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Sermon 8-17-08
2 Cor. 2:14-15 - The Fragrance

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The Fragrance

Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance 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” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)

About a century ago, Rev. Aquilla Webb told of a man who bought an expensive fishing pole, a “complete outfit” of everything that went with it, and went fishing. The man spent “hours of effort without even a bite” and then “he came across a country boy with only a switch for a pole and a bent pin for a hook, but he had a long string of fish. ‘Why is it I can’t catch any?’ the man asked. ‘Because you don’t keep yourself out of sight,’ the boy replied.” Rev. Webb continued, “This is the secret of fishing for men as well as trout. Hold up the cross of Christ. Send the people away talking about Him instead of praising you.

Rev. Webb also wrote about “One of (Ludwig von) Beethoven’s most famous concertos (which) was suggested to him as he heard repeated knocks in the stillness of the night at a neighbor’s door. The concerto begins with four soft taps of the drum – raised in this work to the rare dignity of a solo instrument. Again and again the four beats are heard throughout the music, making a wonderful effect. God uses even the humblest player. A man who can only knock on a door or play a drum can be made valuable in the ‘music’ of this world.

The elements in these two stories, as told by Rev. Webb, tell us to promote Christ instead of promoting ourselves, and also we learn that even when we have no idea that our actions have meaning, they often do, because God makes it so. He can do through us what we cannot do.

In ourselves, we have very little to give. If you compare us to “vessels,” as Scripture sometimes does, we are like the cups placed on a table in a restaurant. Nobody wants dirty cups and if there’s a spot on the cup before us, we’ll send it back to the kitchen. Only after the cup is utterly clean will it be acceptable for our use. When it is, we then want that cup to be filled with a beverage we truly enjoy. It must have just the right fragrance and it must taste precisely the way we want it, and if it is, we will drink from that cup and be glad we did.

When Jesus comes into our lives, He begins a wonderful process that makes us clean inside, not unlike the cups on that table. And to facilitate this process, we are filled with the Holy Spirit of God. First we are emptied and cleansed, and then we are filled. Our sins are taken away through the cross of Christ, and the Spirit fills that place which was emptied of sin by the power and love of God. At that point everything begins to change.

Suddenly, with the advent of Christ in our lives, the Holy Spirit of God is in us. When people are introduced to us, they no longer just meet you and me, they also meet Him. And even when we don’t present Him very well, He accomplishes the work in and through us that we are incapable of doing. For one thing, the Holy Spirit brings with Him a heightened, godly capacity for faith. It’s like we have a new aptitude for understanding the things of God and the ability to apply them in our own lives and the lives of those around us. And others will begin to sense, often without understanding, that things are different in you and me.

That’s what is meant by our Scripture for today, which says, “thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance 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” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15). I remember, years ago, when I worked for decades in a secular career, that every once in awhile, someone I did not know would say, “You’re a Christian, aren’t you?” It surprised me. I didn’t have a Christian bumper sticker on my car and I wasn’t talking to them about the Lord – they just knew! There is a “fragrance of Christ” in ordinary people.

This “faith” we are given will take different forms. You may have the faith that enables you to understand Scripture better than others. You may be able to lead someone to Christ that no one else could reach. You may have a certain kind of faith in which you will pray and the one you pray for will suddenly or gradually, miraculously be healed. We are not all the same, and a mistake we make is when we expect others in the Lord to be just like we are.

In the works done for God, it is God Himself who decides what that work will be. Jesus indeed did say, “you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move” (Matthew 17:20), but God will decide which mountain of circumstances will be the object of your prayers. Scripture also says, “If we ask anything ACCORDING TO HIS WILL, He hears us, and if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15). His will is essential.

I am learning, and we all need to learn this: to let the Lord direct us in what we should pray about, even when the need before us is obviously very important. An example is the news I received last week that the reason I have recently been lightheaded, dizzy, weak and have a rapid heartbeat, is because of what they called, “Atrial Fibrillation.” It’s a way of describing periodic abnormal heartbeats that can lead to a stroke or heart attack.

I do find it annoying that I have to rely on medication for the rest of my life. But if I forget it or take it later in the day than I should, the symptoms return. It’s like that with the Spirit of God. There is an “old nature” that will be with us for the rest of our lives. In Christ, there is also a “new nature” (as Paul called it) that is given to us when we trust in the Lord. We can feed the one and the other will lessen in strength. Like muscles that must be used to become strong, we must turn to the Lord and trust in Him on a continuing basis. The “fragrance” of God’s Spirit that is in us will sadly lessen as we neglect His Presence and conversely His Presence in our lives will heighten and become beautiful as we go to the Lord and trust in Him continually for our very lives.

Like the country boy’s advice, it’s time to start keeping yourself “out of sight” so people will be “talking about Him instead of praising you.” You’ll be happier that way, and your life will acquire meaning. Like the person who knocked on the door “in the stillness of the night,” your actions will have importance deeper and more profound that anything you might know about or understand on this earth. When you trust in the Lord, the “fragrance of Christ” will be in you. Let’s trust in Him right now:

Lord, I surrender to You. Forgive me for the times I preferred my will to Yours. I trust in You and give You my life. Fill me with Your fragrance, Your Spirit. In Jesus Name. Amen.

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"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)
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