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.