“Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary, and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town.”/1
Smells elicit memories that entice, while others repel. They can conjure up memories of a beloved’s Mother’s cherry pie or the liniments of her sick room. Both evoke vivid memories.
God is a spirit (John 4:24). Yet, the enjoyment of delectable smells is attributed to God.
Sacrifices are described as “the fragrance of your sweet aromas” (Leviticus 26:31, NKJV). Leviticus is brimming with the aromas of worship to God. Service to God is described as a “sweet-smelling sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). God is intensely interested in the pleasing scents of our labors and love in his kingdom.
Paul returns to the familiar theme when discussing the situation in Corinth with the man who is, apparently, married to his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5:1-8). The Corinthians refused to handle the situation as prescribed by Scripture. The man must repent and cease his appalling behavior. If he refuses, the congregation must practice church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:2-5; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).
Paul is concerned that time has elapsed and they have failed to act (2 Corinthians 2:1-5). Finally, after a “sorrowful letter” from Paul, they handle the situation as ordered by God and the problem is remedied. Paul then commands them to restore the man publicly with as much vigor as they condemned his previous behavior (2 Corinthians 2:6-11). Their love and acceptance should usher the man back to his proper place in the kingdom of God.
Paul describes the success of their efforts as fragrances and aromas to Christ. The triumph in Christ they were basking in was illustrative of a returning army’s passing through the streets to an adoring, cheering crowd. Their victories were like a wreath around their heads. The soldiers basked in the glory of their appreciation.
“On these occasions the temples were all thrown open, garlands of flowers decorated every shrine and image, and incense smoked on every altar, so that the victor was greeted with a cloud of perfume.”/2
In Genesis 8:21, Noah offered a sacrifice to God after they exited the ark. “The Lord smelled a soothing aroma” and promised never to destroy “every living thing as I have done.” God makes a covenant with man and stands by his word.
Paul told the Ephesians to walk in love because “Christ also has loved us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2). In Leviticus, God tells the priests of God to offer animal sacrifices in order to atone for their sins. These sacrifices are said to be a “sweet aroma to the Lord” (Leviticus 4:31).
Christ, being the ultimate sacrifice for sins, was an offering made to God, once and for all, for the sins of all mankind (1 Peter 3:18). A moment when Christ gave his life so that the remission of sins could be accomplished. When God’s children honor their Savior by service to his cause, it is once again evoking the memories of the greatest sacrifice. This fragrance of victory emanates from Christ’s body, the church, and draws people to it. Yet, when the body is divided, the acrid smell repels the world, and the Lord’s cause becomes repugnant to a watching world.
2/ Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson, n.d.), 3:299).
Sacrifice to God is a Sweet-Smelling Aroma