2 Corinthians 2 contains a cultural reference which is used as a metaphor to describe your impact on the world. The letters of the apostle Paul were written to a mixed audience in the 1st century. There were Judeans, Hellenized Judeans and a great variety of Gentiles. This audience lived in various sections of the Roman Empire. Needless to say, their culture is almost completely alien to us. Thus, some of the cultural references, Hebrew, Greek or Roman, can be a bit foggy to the reader in the 21st century!
So it is with II Corinthians 2:14 – 17. These three verses refer to a practice which was known in the Roman culture. Both the Hebrews and Gentiles would understand the cultural reference.
2:14 But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and who makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of him in every place. 2:15 For we are a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing – 2:16 to the latter an odor from death to death, but to the former a fragrance from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 2:17 For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God. (NET Bible)
A Roman general who had a tremendous victory over the enemy could be granted a "triumph" by the Roman Senate to celebrate the victory. A great procession (parade) was organized. Participating in the procession was the military leader, his soldiers, and their prisoners. Incense was burned along the parade route which produced a sweep aroma. To the Romans, the winners, this incense was a sweet smelling aroma of victory. To the enemy prisoners, this oder was the bitter smell of death, as they were led to be executed.
In 2 Corinthians, God is the focus of the triumphal procession, via Christ in us. By way of the disciples of Jesus Christ, living as His agents acting upon His will, the sweet fragrance of the knowledge of Christ is manifested in every place. To those who are being saved, it is a sweet aroma of victory. To those who reject God and His son Jesus Christ, we are the rotten stink of death and decay.
Yes, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, you have an impact on those around you. Some will befriend you, but many will absolutely hate you for no apparent reason. The cause is spiritual, not psychological or social. The manifestation of the sweet aroma of Christ does not originate from your strength or abilities, but from the power of God resident in your gift of holy spirit, the new you! Thought by thought, moment by moment, day by day, you participate in the celebration of the victory of Jesus Christ who has overcome the world!
Loving people according to the will of God in the manner that He desires will not bring you popularity. You may be kind to all, but rejected by many. Don't give in to sadness, but be very thankful that God works in you. Be thankful for the close friends that you do have and keep moving.
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(C)2015 Keith S. Radcliffe