Summary: A sweet aroma ascends God-ward. Godly living, which includes the proclamation of the gospel, manifests Christ to men, and thus, it brings pleasure and glory to God.
Opening illustration: You can’t see it, hear it, or touch it, but scent is powerful. The smell of things like crayons, petunias, and colognes evoke memories that transport me to the past and bring to mind people and places I might not otherwise recall.
Some celebrities have fragrances named after them. Fans can identify with an actress or singer by dabbing on the scent bearing her name. Along those lines, Ladies Home Journal published a quiz to help readers determine the perfect fragrance for them. The idea is that every woman, to be memorable, should have a specific scent associated with her.
The idea of a signature scent is not new. God introduced it as part of worship. In the tabernacle, a certain scent was to be associated with the Lord (Exodus 30: 34-35). The people were forbidden to use this fragrance for anything but worship (vs. 37-38).
This idea continues under the new covenant, but with a stunning difference. Instead of using incense to make people think of Him, God uses Christians as His “signature scent” to the world (2 Corinthians 2: 14-15). The fact that God identifies Himself with us in such a powerful way is a truly humbling thought, and causes me to ask, “What do people think about God as a result of being around me?”
Introduction: A believer’s triumphs are all in Christ. To him be the praise and glory of all, while the success of the gospel is a good reason for a Christian’s joy and rejoicing. In ancient triumphs, abundance of perfumes and sweet odors were used; so the name and salvation of Jesus, as ointment poured out, was a sweet savor diffused in every place. Unto some, the gospel is a savor of death unto death. They reject it to their ruin. Unto others, the gospel is a savor of life unto life: as it quickened them at first when they were dead in trespasses and sins, so it makes them livelier, and will end in eternal life. Observe the awful impressions this matter made upon the apostle, and should also make upon us. The work is great, and of ourselves we have no strength at all; all our sufficiency is of God. But what we do in religion, unless it is done in sincerity, as in the sight of God, is not of God, does not come from him, and will not reach to him. May we carefully watch ourselves in this matter; and seek the testimony of our consciences, under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, that as of sincerity, so speak we in Christ and of Christ.
How do we smell?
1. Fragrance of Christ’s Knowledge (v. 14) ~
The victory we have in Jesus is always constant, not occasional. Christians are always victorious in Christ. As Paul points out in the verses which follow, the victory we have in Christ is not measured in terms of the number of those who are saved due to our proclaiming the gospel. The victory and triumph Christians experience are results of the faithful proclamation of the gospel, whether or not men believe in Christ.
When Titus gave Paul good news about the Corinthians (Chap. 7: 5-7), Paul bursts forth with a hymn of praise. This interruption became an extended digression. Paul did not resume the story of his trip to Macedonia and his meeting with Titus until chap. 7: 5. In chap. 2: 14 – 7: 4 there is a long account of his ministry. God … leads us in triumph: Paul used the metaphor of the Roman triumphal procession to praise God. When a Roman general was victorious in a war, he led his army and the captives in a parade down the main street. God is the General Who has conquered. Paul is one of His officers following in His train. In the Roman procession, priests carrying censers filled with incense followed the conqueror. Paul the priest set forth the fragrance of Christ by preaching the gospel. The KJV translates verse 14 in a way which indicates that Christ leads us to triumph. There is a sense in which this may be true, but the term is never employed in this way. The form of the verb indicates it is Christ who triumphs over us. For this reason, A. T. Robertson writes, “… [The] picture here is of Paul as captive in God’s triumphal procession.”
While we are sharers in the victories of our Lord, the point here is that Christ is victorious over us. He has “taken us captive” by saving us from our sins. Paul paints a somewhat different picture than Robertson does. Is Paul so burdened with his cares concerning the Corinthian saints that his deeply troubled spirit hinders his ministry in Troas? Who is adequate for the gospel ministry when the minister’s heart is deeply troubled about truly spiritual concerns? God is! God is victorious over our weaknesses, so that He actually employs our weaknesses in a way which brings about His purposes - to His glory. He triumphs over our weaknesses; He triumphs in and through our weaknesses. Now we see how Paul can give thanks for the successful ministry he has in Troas, even though he is troubled in spirit at the time.