What Kind of Smell? Who Is Sufficient?
Following last Sunday morning's sermon about persecution, Kelly brought a passage of scripture to my attention. I wish that I would have included II Corinthians 2:15-16 in my lesson. That opportunity long gone, but I will bring that verse to your attention with this bulletin article.
II Corinthians 2:15-16 in Three Versions
For we are a sweet savor of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one a savor from death unto death; to the other a savor from life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? (ASV)
For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? (NASB)
For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ [which ascends] to God, [discernible both] among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the latter one an aroma from death to death [a fatal, offensive odor], but to the other an aroma from life to life [a vital fragrance, living and fresh]. And who is adequate and sufficiently qualified for these things? (AMP)
Explaining II Corinthians 2:15-16 - The Good News
Writing about aromas or smells, Paul might have been reflecting back on the smell of Israel's Temple, made fragrant with incense offered in praise of God.
The golden altar of incense...sat in front of the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies...God commanded the priests to burn incense on the golden altar every morning and evening, the same time that the daily burnt offerings were made. The incense was to be left burning continually throughout the day and night as a pleasing aroma to the Lord (see Ex. 30:1-10).
Like the Temple's incense, Christian lives "are the sweet savor of Christ." The image is of Christian lives so thoroughly infused with Christian values and virtues that they fragrance the air around them. Putting off this sweet smell, other Christians "smell" the spiritual life in them and love them for their "smell."
The Bad News
Smells and aromas are matters of taste. Occasionally Janie buys a candle to bring home and burn with a smell that she enjoys. There are times when I find those smells annoying.
Like so many other things, smells are a matter of taste. What some like, others dislike. This is also in the background of II Corinthians 2:15-16. What dedicated Christians find sweet smelling in other dedicated Christians, others find an offensive stench.
An example is found in a recent edition of The Atlantic magazine. Christians value the discipline of sexual purity and respect godly sexual ethics in the lives of others. Contradicting this, The Atlantic has said that preaching Christian sexual morality to the unmarried is out of the mainstream and offensive.
What some like, others dislike. Christian living, appreciated by other Christians, is offensive to those who prefer to die in their sins. To the terribly immoral, for example, Christian sexual morality is "oppressive," "guilt-ridden," and wrong. To borrow Paul's words, Christians smell like death to those who are dying in sin - and they do not like either our "smell" or us for smelling that way. Paul is simply using reactions to offensive smells to explain the reaction of non-Christian to Christians, and their rejection of what we do and who we are.
Who Is Adequate For These Things?
The worse news is that we have to be prepared for these reactions of rejection. "Smelling" the way that we do, the world is going to turn up its nose at us. Behaving as we must behave, the world is going to push back against us and persecute us. Taking up this cross is an unpleasant necessity of Christianity. Are you equal to this job?
With the question, "Who is adequate and sufficiently qualified for these things?", Paul is placing a great challenge before us. "Who is worthy of so important a charge? Who can undertake it without trembling? " (Barnes).