2 Corinthians 2:15-16 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?
An internet add I once received asked the question, “Do you have O.O.O.?” The accompanying picture showed a woman with her nose wrinkled. Curious, I clicked on the link (always a dangerous thing to do on the internet) and it revealed an article on “Offensive Office Odor,” or “O. O. O.” It offered advice for dealing with people who introduced, among other things, smelly foods, smelly feet, too much perfume, body odor, or cigarette smoke into the office.
As Christians, we introduce a distinctive odor wherever we go, according to Paul. We smell like Jesus Christ, metaphorically speaking. “We are to God the aroma of Christ among those are being saved and those who are perishing.” Objectively, that is a good smell, a fragrance, an aroma because it is the smell of the gospel. Jesus dying love, the forgiveness of sins, the certainty of the resurrection and life eternal all go into “Eau de Jesus.”
But to some, even these things give off an offensive smell. “To the one we are the smell of death; to the other the fragrance of life.” Ever had a mouse or a rat die in your walls or in your attic? Few things smell worse than a rotting corpse. Death smells nasty. For some, when we preach the gospel, the message is so repulsive, so horrible to them, that it more than offends them. It kills them. It is the smell of death. But it is also a smell that leads to their death when they will not receive God’s grace and believe in Jesus. The Greek more literally reads here, “we are the smell of death leading to death.”
This is not a rare experience for anyone who has ever been involved with evangelism. I don’t remember anyone dropping my Bible information class over some disagreement about morals. But I have lost them when they couldn’t swallow ideas like “Jesus is the only way to be saved,” or “God is working powerfully in baptism to save us.” Those teachings are saturated with the sweet smell of the gospel! As good as forgiveness ought to sound, it means admitting that we have something that needs to be forgiven. We aren’t good people. And people don’t want to hear that.
Because of that, we who smell like Jesus face a temptation. When our faithful sharing of God’s word is rejected, we fear odor. We would like to cover up the aroma of Christ, or at least tone it down a little bit. We may even tell ourselves that it is for a good cause. Maybe we can win these people yet.
But there is no perfume, no deodorant, no air freshener that can cover up the full impact of the gospel without, at the same time, preventing us from being the fragrance of life. To do this, to cover up some unpopular or unlovely aspect of God’s word, will not spare more people from spiritual death. It will only make sure that we spare no one from spiritual death.
To be confessional Lutherans means to let the sweet smell of the gospel invade the senses of the people we serve and the people we seek with its full potency, and leave the outcome to God. But this is hard. As Paul says, “Who is equal to such a task?”
We find our courage when we are breathing deeply of the aroma of grace and forgiveness ourselves. And who has the privilege of spending time in that atmosphere more than we do? We need to look no farther than the absolution, the sermon, and the Lord’s Supper each Sunday for the grace and love that saves and strengthens us, too. We have our Bibles, access to e-mail devotions, Meditations, devotional articles in Forward in Christ magazine, and mid-week Bible class opportunities to soak in the gospel’s sweet smell all through the week.
They say that nothing makes a more lasting and powerful impact upon our minds and memories than things that we smell. What a fitting picture for the gospel of Christ that saves us.