As many of you know, I have been working diligently on the New Testament version of STRENGTH FOR TODAY, a daily devotional guide. The Old Testament devotional was published two years ago, and so this new volume will complete the entire set. Here is just one sample from the new book, and it is based on II Corinthians 2:14-16.
In the book of II Corinthians, Paul gives several good illustrations of the power and effect of our Christian testimony in this world. There are four of these:
1. The believer’s testimony is like a sweet aroma of Christ (2:14-16).
2. The believer’s testimony is like a living letter, known and read by all men (3:2-3).
3. The believer’s testimony is like a light in a clay (earthen) vessel (4:3-7).
4. The believer’s testimony is like an ambassador who represents the one who sent him (5:18-20).
That our life is to be a “fragrance” of Jesus in this world is seen in these verses:
“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ and through us diffuses the fragrance (aroma) of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other we are the aroma of life leading to life.” The old King James version uses the word “sweet savor” instead of fragrance or aroma.
In order to understand what Paul is saying here, you must know something about the culture and customs of the times—specifically the way the Romans held “victory parades” to celebrate military victories. Warren Wiersbe sheds some light on this:
“The picture here is that of the Roman ‘Triumph’, the special tribute that Rome gave to their conquering generals. It was their equivalent of the American ‘ticker-tape’ parade. If a commander won a complete victory over the enemy on foreign soil, and if he killed at least 5000 enemy soldiers and gained new territory for the Emporer, then the commander was entitled to a Roman Triumph. The processional would include the commander riding in a golden chariot, surrounded by his officers. The parade would also include a display of the spoils of battle, as well as the captive enemy soldiers. The Roman priests would also be in the parade, carrying burning incense to pay tribute to the victorious army.
The procession would follow a special route through the city and would end at the Circus Maximus where the helpless captives would entertain the people by fighting with wild beasts. The victorious general’s sons would walk behind their father’s chariot, sharing in his victory; and that is where believers are today—following in Christ’s triumph! As the Roman priests burned the incense in the parade, that odor affected different people in different ways. To the triumphant soldiers, it meant life and victory; but to the conquered enemy, it meant defeat and death. They were on their way to be killed by the beasts.
Using this image of the incense, Paul pictured the life and ministry of Christians. He saw believers as incense, giving forth the fragrance of Jesus Christ in their lives and labors. To fellow believers, we are the fragrance of life; but to unbelievers we are the fragrance of death.” No wonder then that our life as Christians is an encouragement to other believers but a source of conviction to those who are lost. Nobody wants to be reminded that the way they are going is leading to certain death. We may not realize it, but every victory we have in Jesus is an inspiration to our Christian friends, but at the same time, an irritation to our unsaved friends. The angry and bitter response we sometimes receive from unbelievers shows just how effective our testimony is--how much we have identified with Christ.
We need to remember Christ has already won the battle. We are “more than conquerors” through Him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Yes, Christ is the victor, the conqueror, and we are victors in Him (see I Cor. 15:57). We don’t fight to win spiritual battles, we just follow the One who fought the battle and won it already.