When someone asks, “how does this smell?” it usually is followed by a knee jerk reaction to either pull away or lean in for the “courtesy sniff”. Why do we have this reaction? It usually has to do with our experiences from the past. Sometimes, “how does this smell”, is followed by an unpleasant odor like rotting food. Other times, a pleasant aroma like perfume or flowers. Just like all living things on this earth, we carry with us a smell too. And let us face it, sometimes the important question is how do we smell?
Roses or ….?
As a child I recall changing the words to the poem, “Roses are Red…” My version started the same but was less lovely at the end. I will not put it here, but to paint the picture it involved the flowers decaying and smelling like… insert rhymes with “blue” here. How we smell is a big enough issue, Paul addresses it in 2 Corinthians. Paul says, “To one we are an aroma that brings death; to others an aroma that brings life…” (2 Corinthians 2:16). For certain he is not talking about physical smell but using it as a metaphor. However, lets sniff this out a bit further to see what he means.
Ok, context, context, context. Paul is not focusing on “how does this smell” or “how do we smell” in all reality. In truth, what he is getting at is how others react to us as Christians and the message we bear. Paul is saying this after visiting Troas on his way to Macedonia. The full passage is as follows:
“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” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).
What Paul is trying to get at is how we are received by four critical parties…God, other believers, potential believers, and non-believers.
So, How Do We Smell?
Our first and foremost concern is our aroma to God. All due respect to John Wesley who coined the phrase, “cleanliness is next to Godliness” (Wesley, 1778), we are not talking about how clean we are behind the ears. Are our actions ones which evoke a pleasing aroma to God? Or are we steeped in so much sin we have become foul to God’s senses?
In answer to the above question, if we have Christ in our lives and in our hearts, we have been washed clean by His blood (Revelations 7:14). The good news is we have been washed clean and are therefore able to be a pleasing aroma to God. There is however a key component here; we must keep Christ in our hearts and in our lives always. This is not a one and done; while we are saved and nothing can take this away from us, we are still not free from our flaws and weaknesses. We must live each day to be the best imitators of Jesus we can, then wake up and try to be better each day thereafter.
What Do Our Brothers and Sisters Think?
The next important group is how we smell to our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is easier now more than ever to “play the Christian” on Sunday and forget about it the rest of the week. In the world of social media and the pseudo-anonymity it brings, we can quickly lose the guards which keep our thoughts pure and life-giving to others. From social and political arguments to sporting events, Christians have shown no better behavior than any other group. Often, we are more vicious towards those we call brothers and sisters.
Now, I am not saying we should not become fake or not have a chance to express our ideas and opinions. What I am saying is perhaps we should become better at thinking about how we say or act towards one another. “Therefore, let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead make up your mind to not put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (Romans 14:13). In doing so we will begin to retain our sweet and pleasing aroma to each other.
Finally to the “others” group, “how does this smell” has a whole different reaction. This is the area where we have the greatest chance to either become the stinky cheese or the favored fondue. Beyond God and fellow believers comes everyone else; the non-believers and the potential-believers. In all reality both groups are one and the same; anyone who is not currently a believer is still a potential believer, though some are further from it than others.
Our actions speak far louder than words when dealing with non-believers. Saint Francis of Assisi said, “preach the gospel at all times, and sometimes if necessary, use words”. If we call ourselves Christians, we must live in a way which is different and inviting to others. One of my most atheistic bosses said (re: Christians) “I always know when you (Christians in general) are for real…you have an integrity about you which is different”. There is the buzz word: integrity. We need to live with integrity, so we do not stink when we tell others about the greatness of God and what Jesus has done for us.
What memories do you have of both bad and good experiences with the question “How does this smell?”
How are you striving to be a pleasing aroma to God? To your Brothers and Sisters in Christ? To others?
What does integrity mean to you? How does it feel? What does it look like?
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