“You stink,” is not a compliment. In an era when most people bathe daily, human body odor has become almost offensive (exceptions being hard physical labor and workouts).
It is quite probable that you have smelled a skunk long before you saw it (if you saw it). The burning sensation is…unique. You could also have driven behind an older car that is burning too much gas or oil, or behind a diesel with its distinctive smell. You know what is coming (or what you’re following) by the smell.
Paul’s evocative imagery was meant to remind all of those in the Corinthian Church of incense. Whether they were Gentile or Jew, incense was used in religious observances. Such a smell was always intended to incite religious fervor. The smell was to “remind” people that God is (or gods were) near.
- As we think of ourselves as the incense of Christ, what might/should happen around us as we walk in the world?
Asking that question is important, as Paul then leaps to someplace uncomfortable. We want to be the “pleasing” incense that humanity finds enjoyable, and wants to partake in. Paul reminds us that the greatest smell to us may smell like death to others.
It is startling to think that if we truly are the incense of Christ (the Living One, the Living Water, the Light of the World), we smell like…death. We should smell like life! We do…just not to the dying.
Paul isn’t talking about our corporeal death. He’s talking about spiritual death. In other words, to those whose current path is aimed toward Hell, we smell like death. To those whose current path is aimed toward Heaven, we smell like life.
Where this gets interesting (and raises questions) is when we get to passages such as this one in 1 Kings. Solomon was following other gods (granted, at the behest of his too many wives/concubines). Jeroboam was going down the insurrection road. While Jeroboam was chosen by God, it seems, on the other hand, Jeroboam followed God just long enough to take control of “his” 10 tribes, and then did worse than Solomon or Rehoboam (Solomon’s son).
While Solomon is still revered as a wise man, he didn’t follow God wholeheartedly. We don’t if God smelled of death or life to Solomon. We can say the same about Jeroboam and Rehoboam.
On a slightly darker train of thought is whether God smells like death or life to us. This may seem to be an easy answer but look at Solomon. Look also at the Corinthian church. They had lots of troubles. We don’t know which people “smelled” God as life or death.
- How does one know (versus hope) one “smells” God as life?
- How might a man whose wisdom was supernaturally gifted by God get so confused? What does that teach (or warn) us?
God, you are the very breath of our lives. Let us breathe in your grace and breathe out your blessings. Amen.