When the Roman army conquered and subjugated a nation, they had a victory parade through the streets of Rome.
Incense was offered to the gods of war because all victories were seen as a cooperative effort between the army and their gods.
The spoils of war were loaded on carts and displayed to the crowds. At the end of the victory parade, prisoners were chained and led to the arena for death.
Flower petals were mingled with the scent of the incense to cover the stench of unwashed and injured prisoners.
With a Roman victory parade in mind, Paul described the ministry of the church.
— 2 Corinthians 2.14-16 – But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing:
To the one group a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is qualified for these things?
In today’s YouTube video, Rudy Ross and I describe the impact of winsome Christians on our lives.
I recalled a memory from 40 years ago. I was visiting a hospital and held the door open for one of the nurses.
She was holding a number of things in her arms and on top was a Bible.
I said, “Great book you’re reading.”
She gave me a smile and said, “He’s my guy.”
In that chance encounter, I received a fragrance of Christ that has remained in my memory for a long time.
Take a moment and think of someone who has been a “fragrance for Christ” in your life. Thank God for that person.
Both Victor and Prisoner
On one hand, Christians are victors.
Praise God. We can say, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15.57).
Hebrews 11 catalogs the heroes of the faith, who ride at the front of God’s victorious parade.
Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, David, and Samuel are examples of those who conquered life’s adversities through faith.
On the other hand, Christians are prisoners.
Paul addressed one of his letters with these words, “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1).
Just as some people receive a Christian testimony as a fragrant aroma, others see it as a foul-smelling odor.
Hebrews 11 ends with an account of nameless persons whose faith gave them the strength to endure intense persecution.
— Hebrews 11.35-38 – Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection.
Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment.
They were stoned to death; they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented — of whom the world was not worthy.
The world has inflicted unspeakable suffering on some of Jesus’ followers, but God has an immeasurable reward for them.
Just as you thought about someone who was a pleasing fragrance of Christ in your life, now consider someone who is suffering for Jesus.
Possibly, a news story of suffering from Ukraine, South America, Africa, or China comes to mind. Please take a few minutes and pray for God’s grace to be effective in the lives of the person you are praying for.
A War on Two Fronts
Paul fought a battle on two fronts. The Book of Acts details the fierce opposition that he received from people who fought against the Gospel.
In Corinth, Paul faced opposition from Christians.
He hints at the nature of those who were against him, “For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many, but as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God, we are speaking in Christ before God” (2 Corinthians 2.17).
Paul was not a sweet-smelling aroma to his critics in Corinth. Imagine each of the statements in verse 17 as a rebuttal against unfair criticism.
In a forty-minute zoom call with the Russian Patriarch, the Pope challenged him to leave politics and return to the gospel.
He boldly told him, “You are not Putin’s altar boy.” Ouch!
I think the Pope’s advice is good for American Christianity, too. We need to be identified by the gospel, not by our political persuasions.
In a broken world, everyone who follows Jesus is needed. We don’t need to fight each other but support each other in living out the love of God in a very troubled world.
Let’s only fight on one front, the front of giving the good news to a needy world.
Please take a few minutes to listen to Rudy Ross and me talk about this passage on YouTube. It can be found on the Bob Spradling channel.
If you have a prayer request, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.