We smell — 2 Corinthians 2:14–16

The prayers of Paul

This is a series on the prayers of St Paul found in the letters attributed to him in the order he is believed to have written them. Letters to the same place or person will be treated together with the first letter to that destination.

Tomorrow is Guy Fawkes’ Day, That British way of celebrating the failed plot of Catholics to get rid of both the King and parliament on the day of the opening of parliament, 5th November 1605, by burning bonfires, with an effigy of Fawkes on it and by setting off fireworks.

Last Sunday night there were fireworks as well as local Hindus and Sikhs set off fireworks celebrating Diwali.

I expect my walk to church on 6th November to be full of the smells of bonfire smoke and of the scent of burnt sulphur. Fire and Brimstone, though that is not the subject of this blog.

14 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. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 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 2:14–16 ESVUK

“We are the aroma of Christ,” says Paul in verse 15.

The context, there always is at least one context for everything in the Bible, is earlier in the letter, Paul has been having a hard time. A very hard time and that is no understatement, which he will come to speak of later in this letter, in chapter 11. Paul has received comfort in his struggles from God directly but also from other Christians, which he passes on and asks others who have received comfort and pass on: That was the subject of the previous post on Paul’s prayers, See the link below.

Moving on from the comfort of Jesus, Paul’s next prayer is about the triumph of Jesus. Triumphal processions would have been a common sight. Caesar or his regional representative wearing a very ornate toga would be drawn in a chariot by war horses, with troops and captives behind. A scattering of flowers would take place giving the whole spectacle a pleasing aroma. Paul uses the Roman victory procession as a symbol of Jesus’ even greater victory.

But rather than write at length on the victory of Jesus, he has already done that in an earlier letter to the Corinth, 1 Corinthians 15, Paul talks about the scent of the flowers.

Smells can bring back all sorts of memories. The smell of Brussels sprouts cooking brings back memories of many a good family Christmas to me: The smell of overcooked sprouts brings a different memory, of school meals and the disgusting bitter-tasting mush that sprouts become when cooked for far, far too long.

Paul is probably trying to make his readers think about the incense which went with sacrifice in both Jewish and Pagan traditions in his day. Jesus giving himself sacrificially on the cross is where his victory was won. And that is what is being spread around. Christians living Christian lives spread that good smell. To those who accept Jesus, the smell is sweet, it is the smell of the victory of Jesus Christ over death.

But there is also the opposite effect. To those who deliberately turn themselves against Christ, the smell is the stench of death. Paul is likely to be passive-aggressive in his ‘fragrance from death to death’ statement here having gone through so much bad stuff recently, or maybe it is another way of saying that his opponents are dead in their sins. I have come across adverse reactions to people finding out I’m a Christian, but most of the time they are just apathetic.

The question I am asking is, “Do you smell?” Is your faith in Jesus so that people will notice that you know God, or even just see you are different enough to ask about it. Being a Christian will be noticed. We cannot choose whether that is a sweet smell of victory or a stench of decay, that is for those who observe us.

The church in Corinth went from being a big problem to being a sweet smell between the writing of Paul’s two letters to them. May we too be effective for Jesus.

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