God’s Perfume

Scripture Text: 2 Corinthians 2:14-17

 Though I’ve spent a lifetime reading and studying the Bible, I am always taken aback when I see something in Scripture that I have missed all my life.

That happened to me recently when I was reading 2 Corinthians. I came upon verses 14 through 16 in chapter 2. There Paul talks about God spreading a fragrance of the knowledge of God into the world through the community of believers. In verse 15, he even calls the church “the aroma of Christ to God” (Revised Standard Version wording). And in the next verse he talks about this being a fragrance from life to life.

Now maybe what Paul has in mind here is the image of the aroma of the sacrifices that arise from the temple altar. The Greek word osme in verse 14 and 16 that the RSV translates as fragrance can have that meaning. But I am inclined to read this language as talking about the church as the perfume of God. This reading is supported by the other Greek word euodia that Paul uses in verse 15. It has the more explicit meaning of a sweet smell.

This image of the church as perfume is something I have never seen before in the text.

Paul uses many images for the church. The church is the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the temple of God, and the community of reconciliation. But here is another image to add to his vocabulary: the church as the perfume of Christ to God.

Our calling as Christians is to live a life that spreads the fragrance of God within the wider world. As Paul says in verse 15, “we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”

This raises a question for every individual church. What aroma do people smell when they encounter our life as a Christian community?  Does the quality of life we live, especially in our compassionate care for one another, come across as a beautiful fragrance of life?  Or does our communal life stink to high heaven.

One of the tragedies of the scandals of sexual abuse that have swept through the Christian churches in recent years, is that they have created an rotten egg aroma about church life in the minds of many unbelievers. Skunks have gotten into the our houses. For many people of the current generations, it will take a long time for that smell to go away.

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