Spreading the Fragrance of Christ
It was a beautiful late summer day yesterday and I took the opportunity to be out in the sun and mow my lawn. I try to keep it looking respectable, but because I don’t use chemicals on it, it has its share of weeds. A horticulturalist once told me that a weed is nothing more than a plant that’s growing where you don’t want it to. By this definition, for example, a baby cedar tree growing in your flower bed is a weed. Whether you have weeds growing in your lawn or not then, I guess, is a matter of perspective rather than an objective fact. All this to say that I have things growing in my lawn that are not grass – either seedlings of other vegetation in the area, or weeds, as you prefer. Either way, when I finished mowing the lawn, there was an aroma in the air. Why? Because dozens of varieties of plants had been wounded – sliced open – and the fragrance from those wounds had wafted into the air and been carried on the breeze.
Did you ever really notice how we come to experience the fragrances of the plant kingdom? Most obvious are the aromas we associate with plants in flower – the delicate sweetness of a rose or the intense sacchariferous aroma of blooming viburnum, almost overpowering in some varieties during peak season in the spring. But that is only half the story. Every farmer knows the aroma of freshly mown hay, and can distinguish the flora in one field from that in another by the fragrance alone. Everyone who has grown herbs knows how to maximize their scent by rubbing the leaves between the fingers. Anyone who has harvested tomatoes knows that the slightest bruising of a stem will produce the distinctive nightshade scent. Roughly pull that baby cedar tree out of the flower garden, and the evidence of its former presence there may linger in the air for hours afterward.
This is what the apostle Paul has in mind when he says that God “through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of [Christ] everywhere. 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” (2 Cor. 2:14b-16a). Paul was bruised and cut and pressed and torn. But he was also abounding in joy in the Holy Spirit. And God, through Paul’s suffering, and through his joy, caused the aroma of Christ to permeate the atmosphere wherever he went.
Should we not take from this encouragement to embrace suffering for the sake of Christ ourselves? To be willing to be tried and hard pressed and to suffer loss, that the fragrance of Christ may continue to fill the air in our day? To stand firmly for biblical truth in the face of mockery? To seek to rescue souls from the fire even though we may sometimes get scorched? To respond to the world’s vitriol with humility and costly love and patient forbearance because that’s what Jesus did? But shouldn’t we, too, be filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit? Was it not Jesus who promised His disciples fullness of joy? By God’s word, do we not look forward to pleasures at His right hand forevermore? It is precisely – and paradoxically – to such things that we are called. Why else should Jesus, at one and the same time, so adamantly insist that we take up our own crosses and follow him - crosses that are heavy, crosses that hurt, crosses that are instruments of death – yet still assert that no one would be able to take His followers’ joy from them? The aroma permeating the air around those who “die daily” yet still flower is the aroma of life to those who are being saved and the aroma of death to those who are perishing. And, beyond all understanding, “to God” himself it is “the aroma of Christ.” May He use us to spread it far and wide, till His fragrance cover the Earth.