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The Fragrance of Life

The Fragrance of Life

Words of Faith 9-7-17

Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2017


Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL

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2 Corinthians 2

[14] But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. [15] For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. [16] To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?


     Do you have a special childhood memory that is marked by certain smells or fragrances? Researchers tell us that olfactory memory is the most powerful of all. A whiff of perfume or the smell of a particular food cooking can quickly take us back in time. Paul used that powerful olfactory tool to help the Corinthians understand their place in the victory procession of Christ.

    Paul continued to bring a familiar image to the minds of the Corinthians, that of a Roman military victory parade. In the Roman triumphal procession, incense was burned and perfume diffused along the parade route along with burnt offerings to Jupiter. The incense and perfume served to mask the stench of burning flesh. Both aromas were in the air. Anyone who had experienced such a parade would recall the conflicting mixture of smells, one moment the fragrant scent of perfume and incense, and in the next moment the stench of death.

     These images would have connected powerfully for the Corinthian readers. Like the mixture of fragrances we might remember from a childhood visit to the state fair-- popcorn, cotton candy, funnel cakes… mixed with animal manure and diesel generators. For the Corinthians, the mixture of wafting parade aromas, some delightful and some repugnant, would have been indelibly etched into the memory.

       Paul's point is that the procession of Christ's victory is a mixture of life and death. It is a procession marked by sacrifice and pain but also an experience of Life that is unequalled. It is a story of death that brings life, freedom lived out in servanthood, and life discovered in the midst of suffering.

       Some observe the parade of "Christ Followers" and they are totally baffled. They see the Christian believers-- Paul, the Apostles, and the long procession of transformed souls captured by the grace and love of God in Christ-- and all that they can smell is death. They see captivity where there is freedom. They see confinement where there is liberty.

     Others along the parade route catch a completely different fragrance and exclaim—"This is a procession of life! This is the fragrance of childhood dreams! This is the aroma of freedom! This is the fragrance of everything I have ever longed for!" Yes, there is sacrifice. Yes, there is pain involved. But those in the train of following Christ are the fragrance of life and there is no other option but to join in and follow.

       Some are repulsed by the thought of following Christ as a captive of his magnificent love and grace. Others are thrilled and drawn into the procession, never able to turn back.

     Paul no doubt connected these images to his own experience of the aroma of Old Testament offerings, the mixture of animal sacrifice, wheat and grain burning with incense. Paul understood his life as a sacrificial offering-- "a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12:1).

     Paul understood this course of his in proclaiming God's message, while at the same time suffering rejection and attack by many, as an extension of Jesus' life as the Servant of God. Paul later wrote to the Colossians-- "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church" (Col. 1:24).

     Paul was not suggesting that Christ's death was somehow insufficient in terms of grace, but that he was always will to give every possible sacrifice of himself for the same of the church. He wrote to the Romans-- "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (8:18).

     Bottom line? The heart of the gospel is that through Jesus' death people may receive life and resurrection. To those who rejected the gospel and disbelieved the message of Christ crucified and raised, Paul was like the stench of death in their nostrils. They continued on the path to destruction. But to those who believe, the gospel is the fragrance of life.

       This twofold consequence of Paul's ministry staggered him. Some come to life while others continue to destruction. Some smell life and others only death. Who is equal to such a task? How do we deal with that? This is the great heartache of ministry for Christ that we must entrust to God (Romans 11:33-36).

       Who is equal to the task? Paul answered his own question later at least in some sense-- "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" (3:5-6).

       For us? In day to day living? Don't be surprised if you smell bad to some people. Don't be surprised if you smell wonderful to others! You are fragrant in your life with Christ. The Life of Christ is fragrant in you. Some will smell nothing but death, but others will be drawn to life.


       Father God, thank You for taking me captive by Your love. Thank You for setting me free by Your grace. Thank You for inviting me into the procession of Life. Make me equal to the task of sharing Jesus by the Spirit of that gives Life. In Jesus' Name.