Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic benefit. When inhaled, the scent molecules in essential oils travel from the nose nerves directly to the brain and especially impact the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. There are over 90 essential oils, each claiming its own health benefits. Although research results are mixed there is some evidence for certain scents helping with insomnia, headaches, and even anxiety, and depression. However, recent studies at John Hopkins found that some scents can impact others differently and therefore home diffusors should be used carefully.
In 2 Corinthians 2:12-17, the Apostle Paul introduces Gospel aromatherapy. Although it has only one essential oil, and only treats one condition, the results are guaranteed although it does differ for different people. What is Gospel aromatherapy and what’s its effect?
Having warned the Corinthians about Satan’s tactics, Paul then turns one of the weapons the devil was using to destroy Paul’s ministry in Corinth against him. That weapon was Paul’s sufferings, which the false Apostles said was evidence that Paul was not a real Apostle.
What’s the essential ingredient in Gospel aromatherapy? Suffering.
TRUTH 1: WE SUFFER (12-14)
Paul is a loser (12-13)
When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia (12-13)
Paul was anxious to hear how the Corinthians had received his first letter. He therefore sent Timothy to find out the situation on the ground in Corinth, then meet him in Troas with a report.
While Paul was in Troas, Gospel doors opened and many came to faith in Christ. But Paul was not able to enjoy it because he was so anxious to hear about the Corinthians from Timothy. Eventually, unable to bear the stress and suspense any longer, he left flourishing Troas and travelled to Macedonia, hoping to intercept Timothy earlier on his return journey to get the news from Corinth quicker.
Why does he include these details in his letter? Remember, two of the main accusations against Paul in Corinth were: (1) He does not love us; and (2) He suffers so much he can’t be an apostle of Christ.
Paul’s defense was: (1) “Do you not see how much I love you by how much I was worried about you?”; and (2) “I suffer so much because I am an apostle of Christ.”
It’s especially the latter defense that he expands upon in the following verses. His long-term sufferings made him look like a long-term loser: (1) Rejection in Corinth; (2) Expulsion from Ephesus; (3) Turmoil in Troas; (4) Anxiety in Macedonia.
Instead of downplaying his sufferings and boasting of his success, Paul owned them and boasted of them because that gave Christ the victory and more glory.
Christ is the winner (14)
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession (14).
Our first reading of this verse seems to say, “I know it looks like I’m a loser, but I’m actually a winner.” But closer study reveals that he’s actually saying, “I know it looks like I’m a loser. I am. But through these losses, Christ is winning.” It continues the letter’s overall theme of strength through weakness, glory through shame, winning by losing, etc. (4:7-5:10; 6:3-10).
Let’s look at the picture first of all, then look at the text itself. The picture is of a conquering Roman General returning to Rome in a victory parade through its streets. The parade consists of the victorious general, trumpeters, the enemy’s spoils, oxen to sacrifice to the gods, incense bearers wafting fragrances over the spectators, and a train of defeated captives. The question is, who is Paul in this procession?
Turning to the text, the only other place the verb behind ‘lead in triumphal procession’ is used in Paul’s writing is Colossians 2:15, where Paul describes the devil and his agents being defeated and destroyed by the victorious Christ at the cross. Christ is the winner, the devil is the loser. Therefore, here, Paul is the defeated captive, the loser. Christ has conquered him and called him to deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow him as his captive slave in a life of sacrificial service and suffering, all of which glorifies the conquering Christ.
So, in the Christian life, our daily suffering and loss are the arena God uses to display Christ’s victory and glory. “We are frequently defeated, even humiliated, sometimes even killed,” says Paul, “but that just serves to show the majesty and beauty of the conquering Christ who leads us along in this triumphant procession as his captive slaves.”
Paul’s saying, “I’d rather lose if it means Christ wins. I’d rather be a loser, if Christ would be the winner. I’d rather be weak if it makes Christ look strong. I’d prefer to suffer if it showcases Christ’s power better. I’d rather be ashamed if it shine Christ’s glory. Yes, I suffer many defeats, but I belong to a great victor that I devote myself to serve and suffer for so he gets all the praise.”
CHANGE YOUR STORY WITH GOD’S STORY
Are you prepared to lose if it means Christ wins? Are you prepared to suffer if it means Christ is glorified? Are you prepared for demotion if it means promotion for Christ. Are you prepared for shame if it means Christ is honored? Remember Christ is not asking us to do anything he has not done already.
Do you have a personal loss you can turn into victory for Christ? There is no better opportunity to make Christ look good than when we suffer loss: loss of health, wealth, job, comfort, reputation, a loved one, liberty, etc.
What’s the impact of this suffering and loss? A strange smell.
TRUTH 2: WE SMELL (14-17)
Staying with the picture of a triumphant processional, Paul changes his focus to the impact of the scene on God and the spectators. It’s especially the smell of the occasion that he detects and dissects, as those holding aloft the plates of burning spices waft aromas over the spectators.
God enjoys the scent (14-15)
But thanks be to God, who…through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of [Christ] everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God (14-15).
When God sees Christians willing to suffer and lose for his glory, he smells the sweet aroma of Christ-like sacrificial service. For God, it’s like smelling the sacrifice of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary all over again (Eph. 5:2). But it doesn’t just impact God, it spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of [Christ] everywhere. Suffering and loss break open the perfume of Christ’s grace.
Believers enjoy the scent (15-16)
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved… a fragrance from life to life (15-16).
We are not the incense carriers; we are the scent itself. We get our scent from the suffering Christ and then pass that on as we suffer and lose for him. This is a fragrance that comes from spiritual life and results in greater spiritual life for both the person and other believers. Dying to self and dying to sin show Christ’s sufferings to the world and bring life to the dying (4:11).
Unbelievers hate the scent (15-16)
…among those who are perishing…a fragrance from death to death (15-16).
Some probably looked at the captives, smelled the incense, and all they could think of was death. They were repulsed by the sight and sound of these defeated sufferers heading to greater suffering. All they could smell was death and it killed any enjoyment they had of the scene.
Similarly, unbelievers look at the suffering Christ and suffering Christians and are revolted by it. All they see and smell is death and as a result, it has no life-giving power, but kills any further interest in the Gospel. It’s like they see and smell a corpse and run from it as fast as they can.
CHANGING OUR STORY WITH GOD’S STORY
Suffering is at the heart of the Gospel. Although some try to make it smell better with their own spin (17), the Christian knows that suffering is the best kind of aromatherapy. It always works both to attract and repel. If you are repulsed by the Gospel pray for a new sense of smell.
Who is sufficient for these things? This is a rhetorical question expecting the answer “No one.” None of us are equal to such a task. None of us are qualified enough, strong enough, talented enough. Who is able to choose suffering instead of comfort? Who is able to suffer in a life-giving way? Who is able to carry the burden of repulsing people from the Gospel? This is exactly where Paul wants us before providing the answer in the next chapter: Our sufficiency is from God (2 Cor. 3:5-6).
Hear God’s Story > Change your story > Tell the story > Change others’ stories
Victorious General, help me to suffer and lose so that you are glorified as the only Winner, and others win when they see Christ’s power in my weakness.
1. How has God used your losses and sufferings to advance the Gospel?
2. How do the Christian’s losses and sufferings turn people away from the Gospel?
3. Why does God use our losses more than our wins to save others?
4. In what ways can Christians respond to losses and sufferings so that Christ wins?
5. Why does this message make us feel insufficient? What can we do about it?
6. Who in your circles needs to hear this message and how will you get it to them?