Diffusing the Aroma of Christ
Most of you have heard of “essential oils.” These oils are compounds that are derived or extracted from plants, especially herbs, and then they’re mixed with a carrier oil to make them usable. Essential oils are used in aromatherapy or applied topically to the skin. While there are some outlandish claims about what essential oils can do for you, there clearly are some positive physiological effects.
One way to use these oils is to have a diffuser. While diffusers work in different ways, the goal is the same; to spread the aroma of the oil into the air where it can be inhaled. The National Institutes of Health reports that “Inhaling the aromas from essential oils can stimulate areas of your limbic system, which is a part of your brain that plays a role in emotions, behaviors, sense of smell, and long-term memory.” The limbic system also plays a role in controlling several unconscious physiological functions, like breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.
What would you think if I told you that the Scriptures talk about you and me as followers of Christ being diffusers of His fragrance or aroma? Not sure? Well, they do. And that’s what we want to explore in our study today, “Diffusing the Aroma of Christ.” Our text is Second Corinthians 2:12 to 17. Listen to these words of Holy Scripture.
This portion of Scripture reveals to us the SETTINGS in which we’re called to diffuse the aroma of Christ.
The First SETTING (in which we diffuse the aroma of Christ) is,
In Anxious Expectation
One thing we know about the apostle Paul is that he was “all in” for Jesus. In his service for Christ, there was no hardship or struggle he was unwilling to endure, even to the point of death. We also know that he cared deeply for the brothers and sisters in the church at Corinth. But he was human, and like us, he got tired, annoyed, frustrated, and discouraged.
We find him in the opening verses of our text in an almost disabling state of anxiety. Here he is in Troas with an open door of ministry in front of him. This was a door that, according to Acts 16, had previously been closed to him. You would think he would be overjoyed at the opportunity to walk through that door, but he wasn’t. We know he entered that open door and began to work, but he was so overcome by his anxiety about what was happening in Corinth, that he left for Macedonia in search of Titus.
I’m blessed by how the Scriptures show us the humanity of biblical characters. We can learn from their successes and their failures. We tend to think of the apostle Paul as super-spiritual, perhaps even superhuman, but that’s not accurate. James says of the prophet Elijah, “he was a man with a nature just like ours…” Those same words apply to Paul. And in this case, he allowed his anxiety to get the best of him. It may have robbed him of a more effective ministry opportunity in Troas. And we’ll learn shortly that his anxiety was really unnecessary.
A man received a phone call one evening that his son had been in a car accident and was being transported by ambulance to the hospital. Before he and his wife rushed out the door, they took time to pray. They asked God to help them demonstrate the peace of Christ to all who were involved in the situation. He reminded his wife that if they “went to pieces” in this difficult time, they would demonstrate that they really didn’t trust Christ after all. They’d be no different than those without faith in Jesus. They wanted to diffuse the aroma of Christ even in the midst of their anxiety and care for their son.
When my wife, Joyce, received her cancer diagnosis, obviously, we were deeply concerned. But we had confidence that God knew about this before we did, and we wanted Him to be glorified in our response. We wanted the aroma of Christ to be diffused from our lives. Joyce, especially, touched many people through this experience through her cheerful attitude and her trust in God. And she continues to do that as she praises God for her recovery and good health.
How do you deal with the pressures and concerns you experience in life? Are you like Paul in this instance, allowing your anxiety to distract you from the work at hand, constraining the aroma of Christ? Or are you able to spread that aroma even in the midst of anxious expectation?
Another SETTING (in which we diffuse the aroma of Christ) is,
In Joyful Celebration
Verse fourteen shows us the potential for explosive change in human emotions. From anxiousness, the restlessness of spirit, and despair to exuberant joy and gratitude. What made the difference? According to chapter five, verse seven, Paul received a good report from Titus about the Believers in Corinth. That report transformed his whole outlook.
So, in spite of all Paul’s worry and stress, God’s work was continuing unhindered in the church at Corinth. I believe that’s the motivation for this outburst of praise. It sprang from Paul’s deep-seated conviction that God’s work in and through him, regardless of the appearance of a setback, was proceeding triumphantly. This belief is one of the great emphases of this epistle. Jesus Christ is, without exception, continuing to advance His work. He is building His church, and the gates of hell are not prevailing against it. You and I need to remember that too!
It’s interesting to note that Paul here begins a long digression about the glory of the Christian ministry that doesn’t end until the beginning of chapter seven. By Christian ministry, I mean, he talks about the work of a minister of the Gospel. While we don’t all serve in positions of church leadership, every disciple of Christ is a minister, or servant, of the Gospel. So, the things Paul writes about apply to you and me, regardless of our position.
I like the way the English Standard Version translates verse fourteen. “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.”
Paul’s readers would’ve immediately understood the word picture he was drawing. They were familiar with a Roman victory parade. The victorious general returning from conquest, entered the city in a special chariot. He was preceded by the captives and spoils taken in war. He was followed by his troops and proceeded along the sacred way to the Capitol, where he offered sacrifices in the temple of Jupiter. As the procession made its way through the streets, the priests of Jupiter carried burning censers, leaving fragrant clouds of incense to float over the throng of spectators. Try to imagine the sights, the sounds, the smells.
He was accompanied in his chariot by his young children, and sometimes by close friends, while behind him stood a slave, holding over his head a jeweled crown. The body of the infantry brought up the rear, their spears adorned with laurel, the symbol of victory. They shouted “triumph!” and sang hymns in praise of either the gods or their leader.
On occasions like this, temples were all thrown open, garlands of flowers decorated every shrine, and incense smoked on every altar. The victor and his adoring followers were greeted with clouds of fragrant perfume.
Paul describes himself and the other subjects of Christ’s grace under the figure of this triumphal pomp, in which they are led as trophies of the Redeemer’s conquest. But we haven’t been conquered by force, we’ve been conquered by love. As God leads his servants as prisoners of war in a victory parade, He spreads the knowledge of Christ everywhere through them. In Roman victory processions, the prisoners would be dejected and embittered, but for those of us who have been conquered by Christ’s love, we’re not dejected, but jubilant! And so, from Paul’s lips comes overflowing thanksgiving to God, his captor.
The original construction of the sentence shows that the knowledge of Christ is symbolized as an odor that communicates its nature and effectiveness through the work of the apostles. Today, it is through you and me, as Christ-followers, that God spreads or diffuses the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere! Our character and our work should exude that pleasant aroma.
Whether you’re at Wal-Mart, the DMV, your local hardware store, or an auto repair shop, the people you interact with should experience the aroma of Christ. Are you courteous and friendly, with a ready smile for those you meet? How you respond to an irritating neighbor, driver, or disgruntled fellow employee should spread the fragrance of Jesus. Can you ignore rudeness or being taken advantage of and still respond as Jesus would? Taking time to serve the helpless, the weak, and the downcast spreads the aroma of Jesus to a world that is so desperately in need of Him.
But not everyone will respond positively to the aroma of Christ. To some, we will become an odor of “death leading to death.” I understand this to mean from the death of Christ, that the apostles preached in the gospel, to the eternal death of those who reject it. I firmly believe that one reason for the tremendous rage we see in some parts of our culture is because people are engaging in lifestyle choices, they instinctively know are sinful. And when they are confronted by the aroma of Christ in a righteous person, it reminds them of the truth written on their hearts and their failure to suppress the truth.
Others will respond positively to the fragrance of Christ, and they will receive life. “Life leading to life” probably means from the resurrection of Christ that is preached in the gospel, to the eternal life of those who believe. Their life will be transformed, and the aroma of Christ will spread wider and wider. Our job is to spread the fragrance of Christ freely and let the responses with God.
Is your life diffusing the aroma of Christ in a joyful celebration? Or are you more like the conquered Roman captives, dejected, hopeless, forlorn? To be a genuine Christ-follower requires full surrender, but He promised us that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.
The Final SETTING (in which we diffuse the aroma of Christ) is,
In Sincere Proclamation
In verse sixteen, Paul asks the rhetorical question, “who is sufficient for these things?” The obvious answer is that none of us, in ourselves, are sufficient. We don’t have what it takes. But someone must preach the Gospel and God has called you and me, in spite of our imperfections, to take up the task.
Paul makes a bold but necessary statement in verse seventeen. He says “we are not like those who are ‘peddlers’ [or we could say hucksters] of God’s Word…” The imagery here is of wine dealers who were notoriously corrupt in their business dealings. They did things like add water to the wine to increase the amount they could sell. Or they would mix new wine with old, and then sell it as old at a higher price.
Paul is accusing the false teachers at Corinth of doing similar things with the Gospel, diluting it, or twisting it for the sake of popularity or financial gain. He reminds his readers that “we,” the apostles, are not like that. Evidently, some in Corinth were preaching for profit, so Paul steadfastly refused to take any financial support from the Corinthian church so he couldn’t be accused of being a preacher for hire.
Today, there is continual pressure in our world to make the Gospel more ‘palatable’ to both Believers and unbelievers, to dilute the hard sayings of Jesus. To preach a gospel that requires nothing of those who profess to follow Jesus. To change the aroma of Christ.
Some have succumbed to that pressure, promoting the Gospel as an escape mechanism from eternal punishment, but requiring no corresponding life change. No “denying oneself, taking up the cross, and following.” Others, preach a view of God as a benevolent grandfather handing out an unlimited supply of candy to his grandchildren with no thought for their long-term health or wellbeing. I fear that many who embrace these diluted forms of the Gospel will realize too late that they’ve embraced a false gospel that leads only to death.
But look at how Paul closes this chapter. He has a very solemn view of his relationship with God. He was a minister commissioned by God, he was responsible to God, and he was empowered by Christ. While we don’t have the visibility or position like the apostle Paul did, you and I have a similar relationship with our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. We have a responsibility to spread the aroma of Christ through the sincere proclamation of His truth.
So, how is it with you? First, are you one of Christ’s captives? If you haven’t put your faith and trust in Jesus for your salvation, then what I’ve shared with you probably makes no sense. If you are a Christ-follower, are you diffusing the aroma of Christ to those around you?
Are you allowing your anxieties to hinder the spread of that aroma? You know, our worry, our anxiety, does nothing to change the situation. All it does is hinder us from fulfilling God’s purpose for us in a difficult time. Paul’s anxiety over the Corinthian’s response to his correction didn’t change anything. All it did was temporarily rob him of his joy and effectiveness. The same thing happens to you and me.
Are you diffusing the aroma of Christ in a joyful celebration? Having been conquered by Christ’s love, are you part of the triumphal procession of the saints of all ages? Is your life spreading the fragrance of Christ throughout your sphere of influence?
And finally, are you diffusing the aroma of Christ in your sincere proclamation of the Gospel. Are you and I, like the apostle Paul, “not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes?” May God enable us by His grace to diffuse the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.