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? (2 Corinthians 2:15–16, esv)
According to the apostle Paul, you stink. In describing the gospel and how our lives attest to its reality, Paul painted a pungent picture of the effect we have on others. In a sense, people have an awareness of God in us that could be likened to an odor or smell. Paul warns us to expect two extreme reactions to this. For some, our scent is fragrant and pleasant—the aroma of life. For others our lives smell offensive—the stench of death.
Paul’s point is that we can’t have it both ways. If we are going to be used by God as witnesses to the gospel, then to some people we are going to stink—just like our Master. Jesus Christ is the aroma of death to those who are perishing.
Derided by the media, denied by the moral left, appropriated by the right to support their pet causes, Jesus is reviled by the world. Why the widespread hatred? You will never attend a movie and hear “Buddha” or “Muhammad” used as a curse word. Artists won’t depict Gandhi or Krishna in some of the crude and offensive ways our Lord has been portrayed. This hatred for Jesus Christ has become predictable and is disturbingly irrational.
More importantly, it is unavoidable. Christ is a stench to those who are perishing, and His followers are that stench too. Why do we try so hard to avoid this reality? Because we dislike rejection. While unbelievers are actually rejecting Jesus, their rejection feels personal to us. Some of our programmed evangelistic strategies are even designed to help us avoid it. Rather than talking about Jesus, we invite unbelievers to a church bake sale, a barbeque, or a baseball league, hoping to build a long, safe bridge to the Savior. We must remind ourselves that rejection is unavoidable.
Let’s set aside the canned methods that make evangelism feel safer. The apostles didn’t handle their fear of rejection with sterile approaches that covered their stench and made the lost feel comfortable. They displaced their fear of rejection with authentic passion for Jesus and prayers for boldness, knowing they would be rejected.
Should we expect better results than faithful saints of God through the ages? Should we expect to be embraced when our Master was rejected? Jesus warned, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
Unless we are willing to be the aroma of death to those who are perishing, we will never be the aroma of life to those who are being saved.
God, I confess I have been silenced by my fear of rejection. I have wanted it both ways: to be an effective evangelist without facing rejection. I realize how that attitude elevates my role in the process and minimizes the will of those who are really responding to You. Help me to boldly be Your aroma in my world. Help me to worry less about what I should do and look for what You are already doing. “Who is sufficient for these things?” You are, my Lord. Thank You for drawing others and me to You, despite ourselves. I pray in the matchless name of Jesus, amen.