“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. Who is sufficient for these things?” – 2 Corinthians 2:15-16
The more a culture distances itself from Christian values and convictions, the wider grows the divide between the church and the world. The contrast between light and darkness becomes that much more stark. The offense of the cross becomes that much more offensive. And the aroma of Christ becomes that much more pungent. As a result, faithful Christians will find that their faithfulness to Christ has that much more of a polarizing effect on the unbelieving around them. To some, it will be a putrid stench in their nostrils—an aroma of death. But to others, it will be a sweet fragrance in contrast to everything else in the world—an aroma of life.
Perhaps many of us are not used to being an aroma of death to death because the offense of our Christian living was not so felt and controversial as it is now. We certainly shouldn’t go around intentionally trying to offend people so as to be that kind of an aroma, but as we seek to live faithfully to Christ in these post-Christian times, we must never fear being an aroma of death, we must not be surprised when we find ourselves to be an aroma of death, and we must never compromise our convictions and our acting upon those convictions in order to avoid it. If we’re too afraid to be an aroma of death to death to those who are perishing, then we’ll never be an aroma of life to life to those who are being saved.
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” – Galatians 1:10
We live for God’s approval, not man’s. And his approval is contingent upon our obedience to him, not on whether or not the world likes us. So long as we are living as a pleasing aroma to God, we should not overly concern ourselves with how our aroma is being received by unbelievers around us.
After explaining this in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16, Paul then asks, “Who is sufficient for these things?” A good question. No doubt it’s a joy when we’re used as an aroma of life to life to someone else, but it’s not so easy being an aroma of death to death to others, especially when they lash out in response. Paul answers his question in v. 16 several verses later in 2 Corinthians 3:4-6. This is one of my favourite passages in Scripture as I find that I need to remind myself of its teaching regularly:
“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” – 2 Corinthians 3:4-6
Who is sufficient for these things? We aren’t. But God is. And as we seek to live for him, he promises to meet our insufficiency with his sufficiency. What grace!
I preached on this text a few years ago here: https://trinitybiblechapel.ca/sermons/we-are-the-aroma-of-christ/