There’s nothing better than the smell of a home-cooked breakfast; eggs, bacon, biscuits and some freshly brewed coffee can filter through a house and is bound to make a morning exciting. That is, as long as you like that meal. Some don’t though, and even go as far as to avoid it - especially the coffee. Why? They’ve never never come to taste these things as good.
The Gospel has the same effect on a much more important and eternal scale. Let’s look at II Corinthians 2:15, 16 with a thought along these same lines.
“For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?”
For we [Christians] are, that is, should be, a sweet smell of Christ unto God in the lives of the believer and unbeliever. What’s that even mean exactly? How can we be a sweet smell of Christ to God when we continue to read into verse 16?
First, beware the wording. These verses aren’t saying that we are to be a sweet smell of death to death and a sweet smell of life to life. It reads a sweet smell to God. This is important because reading it any other way removes the beauty of Christ’s life-giving salvation! It removes Him from the equation almost fully. It becomes all about us.
The smell of death is not sweet. Any person with an olfactory system that remotely works can tell you that. Even the Bible mentions this in John 11:39.
“Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.”
Because of natural decay and corruption, death cannot be a sweet smell. Don’t confuse the verse. Paul is using an interesting analogy here. Our calling in Matthew 28:18-20 means we are to take the gospel to all nations; the unbelieving nations. What are we to say? We speak the words of Romans 3, that all are dead in trespasses and sin. That one cannot raise themselves to new life, that none can save themselves! These dead people must be given life by Christ through His finished work on the cross of Calvary, dying as a substitute for those who would come to Him, being buried and rising again three days later according to the Scriptures!
Yet, some will reject this offensive but wonderful message of free life. Thus, the Gospel becomes a message of death to those who are dead, and ultimately leads to a second death of everlasting punishment. The aroma of the Gospel message to the lost without Christ-intervention is sickening. It stinks and reeks like the decay of the grave. It’s all about death to them.
Paul then continues on to mention that the same proclamation is a fragrance of life unto those with life. The same odorously foul message to the unbeliever is an incredible, refreshing psalm of rest and life to those who live in and through Christ!
Let me try and explain it this way.
My grandfather, who is worshiping our Lord this day in the realms of Glory, used to like the smell of a skunk. Yeah, that’s right, I said liked. And without being irreverent, I want to compare the Gospel to that.
To most anyone, the skunk’s natural defense - it’s spray - is a horrid and detestable smell. Would any disagree? But to my grandfather, it reminded him of his childhood experiences in the early 1920’s. It brought him to a place of joy and remembrance, not because the skunk has a lovely odor but simply because something in that smell reminded him of good times.
This doesn’t mean the skunk had any different odor to his nostrils. Doesn’t the quote go something like, “a skunk is still a skunk by any other name?” Maybe not, but once you smell it, you never forget what it is.
For us who have never experienced the things my grandfather experienced, we pass by the odor of the skunk and reject it. We think it’s gross! This is the Gospel message to the unbeliever. They smell that message and say, “How could I want that!?” However, to those who have experienced that life, the Gospel arouses remembrance and joy!
The smell is the same - the theme of the message is the same. There was nothing fragrant about Christ dying in the awful manner that He did to save wretched sinners such as we are. There’s nothing refreshing about our own sinfulness or spiritually-dead state before Christ. But because some have come to taste that Christ is good, this Gospel-fragrance is lovely.
Now, if you don’t read this verse correctly, the last sentence doesn’t seem to fit in here. “And who is sufficient for these things?” Paul seems to wonder why he wrote what just did. But we know that holy men spake (in this case, wrote) as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (I Peter 1:21) On top of that, it’s a rhetorical question to cause you to pause and remind yourself that you are not sufficient. Who is? Check out II Corinthians 3:5 for that answer.
“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.”
This pulls the statement from verse 15 into 16 and links it all with Christ. Paul tells us that we are to be a sweet savor unto God of Christ! It’s like he’s saying, on our own we are an atrocious smelling thing! A sinful smell, even. It’s Christ that causes us to be this sweet fragrance to God. We go and present the word of Christ and His Gospel. Every thing we proclaim is about Him and He was the only sacrifice that could suffice the wrath of God. He was the Perfect Fragrance, if you will.
It’s almost as if we’re a Glade plug-in. We are just a holder, plugged into the source of power that is Christ and His Gospel is the fragrance packet that we propagate. It’s because of His sufficiency and work that the fragrance goes forth. Without the power, the smell never goes leaves the holder.
Label these two verses in your Bible as “the results of the Great Commission.” God does the saving. We’re simply called to go and proclaim to all nations. In doing so, whether we are a smell of death unto death or a fragrance of life unto life, we become a sweet smell of Christ unto our great God! As my pastor said in a study of Corinthians, “God is pleased with us either way.”
Some will reject the odor of the message and say it reeks. But some will experience that the exact same message has a heavenly fragrance. Like Paul asks, who is sufficient to do these things?
“I am the Vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing.”
Ask yourself three questions now. Am I a sweet smell of Christ unto God? How do I know I am? Am I a smell of death unto death and a smell of life unto life in the message I take and display to others?