The Fragrance of Life

I like a well-ordered world. I don’t like problems. I don’t like unfinished business. I don’t like unsettledness. I don’t like the feeling of being out-of-control. I do not like disorder. I’ve noticed, in my nearly sixty-six years, how infrequently life cooperates with my need for order, and how often my desire for a well-ordered plan is met with confusion and turbulence. Perhaps things seem fine for a spell, and then “a situation arises” (a phone call, an appointment, an event) and I’m experiencing some degree of internal turmoil again. A problem has surfaced, and once again, God is out-of-control!

Well, O.K. He’s not out of control, but that’s exactly how I feel in those moments. I can become shaken because I have allowed my security to be measured by my ability to control my world --- something I supposedly gave up when I accepted Christ as my Savior and established Him as Lord of my life. The turbulence I feel is in direct proportion to the loss of control that I feel in my own little world. To feel this way at times is understandable, so I’m not chiding myself, or others, for these feelings. Rather, I’m seeking to grow in this area, and Paul’s words in these few short verses help me immensely.

“Well, when I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord gave me tremendous opportunities. But I couldn’t rest because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him.” (2 Corinthians 2:12-13)

Life was happening! And it was a mixture of good stuff and not-so-good stuff. A mixture of joy and encouragement…together with a serious concern for his friends in Corinth and a bit of anxiety about their future. The “report” that Paul was waiting for was regarding what Titus found when he was in Corinth: a serious sinful situation that was going on in the church. Paul couldn’t rest because he hadn’t heard from Titus yet! Has the difficult situation in the church in Corinth been resolved? Has the openly sinful behavior stopped? Are they mad at him for sticking his nose into their affairs? And are his friends there still following the Lord, or are they wavering in their faith?

In spite of Paul’s unsettledness; in spite of his eagerness to connect with Titus and hear about the church in Corinth; in spite of existing in a world that he cannot control, listen to what Paul says in this letter: “But thanks be to God…” (2 Corinthians 2:14) Notice how quickly Paul shifts focus! With the simple word “but” he goes from expressing genuine concerns to lavishing praise on God. One author has said it this way:

“Being thankful is not telling God you appreciate the fact that your life is not in shambles. If that is the basis of your gratitude, you are on slippery ground. Every day of your life you face the possibility that a blessing in your life may be taken away. But blessings are only signs of God's love. The real blessing, of course, is the love itself. Whenever we get too attached to the sign, we lose our grasp on the God who gave it to us.” - Ann Voskamp, “One Thousand Gifts”

“But thanks be to God…who always leads us.” (2 Corinthians 2:14) I miss my dad. Next month it will be 27 years since my dad died. If he were alive today he’d be 101 years old. I remember the feelings I had those first months after his death. I remember what it felt like to lose that sense of protection that came from knowing he was there, and “tucking under” his covering. Following a strong figure is comforting. God is not passive when it comes to us, His children. When we submit our selves to His Lordship he takes an aggressive leadership role in our lives.

“But thanks be to God…who always leads us in His triumph in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:14) The old King James translation confuses the powerful truth of this verse ~ It reads, “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ…” That is not a helpful translation, and it has lead many into confusion and disappointment by leading us to believe that we win every battle, always coming out on top. In reality, there are many times in life when we lose a battle, experience a wounding, endure a pain, etc.

  • For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life…” (2 Corinthians 1:8)
  • “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” ( 2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

The accurate translations of verse 14 (as given by NASB, NIV and many others) say, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His (God’s) triumph in Christ…” It’s interesting that the word triumph is only used twice in the entire New Testament; here and in Colossians 2:15.

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

When a Roman General had won a really great victory he was allowed to march his victorious armies through the streets of Rome. Behind him followed the kings and the leaders and the people he had defeated, together with the plunder or spoils that the he had taken in the victory. There would be incense burning throughout the city as the victorious General and his army marched in the parade. It was said that you could not escape the smell (fragrance).

Paul thinks of Jesus as a conqueror enjoying a triumph of the greatest magnitude ever, and in his triumphal procession, the “spoils” are all the powers of evil, which are beaten forever, and are now on display for everyone to see. The death (or triumph) of Christ satisfied the sin problem. This is the “triumph” that we’re encouraged to enter into. To the conquering army and people, the fragrance was the sweet smell of victory. To those who were conquered, the captives who were in chains, it was the smell of death, because they knew that their fate was cast. That’s the context for the next several verses in 2 Corinthians 2:

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life." (v. 14-16)

We’re not simply the container of that incense. We are the incense. And as we go through life full of trials and challenges, it’s those very trials that cause the fragrance of Christ to be released from our lives. I’m attempting to reeducate myself. When things seem to be swirling about (and let’s be honest…they often are doing just that) I remind myself that God is working in a multitude of ways, and more often than not, in ways that I cannot see. I’m attempting to live in the truth that my life is not my own. I have gladly given my life to Christ and He is entirely able to lead and guide me in a chaotic world.

Faith, Hope, and Love

You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. .. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” 1 Thessalonians 5:4-10
"…remembering without ceasing your work of faith, your labor of love, and patience of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:3 
 “ Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…And we boast in the hope of the glory of God…. we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit...” Romans 5:1-5
“ let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith... Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…" Hebrews 10:22-24  
”“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.   1 Corinthians 13:13
     If the Apostle Paul thought these three theological virtues were worth discussing together, it's probably worth looking at how God intertwines the three of them in our lives today.
   A Greek mathematician who wrote during Paul's time gave this explanation for Paul's chosen word for faith: “"A demonstration of the certainly of a thing by sure arguments and indubitable reasons." In other words, faith is what we get when God has so convinced us He is right that we reorder our lives to follow him.  Paul writes in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
     Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. Faith is a response to truth that we absorb and embrace. I  hear language about faith as if it is a process in which we bring our emotions together and really focus ourselves so we feel strongly that we believe something.  If we feel strongly enough we will be people of faith. Faith and feelings will intersect, but faith – the foundation of truth that we absorbed and embraced - should inform and steady our feelings, not be driven by our feelings.
    The Bible does not present faith as a feeling.  Faith is obedience in response to God’s persuasion. “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” - Elton Trueblood
    The Holman Bible Dictionary defines it this way: “the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future.”
  • (Romans 15:4)
 - “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
  • (Colossians 1:5) - 
”For the hope that is laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard in the word of the truth of the gospel.”
  • (Galatians 5:5)
 - For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

    So hopes builds on the firm foundation of faith. Hebrews 6:18-19 says,  “The hope set before us…as the anchor of the soul.”  It is meant to keep us stable through the storms of life. As Billy Graham said, "I've read the last page of the Bible.  It's all going to turn out all right."


  • Romans 5:5
 “For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” 
  • Ephesians 5:2
”…and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us.” 
  • Galatians 5:14
 - "For all the law is fulfilled in one command: "You should love your neighbor as yourself."

     While agapao has multiple meanings, in the plainest sense, it involves choosing, embracing, and doing the will of God.  In other words, it is “doing what the Lord prefers.” Sir Charles Villiers Stanford once noted, "To love as Christ loves is to let our love be a practical thing and not a sentimental thing." The grounding of this kind of love is not the emotion; the grounding of agapao love is commitment and action.
    If you have trust and obedience in response to God's persuasion, you have faith; if you have true faith, you will have a confident expectation based on your foundation of truth (hope). If you have true faith and hope, you cannot resist doing what God prefers (love). 

Teachers Good and Bad (Part 1)

     When I had my blood clot in my right calf, the first specialist I went to recommended immediate, life-threatening surgery.  The second specialist recommended blood thinners and no worries.  Hmmmm. Tough call.  (I took the blood thinners.)   Both doctors were highly qualified, but the second one was right. 

     That experience highlighted a key question in life: 
how do I know who to trust?

    From whom should I get my news? CNN? Fox? MSNBC? CBN? Washington Times or Washington Post?  Time or World Magazine? 
    What about theology and advice for kingdom living? Mark Driscoll? Rob Bell? Benny Hinn? Joyce Meyers? Andy Stanley? Beth Moore? Sojournours or Focus on the Family?  There are so many competing voices, and it is sometimes hard to know who to listen to.
     The church in Thessolonica had this problem.  At the beginning of Thessalonians, Paul spends some time defending himself and his message, as if the church was doubting both. He begins by telling them:
“Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.  You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. “  (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6)

     Sounds perfect! But the next chapter takes a slightly different tone.  After giving them two thumbs up for their faith,  Paul takes a little time to help them understand why they could trust him and his message (almost as if there have been some rumors, or questions, or other teachers going against him and his message).  As he does this, he tells them the difference between good and bad teachers so they would now who to follow and who to leave.

"You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.  We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.  For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.  On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests (or refines) our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority (not looking for weightiness, or glory).  Instead, we were gentle among you, like a mother who tenderly cares for her children.

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.  Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil (weariness) and hardship (sadness); we worked night and day (labored) in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.  You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed (holy – worthy of reverence;  just – approved by God; and blameless – God’s actions manifesting into space and time). For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory."

     The passage in chapter two is painting a sharp contrast between the imitation of Christ (which we should follow) and the imitation of something else – (which we should not).

    DON’T FOLLOW                                                                    FOLLOW           
Error                                                                                                 Truth
Bad Motivation                                                                   Good Motivation
Pleasing people                                                                        Pleasing God
Flattery                                                                                           Honesty
Greed                                                                                             Generosity
Abusive Authority                                                                     Gentleness
Entitlement                                                                                Engagement

     In the next post, I will use the standards Paul sets down to help us analyze words and deeds so we can better discern where to place our trust. 
      I am also going to broaden this principle to include all our speech, because I believe Paul clearly does this in his other letters and in his life (think of his speech on Mars Hill in Acts 17).