Jesus.
Smell is a vital sense and often warns us of things that we can’t see. Chemicals are added to natural gas to ensure that if there is a leak we can smell it. Smells stimulate memories. When we visited Edinburgh years ago the combination of rotting hops and tobacco smoke created an overpowering odor. If I ever encountered that smell again I would instantly think of Edinburgh. I loved Edinburgh and hated that smell.
Smell stimulates very strong reactions in many people. My wife cannot stand the smell of mint. Have you ever tried to find a toothpaste without mint? Most people associate mint with clean and fresh breath that is attractive to others. If I brushed my teeth with mint toothpaste I’d have to keep my distance from my wife and I could certainly forget about getting a kiss. She is not alone as the number of searchers for mint-free toothpaste on Amazon indicates.
Regardless of what we are going through Paul tells us that we are to be as confident as soldiers marching in their victory parade and giving off a strong smell that everyone will notice. To those who are moving toward Jesus this will be a wonderful smell that reminds them of eternal life. To those who are perishing or dying this will be a nauseating smell that reminds them of death. Just like mint, or any strong smell, the same odor causes two very different reactions.
Who can maintain this confident and victorious attitude that throws off a strong fragrance? Paul tells us a few verses later that his confidence comes from God. That is the only place it can come from. I must expect that others will respond in very different ways to my smell. I keep telling myself I can’t control other people’s response, but the temptation to try is hard to resist. Today’s passage is a reminder to follow Jesus, do the right thing, and expect extremely different responses from other people.
To my grandchildren:
God likes the way I smell when I trust him and live with confidence that I am a winner in him.