The sense of smell is a fascinating thing. It is a powerful sense that affects other senses we use, as well as being one of the most powerful memory triggers we possess.
However, it interestingly also differs from person to person. For example, my younger son loves the smell of his sweaty pillow case, while my wife and I find that disgusting. I remember attending a devotional time where the leader burned some incense to make a point. While he enjoyed the smell, I found it cloying and oppressive and was glad to leave the room afterward. And sometimes the very same coffee will smell glorious but nasty at other times.
In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, Paul picks up the idea of fragrance from a spiritual perspective thus, “But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. And who is competent for this?” (HCSB)
Paul points out that we are called to be a beautiful fragrance to God. In the Old Testament it was the smell of the sacrifice ascending to heaven that would appease God (see e.g. Lev. 1, esp. vv. 9,13,17). As we offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), we are that pleasing fragrance to God “among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” We are specifically called to live lives in such a way that God is praised in all we do, thus bringing glory to him and showing his existence, his love, and mankind’s need for him. We reflect this through our godly walk, our care for the weaker brother or sister (Rom. 14:13ff), and display of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
However, how people respond to us will depend on them. Paul points out that, “To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life.” Some people are going to like when we live according to the Spirit; some will not. Interestingly, some of those who will find us noxious can be other Christians! This response is their responsibility, not ours, as long as we are doing all we can to live in the Spirit. Certainly, we can and should accept sound criticism of our lives; but we should never change our behavior to be contrary to what the Scripture requires. We must just let those people find our sweet aroma cloying without being bothered by their opinion. So as this year progresses, I am asking myself what kind of a fragrance I am being to God and to others. Am I offering the sacrifice of thanksgiving in difficulties? Am I working to be kind and gentle? Am I caring for my weaker sibling? Am I making sure I am focused on my Lord, God, and Savior? If so, then I am fragrant as I should be. Let all others do with my fragrance what they will.