15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 2 Corinthians 2:15-16
I have a weakness and that is, I can be drawn to look at what other Churches are doing, particularly through the COVID 19 restrictions, and feel awful that I cannot provide those glitzy visual presentations that are available to watch Sunday by Sunday online. I can get myself into a real mess and hear my wife’s words ringing in my ears “stop watching Nigel it’s not doing you any good!”
How then do we measure success? By what standard do we assess how well we are doing as Christians? When you take stock of your life or evaluate the effectiveness of whatever ministry God has given you, how do you measure it? Do you count heads? That seems like a good one or do you consider how big your Church is? Maybe you measure effectiveness by the money you have in the bank and what you spend it on? I have been amazed at the amount of money some Churches have been spending on technology. Do you size up your efforts with the church down the road, better than one but worse than another. Then there is that church with hundreds (pause for long blow out of air).
All of us are tempted to measure ourselves by making comparisons with what we’ve produced against that of others. I had never written a blog before this year but as I look at what other blog writers produce I can be tempted not to bother.
Let’s admit it, let’s be very honest. We invest far too much on the opinion of others in our society, whether spiritual or secular. What they think and how well they’ve done, as well as the size of their efforts and the impact of their ministry weighs heavily on our minds and typically leads to feelings of inferiority and failure. Yep that’s me, sorry.
I know this attitude is detrimental to faith therefore, it is worth fighting against, in fact, I can hardly overemphasise the devastating effects of embracing this perspective in the life of the church. When looking wider it saddens me to see how many have compromised on truth, cut corners on the gospel or softened the sharp edge of biblical morality in order to enhance one’s status or increase attendance or to keep someone in the church. We seem to overlook sin to maintain our popularity. Having said that, I am equally concerned as I know there are those who’ve abandoned church and ministry altogether, whether from burnout or because of the frustration of thinking they’ve failed God or shown themselves incapable of fulfilling the calling on their lives.
If any of that even remotely resonates in your heart or if you struggle with feelings of spiritual inferiority, or as a church leader you feel that you don’t really hit the spot, or you feel simply inadequate as a Christian then heed well the words of the apostle in the short verses at the top of the page. The biblical standard for “success” articulated in this text is a much-needed remedy for so many in the Church today.
Paul tells the Church in Corinth, let’s remind ourselves again, that’s the Church in Corinth, with all its ups and downs “we are the aroma of Christ to God.” Do you want to smell good to God? Then be true to the Bible! Be faithful to its terms, articulate its promises, and don’t back down from declaring its truth about you.
There are two, and only two, possible responses to the gospel of Christ. When the message is made known, everyone responds. There is no such thing as neutrality. Not to believe the good news in Christ Jesus is to reject it. To believe the good news in Christ Jesus is to accept it. Full stop! Either you are among “those who are being saved” or you are among “those who are perishing”.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18
The cross is either the power of God or it is foolishness. The message of Christ that Paul proclaims (and not the messenger) is itself responsible for dividing the hearers in this way. Wherever, whenever, and to whomever the Christian proclaims the name of Jesus, a beautiful fragrance is released. To some it is an aroma of life and hope and refreshing and forgiveness. Nothing can compare with the sweet smell of the Son of God. The gospel of his dying and rising for us awakens something deep within us To others it is a suffocating, horrible stench. That’s it.
Charles Spurgeon said this:
“The gospel is preached in the ears of all; it only comes with power to some. The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise men would be converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it – the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. O Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as to preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the Word, to give it power to convert the soul.”
But what I want you to see is that Paul is a fragrance to God regardless of the response to his message! When, in the midst of suffering, he faithfully proclaims the gospel and is mocked, slandered, and the name of Jesus is ridiculed , Paul still smells good to God. When, in the midst of suffering, he faithfully proclaims the same gospel and is embraced and loved and people bow the knee in love and loyalty to Jesus, Paul still smells good to God. It’s not conditional. He just does smell good to God.
When I first discovered aftershave in my early teens, I bought Brut 33 by Faberge’ and my theory was more is better. I must have overpowered everyone that came near me. We are a fragrance to God even when our message is rejected. If our numbers are small and spending power paltry, success is measured by faithfulness. Whether our efforts lead to “life” or “death”, we remain “the aroma of Christ to God” (vs 15) We have succeeded when we preach Jesus faithfully and biblically.
This will be a difficult pill to swallow only if our fear of man is greater than our fear of God. If our preference is for their praise rather than
His. What does God say about you? For those in ministry why does popularism seem to trump principle. We must not be crowd pleasers but God pleasers. Someone once said this to me, I am sorry but I can’t remember who “ Many who appear small in the eyes of men are giants in the kingdom of God.” Both success and failure can be found in Churches of every size. Look beyond the razzamatazz.
There’s no escaping the fact that you smell good, and so do I. May we strive in the power of God’s grace in the renewing of our minds that we are too a fragrant aroma, pleasing to Him.