When I go running with my dogs, one of the most amazing things is the smell of breakfast cooking emanating from the houses we pass by. Or maybe you are more familiar with the smell of someone cooking burgers. Or a chicken barbeque. The wind can carry that smell really far. I grew up in Lititz, PA, on the south side of the borough to be exact, on Kissel Hill. On certain days the wind would carry the delicious scent of Wilbur chocolate just over 1 mile to my house. The same happens here at Faith Church with the pretzel factory nearby. When you smell those delicious aromas, you want to linger and take a deep breath or two. Even if you just ate dinner, and you go outside and smell that, you can think, “That smells so good! Let’s eat again!”
But the pleasing aroma isn’t the only aroma. We Lancastrians know all about the other kind of aroma because we live in a farming community. It seems to me there is normal manure and there is progressively worse manure. Sometimes after farmers spread manure, the smell is absolutely putrid, to the point where you think something must be wrong. I remember driving by newly-sprayed fields with young children who started dry-heaving in the car.
Worse yet, have you ever had that aroma get stuck in your house? This past spring I had to drop something off at the high school office on a day when a farmer nearby had fertilized his fields, and that small high school lobby took a direct hit. Something about the direction of the wind and the ventilation of the lobby kept the smell trapped in there. I was waiting in line for what seemed like 10 minutes, thinking, “Am I the only one that smells this???” It was horrible and it made you want to get away from there so fast.
The same happens with Christians when we interact with our community. We give off an aroma. But what aroma is it? Are we the pretzel factory or the manure field?
I’ve seen both. Christians can be very off-putting, or we can be the Aroma of Christ.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”
What’s the difference? Paul makes a great point here: aroma is subjective. There are some people that might take deep breath of manure and think it smells good, while there are some people who smell the pretzel factory and it makes them gag.
We see this in the ministry of Jesus as well. His life and ministry was a breath of delicious pure mountain or beach air to the masses, to the peasantry who had very little hope in the world, to the humble elite who submitted to his teaching and leadership, to men, women, children and people of all ethnicities who sought after him. They flocked to his grace, his love, his…well…Fruit of the Spirit. But to many of the religious, political and wealthy who were self-righteous, arrogant, power-hungry elitists, Jesus was the smell of manure. They couldn’t stomach him, and he made no bones about confronting their hypocrisy and wickedness.
Jesus continues fulfilling this sweet-smelling prophecy to this day in the life and ministry of the church, as we, the church, walk in step with the Spirit, growing the fruit of the Spirit, and allowing that fruit to flow to the people in our community.
When we walk in step with the Spirit, allowing his love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, kindness and self-control to flow freely and abundantly through our lives, many people will smell the sweet aroma of Jesus, and they will want more.
Notice what this aroma is not. It is not defeating people in religious and theological arguments. That convicts me. I’m about to teach a theology class at Lancaster Bible College this fall, and I suspect there will be students in the class who hold to some theological viewpoints I disagree with. There is a very repugnant smelling part of me that wants to get into debates with them so that I can defeat them. That’s not to say that Christians cannot have healthy debates and disagreements, moderated by the Fruit of the Spirit. We can and should. I talked about that in the previous week’s blog series when I mentioned unity in the church. We can be unified even when we disagree. What I am talking about is an inner desire to tear down, to humiliate, to own. That desire is not the aroma of Christ. It is not in line with God’s heart.
If that desire to win arguments is wrong amongst Christians, then it is even worse to have that attitude toward those who are not Christians. We should not approach evangelism, outreach, witnessing, sharing the Gospel, whatever you want to call the communication of the content of our belief in Jesus, as an argument to win. When there is a winner, there is a loser, and the result is that the loser rarely thinks to themselves, “I feel better now that I lost that argument.” No, the loser much more often has a bad feeling, not only about themselves and their loss, but also toward the person who beat them. The aroma they smell is manure.
As you heard in those verses from 2 Corinthians chapter 2, Paul makes the point that for some people even the Fruit of the Spirit may not help them give their lives to follow Jesus. For some, maybe even for many, they will choose to disagree. And that is their prerogative. But when they disagree, if we have communicated in the Fruit of the Spirit, they will at least have to admit that our manner of communicating the teachings and ways of Jesus was graciousness, love, kindness, patience, and humility, backed up by a life of good deeds that is consistent with the teaching and mission of Jesus.
Manner, Method, Message. How do yours smell? We’ll talk more about that in the next post.