Christian, You Stink! (And It's a Good Thing)
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. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.
- 2 Corinthians 2:14-16a (ESV)
Paul begins this passage by giving thanks to God. That should always be our starting point. No matter what happens, good or bad, we are to always offer up thanksgiving to God. Paul had learned thanksgiving in the hardest of circumstances. He had been imprisoned, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, and encountered a multitude of difficulties during his ministry. Yet, he had a thankful heart. Why? Because he knew that none of these things would keep him from experiencing victory in Christ. Paul is in the triumphal procession, following the victorious King.
Paul then paints a word picture that many of his first readers would have immediately recognized. In his day, when a conquering general or king returned to his home, there would be a victory parade. The conquering army would march with their leader at the head of the procession, and conquered captives would be led in chains behind them, humiliated and broken. Often times these captives would be executed as part of the festivities, but if not, they would be enslaved. At the same time, garlands of flowers would be presented to the victors, and many times incense would be burned. The smell of flowers or incense would fill the air. To the victors this would smell like victory, but to the captives it would smell like defeat and death.
Smell is one of our most powerful senses. Possibly you have a favorite smell from your childhood, such as your mother’s apple pie. At the same time, some smells we would rather forget, such as the smell that often accompanies death.
Victors smell victory, and the conquered smell death. Same event, but a different experience. Each smell the same essence, but it leaves completely different impressions. The same is true of the Gospel message. Christian, hopefully you are infused with the odor of the Gospel. Hopefully it radiates out of your pores. When I was in Korea with the Army, I ate a lot of garlic in Korean food. A new soldier came into our unit from the states and he told me that I smelled like a Korean. Hopefully people around you think that you smell like a Christian. But what does that mean?
There will be those who embrace the Gospel, and the fragrance will be one of life, joy, and peace. There will be those who reject the Gospel. To them its odor will be that of death and decay. As we continue in the triumphal Gospel procession, led by our King, unbelievers are going to think we stink up the place. While in Korea, I got to the point where I enjoyed the permeating essence of garlic, even while understanding there were others who did not enjoy its olfactory delights. It is the same with the smell of salvation. To the believer it is a wonderful smell, the smell of life and peace. But to the skeptic and the unbeliever, it is the stench of death itself.
The Gospel is always going to have one of three effects on people. They are either going to repent and believe it, they are going to reject it, or they are going to contemplate it, possibly wanting to hear more at a later time. That is what Paul encountered in Athens in Acts 17. As he shared the message of salvation obtained through the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross and His glorious resurrection, we see all three responses. Some mocked, some wanted to hear more, and some believed. The mockers smell death. The believers smell victory.
The fragrance of the knowledge of Christ spreads everywhere. The Gospel is to go out into all the world. It cannot, and should not, be contained in our church buildings. It needs to be unleashed in the market, on the campus, everywhere. It needs to cross the seas to foreign lands. It needs to invade every people group, everywhere. And it only goes out as Christians go out. “We are the aroma of Christ.” God, in His wisdom, uses the foolishness of our preaching and sharing to bring the Gospel to people.
At the same time, it is Christ who uses that preaching of the Gospel to bring salvation. His Holy Spirit opens blind eyes and gives hearing to deaf ears. He saves those who are “dead in trespasses and sins.” Each of us, apart from His work, are blind and deaf to His truth and need the new life that only He can give. Because He is Lord over regeneration, He gets glory when sinners repent and believe, and at the same time He also gets glory when sinners are hardened in their sin.
Christ gets the victory no matter the outcome. He is victor over His army of believers, and He is victor over those who scoff and reject Him. The scoffers don’t know it, but they are already in chains. They are held in the bondage of sin and, if they die in that state, will face the consequences of that sin. They claim to be free but they are not. True freedom is only found in Christ.
We go out and preach the message of salvation. We take it everywhere. And everywhere we go, Christ gets the victory. He gets the victory when Christians smell like victory, and He gets the victory when unbelievers stink like death. Same aroma, but different receptions. Different receptions, but Christ is victor still.
Christian, could your lost friends and associates say that you stink of Christ? Does the Gospel ooze out of your pores? Can they smell that you have been with Christ in victorious procession? Do you share the triumphs of Christ, even when it stinks to those you share it with? Then rejoice, knowing your stench is victorious.
G.A. (Jerry) Minor, Pastor of Riverside Baptist Church, Albuquerque