Thanks be to God who leads us, wherever we are, on Christís triumphant way and makes our knowledge of him spread throughout the world like a lovely perfume! We Christians have the unmistakable ďscentĒ of Christ, discernible alike to those who are being saved and to those who are heading for death. To the latter it seems like the deathly smell of doom, to the former it has the refreshing fragrance of life itself. (II Corinthians 2:12-16 Phillips Translation)
As the city bus swished past me I was surrounded by warm diesel fumes and overcome by nostalgia. The petroleum smell took me back to the farm. Momentarily I was a little girl again, standing beside the throbbing tractor, talking to my dad.
The power of smells to stir memories and trigger feelings is one of the fascinating things about the way God has designed us. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, uses the memory-evoking property of smells as a picture of the way our lives affect others. He compares the influence we have on people to a perfume which can spread the good news about Jesus.
And so we ask ourselves, what Ďsmellsí come from our lives? Do we give off the consistently sweet fragrance of patience, humility, purity and kindness as we interact with spouse, children, friends and acquaintances? Or perhaps our lives are a confusion of odors, or even characterized by the stench of anxiety, anger, filthiness and gossip? If we detect rottenness, what can we do?
In the physical world, odors have a source. Itís the same way in the spiritual realm. If we trace offensive life odors back to their beginnings we will find, hidden in our hearts, messes that need our attention. Piles of unforgiveness, lack of faith, bitterness, jealousy, envy need to be dealt with, or they will continue to make their presence known.
A good indicator of whether weíve really taken care of this heart-garbage is how we react under stress. For just like smells get stronger when the physical objects that emit them are heated, so the presence of rottenness in our hearts becomes especially noticeable when life heats up. The negative attitudes, hurtful actions and cutting words that slip out are not the fragrance of Christ. The stench of these things alerts us Ė we have more cleaning up to do.
The next time a physical smell stirs up sweet or disturbing memories in us, letís remember that the aroma of our lives also has memory-stirring power. Letís ask the Holy Spirit to help us identify and get rid of everything from our lives that retains the rank and putrid smell of death. Letís ask Him to fill them up instead with attitudes and actions that smell like Jesus Christ.