What a big difference a little word can make. That’s the case as I noodle on a picture Paul paints in 2Corinthians.
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.
(2Corinthians 2:14 ESV)
It’s a happy picture. A triumphal procession. Christ is victor and we share in the victory. And not only are we on the winning side, we have opportunity to spread that win to others. Just as, back in Paul’s day, it was customary to spread incense along the streets of the victor’s parade, we, like Paul, can be that fragrance–“the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.”
But what is that fragrance? Is it some sweet smelling perfume? Or is it something else?
Here’s where a little word is making a big difference for me this morning.
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.
(2Corinthians 2:15-16a ESV)
The fragrance Paul is talking about is “the aroma of Christ TO God.” It’s not a sweet-smelling savor for God, but an aroma to God. And that’s got me thinking sacrifice. Isn’t that how the Old Testament sacrifices are described? How many times did I come across the phrase “a pleasing aroma to the LORD” in Leviticus? Lots!!! That’s how many.
Makes sense, too. To the natural man, to those still dead in trespass and sin, a burnt offering wholly consumed is likely to smell just like a burnt offering. To the world, it’s not gonna be all that appealing. After all, a sacrifice to God is resulting in death to self. No longer captain of its own ship. No longer the master planner of its own plans. Instead, laid on the altar and offered wholly to God. Some might say, “What? Not living for myself? Not about my happiness? Not about my profit? Well, that stinks!”
But for those alive to the things of God, offering oneself as a living sacrifice is at the core what it means to have life and have it to the full. It’s the fundamental dynamic of those who are new creations in Christ; of those who are putting on Christ even as they die to self; of those who are laying up treasure in heaven; of those who are marching triumphantly with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords — the One who also came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a sacrifice for many (Mark 10:45). And to those alive in Christ, by the Spirit’s enabling, we say, “Sweet!”
So this aroma TO God is picked up by others. Living sacrifices poured out on the altar have a collateral impact on those around them.
But, let’s not pretend that even though it is a pleasing aroma to the Lord, it somehow lessens what is involved in being a living sacrifice. Sometime’s it’s hard to keep placing ourselves on the altar. It comes at a cost. A willingness to faithfully serve. A determination to trustingly suffer. A continual belief that to try and preserve our lives is to lose them, but to freely give them up is to keep them (Lk. 17:33). Ultimately, it costs us our lives.
An aroma of Christ TO God. Might that be the fragrance we emit.
By His grace. For His glory.