“We Smell” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

There are some people who like both the smell and the taste of coffee, some who like the smell but dislike the taste, and others who totally despise both. Count me in that last category.

I last had a cup of coffee in the summer of 1988 while on a missions trip to Scarborough, England. I was leading a music team that was doing beach ministry by day on the shores of the English Channel, while presenting concerts in community centers and churches in the evenings. The mayor of Scarborough heard about our presence and invited us to tea in her mansion. But it wasn’t tea, it was coffee I was served. I took a couple of sips to be polite, but at a moment when all were looking in a different direction, I surreptitiously dumped the remains into a large, potted plant (probably killed the thing later!).

I call coffee “skunk juice.”  I frequently have trouble distinguishing one odor from the other. I just know that this is not my imagination, and though I likely have a bad attitude about coffee, it TRULY does smell much like a skunk (to me). So, I did some scientific research and was quickly able to find multiple articles identifying that there are indeed overlapping chemical components, called “thiols,” in each. I have included the chemical chart as evidence.

In our passage today, Paul references a well-known, historic occasion where odors in the air had decidedly different reactions from people, depending upon who you were. When the Roman legions would return home victorious from their conquests, they would march into the city in a parade that exalted the general and his troops, while also displaying the conquered prisoners. Incense was burned on this occasion and filled the air with varied aromas. For the soldiers, it was a smell of victory; but for the prisoners, it was a stench that portended their death or slavery.

Paul somewhat mixes the picture by describing himself and believers as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession. But having been captives of His love and grace, we find it to be as victors with him who overcame death.

The smell of Christ’s victory is the aroma also of our lives as we are identified with him. For those who know Christ or who are being called by him unto salvation through our service, this is the aroma of life. But to those who reject Jesus and the gospel, the smell for them is one that leads to death. It is a paradox of Christian life and ministry!  And Paul asks, “who is equal to such a task?  (He’ll answer that question later by saying that we are sufficient in Christ – 3:5).

Paul further states that his ministry and that of his associates was not like that of many others with whom the Corinthians had contact – people who demanded payment for their services. Though Paul could have rightly expected this (as we covered in 1 Corinthians), he did not take anything from them. And here also, Paul says he is not like these others who peddle the word of God for profit.  The Greek verb for “peddle” is only used this one time in the Bible. It was a term of derision used to describe unscrupulous street merchants who were commonly known to cheat people with their sales. In the same way that the contemporary phrase “used car salesman” frequently has a negative connotation, so did this word. Synonyms could be “huckster” or “hawker.”  Paul’s ministry was not like this; it was genuine and sincere, as from God.

We all smell; we all have an “odor” to those around us. We want that aroma to be sincere, as we want to come off smelling like Christ in a genuine way. This will be attractive to those who have a work of the gospel going on inside them. However, this may offend some who are hostile to the gospel, but that’s not our problem. We need to be faithful. And we need to be sure our lives are not excreting some other odor!

2 Corinthians 2:14 – But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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