Our tri-weekly noon ball episode (basketball) at the seminary had ended and I was drenched in sweat from guarding Tony the Beat Poet (cf. Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz). Tony and I have quite the battles, most of which I get the short end of the stick. However, that is nether here nor there in regards to this particular blog post. Drenched in sweat I left the court and into the foyer of the gym building and passed by the student working the check-in table near the doors. As I walked by she gave me one of those looks; the kind of look as if she had heard something completely inappropriate while at the same time stepping on a nail. I was a little taken back, but then I realized why the reaction. May I pause here for a moment? You know, no one on the court had said anything at all about my…sweaty and NORMAL work-out-odored Oklahoma T-shirt. In fact, I’m pretty sure everyone that played that day was sweaty. Hey, we all smell like we had been playing basketball…for a reason! What was normal and appropriate for the court was apparently quite the stench to those off the court. I know the girl working the check-in table and we’re on friendly terms, but that did not eliminate the odor.
The Apostle Paul remained engaged with unbelievers throughout his ministry, even though both parties remained differentiated theologically, especially in regards to the person of Jesus. Although they remained engaged, Paul had one odor of being and the unbelieving people had another odor. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church he encourages them to wholeheartedly accept the victory Jesus has already won and to live life through that victory and in light of the victory to be fully realized upon Jesus’ return. Paul teaches them that they smell! But perhaps not in the way you may be thinking. Let’s read the following Scripture together:
“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 2:14-16 (ESV)
Christians have a different aroma than the rest of the world. Parents will understand this next example. If you have children, you know their smell. Each one has a particular smell. It is unmistakable. My wife has a particular smell. She can walk-up behind me at the grocery story, as long as I’m not in the wonderfully musty coffee aisle, and I know she is behind me or near because of how she smells (compliment!). My mother’s meatloaf has a particular smell unlike any other meatloaf. It too is unmistakable. You and I have an unmistakable aroma, or fragrance to the Father. We smell like His Son, Jesus. It’s an intimate and profoundly meaningful smell soaked in the Trinity’s relationship to One Another. There’s no smell more intimate to the Trinity than that of the Risen Christ, the Son of God. As believers, we are covered with that smell. As wonderful as this aroma we carry is, it carries the aroma or fragrance of death to the unbeliever.
As a former police officer, I have smelled “death.” Maybe you’ve heard that it is unmistakable and unlike any other smell on earth. If you’ve heard this, you heard correctly. The smell is almost unbearable and it is without doubt contagious as it clings to your clothes relentlessly. It is almost impossible to rid and you never, every forget it. The odor of death brings memory as the sense of smell is the most powerful sense in developing new memories as well as recalling old ones. The smell of Jesus for some is like that of death. He loves unbelievers so much that He not only died for the potential forgiveness of their sins (if they surrender to Him), but died so that His aroma would perfectly infect the world of His odor through His chosen people for the sake of providing all an opportunity to simply come, just as they are-sin and all, to Him for forgiveness, mercy, grace, new life now and eternal life in the hereafter.
Although we believers are covered with the aroma of Jesus, how we smell is none of our business; how we love our neighbor is our business. The aroma of Jesus may be offensive to unbelievers, but our actions must not be divisive. Many times we use our status as “believers” as an excuse to withdraw from the world. Jesus, in His “High Priestly Prayer”, found in John 17, asks the Father not to take the disciples out of the world. This makes perfect sense as we are the aroma of Jesus to the world and must be in the world for the world to look at us and say, “You smell!”
Remain engaged with the world, loving your unbelieving and believing neighbor with no other agenda than the agenda of the Father; that they may look to the Son, believe upon Him and have eternal life (John 6:40). So remember, you smell. Represent.