There is a scent in the streets of Hong Kong that signals the beginning of autumn: the sweet burnt smell of roasted chestnuts. The dry, crisp air of the season seems to carry the aroma farther and more effortlessly, and I can pretty much track down the location of chestnut cart once I catch the smell. Like many fragrances, this one unlocks powerful memories and associations and transports me back in time to after-school afternoons and Argyle Street in the 80’s.
Paul uses this olfactory metaphor when he writes that, “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…” (2 Cor 2:15, 16).
How do we do this? What exactly is the “aroma” of Christ? The sense of smell is least understood of our five senses. It is perhaps the most abstract in that we have such limited vocabulary to describe smells: either a simple dichotomy of good/bad, nice/stinky; or else describing it by its source, “it smells like _”.
Ephesians 5:2 tells us that Christ made himself a fragrant offering to God by loving us and sacrificing himself for us. We can do this by living sacrificially for others, and being an example of Jesus to them. We can serve others and do acts of kindness, especially to non-Christians (or a term I’ve come to like, “not-yet Christians”). Hopefully these things will become an aroma that has a powerful and positive association, like the smell-memory connection, when someone thinks of Christ.
There are also smells that are polarizing, pleasant to some, repulsive to others (durian and “stinky tofu” are two that immediately come to mind). The hard truth is that some will not like the aroma of Christ. Despite our best efforts, it will be a negative association.
But we don’t need to think that far ahead. Our job is to replicate the aroma of Christ by loving others sacrificially. This is our act of worship, and like a burnt offering, the fragrance of this sacrifice is pleasing to God.
Who is someone that you can be the aroma of Christ to? How could you love him or her in a sacrificial way?