Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Smelly Christianity...

     By way of disclaimer, there is truth in every verse in the Bible, so I don't mean, in hitting on average one verse a chapter, to skip over anything in 2 Corinthians; but at the same time, I'm not a professional exegete, just a busdriver who loves to learn.  So most of what I write is a regurgitation of what other people have said, but if you haven't heard those other people, I can pass on their insight to you.
     In my humble opinion, the best verses in 2 Cor 2 are vss. 15-16: 
"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. Who is sufficient for these things?"
     I think there are some fascinating insights and implications in these verses;  I hope to cover some insights in this post, and save the implications for the next.
What does holiness smell like?
     How does Paul communicate the effect of godly saints to others?  Just follow your nose to the answer!  You've likely never encountered a article or blog post on what the Bible says about this overlooked (pun intended) nub of cartilage;  at least I never have!  But I think there's much profitable truth in learning exactly what a Scriptural author is thinking and what imagery he's employing to teach us about the truth of God.  So let me give you a sniff of the theology of the nose;  most of the verses I found fall into several categories:
Biological Reality:  This is the most obvious sense; and it adds a subtle scent of truth to the Scripture.  An essential part of our everyday experience is what we smell, and we can't forget that biblical times were much more aromatic than ours!  When we run across this, we see the biblical authors faithfully recording what they smelled (or were afraid to smell!): "...Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days." (John 11:39)
Metaphorical:  In likely the most neglected arena of meaning, God chose to first reveal Himself in a much more expressive language than ours;  for example, the Hebrew word for anger ("awph") literally means "nose".  The link is the unconscious, biological response to the emotion:  your nostrils flare when you're steamed!  Also in this category, we find the figurative use of God's nose to describe His miraculous power in creation, deliverance and most understandably, judgment. He wonderfully condescends to our understanding for our benefit (Ex 15:8, 2 Sam 22:9, 16, Job 4:9).
Relations with man:  The Hebrew way of looking at people was truly remarkable, in a way that our compulsively antiseptic society might find revolting:  if you liked someone, they smelled great (SofSol 1:12-13, 2:1, 3:6);  but if not, peeeeeuuuu! (Ex 5:21, 1 Sam 13:4, 27:12, 2 Sam 10:6, 1 Chr 19:6-7)
Relations with God:  No doubt the most important category, our text in 2 Cor is based on the context of the sacrifices under the Levitical system:  " is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD." (Lev 1:13)  The obvious idea is that our spiritual service wafts up to God in the same way, delighting Him because it is offered with no ulterior motive and in the manner He has established.  We find the same concept behind other NT texts (Rom 12:1, Php 4:18, Eph 5:2, Heb 13:16).
     With this background, I think we can say that the main point behind our text is this:  the appeal of our fragrance (godly words backed up by a godly life) is dependent on the recipient.  If that person has an appetite for righteousness, we will attract them like a magnet.  If God has not graced them with regenerate senses, no amount of persuasion will draw them downwind from us.  This should relieve our burdens regarding the response of others to the gospel... all those nervous thoughts and qualms dissipate in the face of divine work and its symptoms, not our "success" or "failure".  We'll explore the ramifications next time.
Photos courtesy of foxypar4

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