Be Stinky Christians With a Smelly Message
3rd Sunday of Easter
Text: 2 Corinthians 2:12-3:6
What goes through your mind when you crawl into a bed of clean sheets? What emotions do you experience when you walk into a home and smell fresh bread baking in the oven? Can you picture the scent of a new book? What memories flood your mind when you smell that slightly musty odor that Grandma’s house always smelled like?
When I open a new book I can just about feel the warm summer sun beating on my skin. I can hear the waves gently lapping on the shore. It is almost an out of body experience where I am transported back to that house my family would borrow on a lake in northern Michigan. Every summer we would go there, every summer my Mom would take us to Barns & Nobles and we could buy a new book for the vacation. In my mind, the smell of a new book is indelibly tied to a summer vacation with nothing to do but swim, read and eat.
The human sense of smell is an amazing thing. Because of the way our brains are put together our memories of certain smells have strong emotional qualities and are often associated with good or bad experiences in our lives. About 80% of what we taste is dictated by what we smell; which is why my parents would instruct me to plug my nose when I had to finish the food on my plate that did not appeal to my picky appetite.
Today Paul tells us put the amazingly powerful human sense of smell to work. Today Paul tells us to be stinky Christians with a smelly message, and he isn’t just talking about the days when we fail to brush our teeth or put on deodorant. In 2 Corinthians Paul explains that we are the fragrance of God. We are the aroma of Christ to this world.
Like it or not, you are an ambassador for Christ. The people who see you drive into this parking lot on a Sunday morning associate you with this church. Like it or not, the people who know that you regularly attend Christ the King Church are going to associate you with Christ.
And this is how Jesus intended it to be. Jesus has ascended into heaven. He no longer travels the earth speaking directly to people, but before he left he made very clear in the Gospel for today and in many other places that his message, the message of forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations. Just like the smell of a new book or fresh baking bread brings a very clear image of home to me, we are to be the aroma of God to this world bringing a very clear image of God to all who interact with us.
Needless to say, this is an extremely important job! We are the direct representatives of God to this world. Jesus has given us the keys to heaven. When people look at us and our every action they should see Jesus in all of his glory, in all of his perfection… So how’s that going for you? What smells have you been giving off to this world?…
It is a rancid thing when Christians fail to act like Christians… but we all do it. I know I do it all the time and even though I don’t see many of you throughout the week I know that you too fail to live like Christians every day of every week. Think back to this last week, did you always, in every way, emit the aromatic love of Jesus to the world around you? I bet you don’t even have to go any further than your interactions with your family this morning. Did you show completely, perfectly, patient and pure love to your family from the moment you woke up this morning?
This un-Christ-like stench is an ugly thing in and of itself, but it becomes even more rotten when those who don’t believe in Jesus as their Savior see and smell this ugliness coming from us, Christ’s representatives. It would be terrible if someone used my sinfulness as an excuse to not come to church and hear the message that Jesus wants us to preach to all nations, the message of forgiveness, the message of life.
Paul says that “through us [God] spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him,” but in all my sinfulness I fear I am emitting all the wrong odors. We smell more like a rotting corpse than Christ. I am obliged to cry out with Paul, “Who is equal to such a task?” Certainly not me! Certainly not you!
On top of our complete inadequacy at being the right aroma, it seems that even when we do try our best to be the fragrance of God it still feels like we fail; it is still hard to do. And because of this our excuses abound…
People don’t want to hear about sin. People won’t listen. I feel hypocritical telling people that what they are doing is wrong. I’m worried about how my friend will react; I don’t want him to stop talking to me. It’s my own family; I already know they won’t change, so I just don’t bring it up because whenever I do it just ends up being an argument…
Our excuses for not being God’s ambassadors are sinful, our excuses are weak because God has called each of us to be his aroma and we have no choice but to comply. What can make these battles against sin even harder though is that our excuses are based, at least partially in fact. It is not going to be easy being the fragrance of God to this world. God himself is very forthcoming with this fact. And the devil is very good at turning our hardships into excuses, sinful excuses.
We are the aroma of Christ to this world, but unfortunately God warns us through Paul that we will not smell the same to everyone.
Look at verse 15 “For we are the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.” Our message has a beautiful aroma all unto itself. We get to preach about the love of Jesus which is, without a doubt, the most beautiful and amazing love this world has ever seen, but not everyone sees it that way and this can make our job hard.
There will always be those out there who want nothing to do with our message, people who want nothing to do with Jesus, and to them we are the smell of death. The message we are to preach is great for those who believe in Jesus but with the message of forgiveness through Jesus also comes the message of condemnation apart from him. And let’s face it; no one likes to be the bearer of bad news. No one likes to be the one that has to point out the wrongs of another, and in this difficulty Satan attacks our weak sinful natures which are more than willing to be convinced that it would be better to say nothing than be rejected.
So we fail in every possible way to be the perfect aroma of Christ. When we actually do beat the temptation to not share the message we do a terrible job at sharing it.
And yet here we are, whether we like it or not we are Christ’s ambassadors. Jesus has given you the obligation of being his aroma … thankfully God does not tell us we are to be his fragrance and then leave us to figure out how to do that on our own. Like Paul, despite our personal shortcomings, we too can be confident ministers of Jesus message.
Look at verses 4-6: “Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant.”
We are not equal to the task of being Christ’s aroma in and of ourselves, that much is very clear. Christ is perfect, we are not. But we still can be confident. We still can be competent as the fragrance of God because he himself makes us that way.
You can still be confident because God has called you to faith. Paul put it this way, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.” In Jesus we are already triumphant. The smell of death that filled the air on Good Friday was replaced with the smell of life on Easter morning. Because of Jesus the death that will cause our bodies to rot will not be permanent. Because of Jesus we will enjoy the smells of a heavenly banquet for all eternity. You think fresh bread smells good now, just wait… Heaven is ours and in this fact, in the faith we have in Jesus, we find the motivation to carry a bold swagger in this life. A confidence that rests not on who we are or what we have done, but in what Jesus has done for us.
This confidence is bolstered even more in the fact that just as God has called you to faith; God has also called you to preach. “We are to God the aroma of Christ.” Jesus himself has called you and me and has given us the same task he gave those early disciples. We are to preach. Jesus looks at you, warts and all and says, “I am going to work through you.” Knowing we are the representatives of God will always be an intimidating and humbling thought, but that’s ok, it’s a good thing to respect our calling and fear our God. We cannot, however, let our inadequacies stop us from preaching. The very fact that God himself has called us to do his work can and should give us confidence. God does not make mistakes. From my perspective, it would be a mistake to use you or me as the representative of perfect love but this is how God has chosen to work. You have been called, and in this calling you are competent.
And if God calling you to faith is not enough to instill confidence, if God calling you to preach is not enough, God has also given you the message you are to preach. We are ministers of the “new covenant” Paul says. Think back a couple weeks to Jesus’ words on Maundy Thursday, “Take and drink this is my blood of the new covenant given for you for the forgiveness of sins.” The new covenant we are to preach is none other the message of Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world. Your message does not have to be fancy. The validity or effectiveness of your message does not rely on your IQ, whit or wisdom. Your message, the message every single one of you is competent to preach, is as simple as this: Jesus Christ died for your sins and the sins of the whole world.
In all of this we are made confident through Christ. In our faith we are made bold, in our calling our competence is backed up by God himself, through our God given message there is no confusion as to what we need to say. Can you smell it? The smell of victory has been poured all over us, the fragrance of forgiveness, the aroma of hope and all because of Jesus. Don’t keep this life giving perfume to yourselves. Be stinky Christians confidently preaching a smelly message.