Where would we be without our sense of smell?
The season from Thanksgiving through Christmas keeps our olfactory function running in overdrive. What is your favorite holiday “smell?” Turkey with dressing and a sweet potato casserole? Chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookies? Pecan pie? My wife bakes a sour cream pound cake that is to die for, and the aroma that comes from the kitchen when she takes it out of the oven is mouthwatering. If food smells good, it must be good, and the aroma stimulates our enjoyment.
Our sense of smell affects more than just the taste of food, though. We love the aroma of fresh flowers or nice perfume. We are alarmed by the smell of coolant coming from under the hood of our car, or the pungent odor of some harsh chemical. And we are repulsed by the aroma put off by a skunk – or a person who has not had a bath in several days. In different arenas of life, aroma can affect attitude. Smell may suggest skepticism.
Similarly, people around us may be skeptical of Christ and his kingdom because of how we smell – by the aroma of our actions and attitudes. Just as good food is known by the smell, so is a faithful Christian. This may sound odd, but look at how the apostle Paul described our Christian witness in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16:
“Through us [God] spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life.” (CSB)
According to Paul, our calling as Christians is to spread the “aroma” of Christ everywhere we go. But just what should a Christian smell like?
The Christian aroma is one of love – whole-hearted love for God and selfless love for others. The fragrant bouquet of the Christian life – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – also known as the gifts of the Spirit – gives off an aroma so strong that people are drawn to the source of the smell – Jesus in us. Like the unmistakable smell of a newborn baby, so the faithful Christian gives off an aroma of life.
Paul also goes on to say that “to some we are an aroma of death” and I think he may have had two things in mind here.
First, we know that living a life that clearly reflects Christ will not be received or appreciated by everyone. Just ask the families of 19 Coptic Christians in orange jump suits who were martyred by terrorists on a Libyan beach a few years ago. Our faithful Christian witness will bring conviction to the hearts of some in our Personal Mission Field. Because of that, some will just stay away from us – as if we had bad body odor – but others may react with verbal, emotional, or even physical violence.
But our lives can also give off an aroma of death when we do not live a life that clearly reflects Christ. The hypocritical Christian smells like death because there is no evidence of spiritual life in that person; he or she smells just like everyone else. Unkind Christians, impatient Christians, angry Christians, greedy Christians all give off an aroma that is anything but the sweet fragrance of the Holy Spirit within.
Life and death in the aroma of a life. As followers of Christ, we must be constantly aware of how we are presenting Him to others in our actions and attitudes, in our words and our deeds. What a sobering responsibility! That must be why Paul also said, “Who is adequate for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16 CSB). To faithfully exude the aroma of Christ begins with a genuine and growing personal relationship with Christ. The stronger and closer and deeper our walk with Christ, the more fragrant the aroma of our life will be.
Like that sour cream pound cake my wife makes. To get a great cake that gives off that wonderful aroma, all the right ingredients must go into the mix. The ingredients that make for a great smelling Christian are an ever-deepening love for God combined with genuine love for people. If the mix is right, the aroma will be fantastic.
And folks all around will want a slice.