2 Corinthians 2:14 – Thanks be to God who … through us spreads everywhere the fragrance that comes from knowing him. (NRSV)
"A rose between two thorns!" You've heard this expression; but have you ever applied it to our Christian calling? Jesus did. In effect, He called His followers to be a sweet aroma in the midst of prickly evil. This is how they would be His witnesses wherever they went. You might be thinking about some Christians who are more prickly than fragrant.
To be sure, Christ's aroma has not always been evident in Christians. In the historic church, the mission of purging evil at times overshadowed the need for the gifts of the Spirit to bud and blossom. This has produced a horrendous array of prickly evils. We cannot be critical of these people because we have our own anxieties over evil — which can make us prickly too. Consider our endless litigations, rules, and security measures. We, too, wish to be insulated from the threat of evil. We may shun the "sinner" and cling to the "righteous". This is an evil in itself because it opposes God's purposes. Jesus said, "For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:13 NRSV) Martin Luther wrote: "Christ's love faces a direction where it does not find good, but where it may bestow good upon the bad and needy person."
That is just what Christ's followers are called to do: blossom in the midst of evil. We are never called to avenge evil. After all, we can't smell sweet when we are angry and vengeful. That doesn't attract anyone to Christ. Instead we rely on God's protection while we give off His fragrant aroma in the presence of evil. This was Jesus' prayer for us. He said, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one." (John 17:15 NIV) Christ promised to remain with us: "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20 NIV)
Jesus knew that many would react against the aroma in His followers. Paul did too. He said, "To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life." (2 Corinthians 2:16a NIV) Why is this? It is because Christ's aroma embodies a smell of death: the death of self-rule. This is a hard calling, and many reject it. Yet, as Christ's sweet aroma continues to emanate from His followers, even the most resistant offenders may become attracted. It happens all the time! After all, that is the aroma of Christ's life. And that is a very sweet offer!
Prayer: Lord, we seek You to help us to grow in faith and purpose, so that each of us can be a sweet aroma in our respective families, among our friends, and anywhere we are. Amen.