The Fragrance of Knowledge

We are called to be a fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus.

Growing in the Knowledge of Christ (14)

God has appointed us to be incense to the world.

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? 2 Corinthians 2.14-16

An aromatic faith
From the beginning, believing in God involved aromas and fragrances. The offerings and incense God commanded as part of Israel’s worship were intended more for them than for Him. They were palpable ways of acknowledging that God is the Giver of daily provision, and that being in His presence is sweet and pleasant. The aroma of roasting sacrifices spoke of lives being offered to God, for His pleasure and glory. The sweet incense, pervading the tent or the temple, was a token of the Presence of God in His holiness (cf. Ps. 45.6-8). As those aromas and fragrances were internalized, by deep inhaling, worshipers would be reminded that God works from the inside-out, penetrating our souls with His Word and Presence to make us acceptable and pleasing to Him.

Those holy aromas and fragrances of worship doubtless had a certain “staying power”.  They would have lingered on the clothing of worshipers as they went from the altar of incense or of sacrifice back into their daily lives, and would have provided solemn and pleasant reminders of how good it is to be with God.

Certain Christian communions have continued using incense during corporate worship, but without ever really explaining why. Just smelling incense as part of a worship service doesn’t fulfill God’s purpose in prescribing it. We need to know why we do this, and how doing this helps to connect us with God.

Contemporary Christians recognize a certain sensuality about the faith – an appeal to the senses; but that gets expressed mostly in ever-louder worship bands, together with klieg lighting and other visual effects. Music degenerates into noise after a certain decibel, and light effects are boring – at least for me. And no amount of mere noise or clever lights and videos can substitute for the things we have set aside as integral to right worship. Like silence. Like confession of sins.

And like the smells of being in God’s presence.

A fragrance of Christ
Paul picked up on the aromatic aspects of worship by saying that Christians were to be a fragrance of Christ to the world, both among those who are saved, as well as “among those who are perishing.” What is this fragrance of Christ? And how do we acquire it, so that we can fulfill our appointed calling?

Paul says that this fragrance is “the fragrance of His knowledge” which Christians diffuse in every place. The fragrance of Christ comes from the knowledge of Christ. As we increase in knowing Jesus, we should expect the fragrance of Christ to increase in us as well. We are appointed to be the fragrance of Christ to the world, and this should provide powerful incentive for us to work hard at increasing in the knowledge of the Lord, by all the means we have discussed from His Word and His works.

But what does this fragrance “smell” like in our lives? How do others experience it in us? Let me briefly mention seven distinguishing “aromas” that blend together to make the fragrance of Christ palpable in our lives.

First is the aroma of sacrifice. We do not live for ourselves, but for Christ, and for His sake, for others. We put aside all self-seeking, self-serving ways to pursue life as living sacrifices unto the Lord (Rom. 12.1).

The fragrance of Christ is comprised also of the aroma of hope. Christians are not a cynical people. We hope to meet God in His glory, daily and in the world to come; and we strive to live for His glory that others might see the marks of God in everything we do – His righteousness, peace, and joy (1 Cor. 10.31; 1 Pet. 3.15).

The aroma of truth pervades all that we do. All our relationships, roles, and responsibilities are grounded in truth and seek the truth of God for making all things new (Rom. 3.4; Eph. 4.15).

Add to this the fragrance of submission to Christ in all things (Heb. 12.1, 2). Whether it is our time, our talents, our treasure, or anything else that we are or have, let us be seen to be a people who submit everything for the knowledge, love, and service of our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray about everything, because we want everything to be a pleasing sacrifice and aroma to Jesus.

So the fragrance of Christ is also one of humility, service, and love (discussed in the previous installment in this series, e.g., Jn. 13.19-35; Phil. 2.1-11).

The fragrance of Christ includes the aroma of revival, reconciliation, and restoration in every area of life with which we have contact. Things are not the way they’re supposed to be because of the widespread effects of sin. We are a people who want to see everything for which Christ died, and which He has thus reconciled to God, restored to its proper use and place before Him (2 Cor. 5.17-21).

Finally, the fragrance of Christ is comprised of the aroma of a forward-looking, Kingdom-seeking way of life, that the holy and righteous and good rule of King Jesus might be everywhere more in evidence in our world, and the divine order of goodness might come to light increasingly (Heb. 2.5-9; Ps. 27.13, 14).

Diffused in every place
Obviously, you as a Christian can’t be “in every place”. But as Tertullian reminded the emperor of Rome, early in the second century, Christians as a movement and body are in every place. If we in our place – our Personal Mission Field – are faithful in becoming the fragrance of Christ, and every Christian does the same, soon enough the world will be filled with the fragrance of Jesus, and the knowledge of the glory of God.

But it won’t just happen. We can’t wish it into being. And, while we must pray for Christ to manifest His fragrance in and through us, those prayers will be of no effect if we do not apply ourselves diligently, and as a very high priority in our lives, to increasing in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The knowledge of Christ awaits us in His Word and in all the nooks, crannies, creatures, and processes of His world. But we must diligently seek the Lord if we would find Him in these places (Jer. 29.13).

It remains to be seen whether such a high calling and bold challenge will appeal to this generation of believers.

Does it appeal to you?

For reflection
1. Why is “fragrance” a good way of thinking about the influence we exert for Christ?

2. How would you describe the overall “fragrance” of our world today? Is it the fragrance of Christ, or of something else? And if something else, can we as believers be content with that? Explain.

3. Have you committed to increasing the knowledge of Christ? In what ways?

Next Steps – Preparation: Review the seven aromas of the fragrance of Christ. In which of these do you need to increase? How will you work on knowing Christ better to help you increase in these?

T. M. Moore

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This is part 3 in the series, “Know, Love, Serve”. All installments in this series may be downloaded for further study by
clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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