The first week of May has to be one of my very favorite weeks out of the whole year, at least in this “neck of the woods” where we live. This is normally when the lilacs and fruit trees are in full bloom on our place and the aromas floating around are just amazing. We like to sit out on the deck (which is next to a row of lilacs) to have lunch and/or supper and just enjoy the fragrance, or to walk through our little orchard and revel in the sweet-smelling apple blossoms and watch the bees working hard as they move from flower to flower, gathering nectar and pollen. We have 24 bee hives, so the trees are alive with worker bees. If the blossoms make it without a hard frost we should have lots of fruit this year as the trees are solid with blossoms. The beautiful aromas are an encouraging harbinger of a coming bountiful harvest of fruit.
As I enjoy the aroma of all the blossoms, I am reminded of a passage in Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth. He wrote: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other and aroma from life to life…” (II Cor. 2:14-16). The picture is of a Roman conqueror leading his captives in triumph. Paul gladly considered himself one of Christ’s captives being led in triumph, to the glory of Christ. In Rome, if a general won a complete victory on foreign soil, and if he killed at least 5,000 enemy soldiers and gained new territory for the Emperor, then he was entitled to a “Roman Triumph,” their equivalent of the American “ticker-tape parade.” The parade would include the commander riding in a golden chariot, surrounded by his officers and would include a display of the spoils of battle, as well as the captive enemy soldiers. The Roman priests would also be in the parade, carrying burning incense to pay tribute to the victorious army.
When you consider our great commander-in-chief, Jesus Christ, He came to foreign soil (the earth) and completely defeated the enemy (Satan). But, instead of killing 5,000 enemies, He gave life to more than 5,000 persons—3,000 at Pentecost (Acts 2:41) and 2,000 plus shortly after Pentecost (Acts 4:4), plus the millions since then. Jesus claimed the “spoils of battle”—lost souls who had been in bondage to sin and Satan (II Tim 2:24-26). What a great victory! Just as the victorious Roman general’s sons would walk behind their father’s chariot, sharing in his victory, believers in Christ are following in His triumph. We don’t fight the spiritual battle (Eph. 6:10) for victory; we fight from victory (II Cor. 2:14 cf I Cor. 15:57; Ro. 8:37).
As the Roman priests burned the incense in the parade, the odor affected different people in different ways. To the triumphant soldiers, it meant life and victory; but to the conquered enemy, it meant defeat and death. They were on their way to be killed by the lions. Using this image of the incense, Paul pictured the Christian ministry. He saw believers as incense, giving forth the fragrance of Jesus Christ in their lives and labors. To God, believers are the fragrance of Jesus Christ. To other believers, we are the fragrance of eternal and abundant life; to those who have rejected or ignored Christ, we are the fragrance of death, for we represent the only way of life (Jn. 14:6)—which they have rejected. The way we live and work can mean life or death to a lost world around us.
If you are a believer in Christ and are abiding in Him and in His Word, you are exhibiting an aroma, a fragrance of Christ which is evident to all around wherever you go. To those who know Christ or are being drawn to Him, you will be an “aroma of life” but to those who are living in rejection of Christ, you will be an “aroma of death.” The aroma also is a harbinger of the fruit that you will bear as you abide in the vine (Jn. 15:1-8). It is God’s purpose for our lives that we “should go and bear fruit, and that our fruit should remain…” (Jn. 15:16). What aromas are emanating from your life? Are you walking with Christ in His triumph and manifesting His fragrance and the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23) to all around? Or are you walking in the flesh, ruled by the old, sinful nature and “stinking it up” wherever you go? Are you pointing people to Christ by the way you live or driving them from Him?