Do you have some favorite aromas? Maybe the smell of something yummy on the grill, or the scent of gardenias? One of my all-time favorites was the smell of my Gramma Cummins. The subtle but consistent smell included a mix of her perfume and I don’t know what. But it wasn’t just the perfume, because I’ve tried spraying it around my house. When I picked up my wedding dress I stored it in my Gramma’s closet until the big day, hoping it would absorb her. What I’d give to have a candle or spray that replicated her aroma. On a simpler, less nostalgic note, I also love the way a Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tart leaves a lingering sweetness in the air. It’s probably why I occasionally buy them for the boys. Who cares that they love them. It’s about that pop-tart aroma.
Have you ever thought about the fact that Jesus has an aroma? Because Paul talks about it in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16:
“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. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.
Periodically we should stop and ask ourselves about how well we are spreading the fragrance of Jesus. It’s a lovely image but what does it look like — or smell like — in day-to-day life? Maybe it would help to think about a person you know who does this well. I imagine you will immediately think about how grace-filled that person is, how they exude the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
I’ve been thinking about another aspect of spreading Christ’s aroma, in part because of a podcast I listened to this week. It was an interview with David Brooks about his new book, which I have not yet read. But in the interview Brooks talks about how a community of people in Washington, DC helped him grow relationally. He describes a Thursday night dinner group where the default greeting is hugging instead of a handshake. Even in the brief interview, you get the sense that this group has a sweet aroma, drawing in outsiders with grace and kindness.
Does that describe the Christian community you are living in? Communal aromas are vital too, and I think Paul’s words leave room for the individual and the corporate application.
In another part of the interview, Brooks talks about how oftentimes he doesn’t relate well to people of faith. If I was friends with Brooks, I’d love to plumb the depths of why. If I had to guess, I’d say one of two things. Some of the communities he’s been exposed to are more legalistic than loving, and/or Brooks is reluctant to appreciate child-like faith. I think that’s an unfortunate struggle for some intellectuals. There’s a propensity for making things more complicated than they are. Simplicity can be its own stumbling block, even when the aroma is sweet.
The call then is both to spread the fragrance of Christ and to appreciate it in others, even when they are not the fulfillment of our own ideal. May we all, by God’s grace, do better in loving each person as immortals made in the image of God.
And may we avoid the pitfall that Dostoyevsky articulated: “The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular.” Instead may we trust that God will help us love each person we encounter. Just like C.S. Lewis said, do not worry whether you love your neighbor, just act as if you did.
Help me, Lord Jesus, to spread your fragrance by loving others well.