What's That Smell?

The dog ran off the other night to snag a piece of watermelon from the woodchuck trap.  Don’t worry.  It’s a box trap, and my husband-turned-gardener-turned-animal-control-expert always relocates the offending animal somewhere far away from our tomatoes and beans.

The air was heavy as I went in search of the dog, who I was having a hard time locating.  We’ve begun the change over from spring into summer and a distinct scent punctuated the humid evening.  There I was, acting like the dog I was looking for: pausing mid-step, turning my head to catch another breath of the odor, searching my mind.  What was that smell?  

Then it clicked. I had seen honeysuckle clambering over twigs on walk earlier in the day.  Once identified, the scent is everywhere and  announces summer has arrived.  It begs you to slow down, take note, and ask, “What is that smell?”  It might be surprising, but God may be asking the same thing.

2 Corinthians 2:15 says:

For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. (NIV)

This isn’t a passage on good hygiene. Rather, among other things, Paul is expressing that we are responsible and accountable for what we "give off" in our lives.  Knowing and remembering this can be so important when going through tough times, and in 2 Corinthians, chapters 1 and 2, Paul references some of the challenging events in his ministry and in the life of the Corinthian church.

It matters who we are trying to please.

In reading 2 Corinthians 2:15, I often think Paul is emphasizing that as followers of Jesus we are meant to share our aroma with both believers and nonbelievers. But that’s not exactly right. Paul writes that we are appealing primarily to the nostrils of God. And that changes things.

The first interpretation seems sweet, warm, concerned with the humans around us, evangelistic, even.  And we absolutely are ambassadors, representing Christ in our communities. However, while that is a part of our mission on earth, that’s not exactly what’s being communicated here.  Paul is saying, that  as people submitted to Christ, what we do and how we think matters first to God. That as we walk around our world and go about our business with people, we are to be pleasing first, to God.  That as we share God in big ways and small ways with those around us, we are a pleasant aroma to God, first. In short, our first accountability is to God.  This is a great responsibility, as The Message puts it.  But before becoming overwhelmed, keep in mind that understanding this aspect of life in Christ actually benefits us.

Paul was dealing with significantly difficult situations in chapters 1 and 2 of 2nd Corinthians. But his letter to the church shows a clear line of thinking that had to have come from his internal “organizational flow chart.” Knowing and remembering who he was primarily responsible to kept him focused as he was moving about the region fulfilling God’s purpose for his life.  When our lives get challenging because of - or in spite of - telling people about God’s love, we can look to Paul and his letter to the Corinthians.  We can know that Christians have done hard things before, and that our God is attentive.  He walks through his garden, asking, “What’s that pleasing smell? Wait, I recognize that.”

By the way, I did eventually corral the dog and ushered her back into the house with a stolen snack lodged firmly in her jaws. The woodchuck’s still on the loose, though.  And the honeysuckle is still in bloom, perfuming the evening air.

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