Last week I took my regular walk down to the water. I rounded the curve, and the expansive lake spread out before me.
Sometimes I round that curve, and the breeze blowing up the shore carries the most unappealing smells. Often, I smell a rotting carcass, and as the smell gets stronger, I inevitably see a dead carp bloating in the sun. There’s a garbage can close to the dock, and a nauseating cocktail of odors seep from under its fitted metal lid. When the lake is low, a quarter-mile of soggy shale emits a stale and muddy stench.
But on this particular day, I rounded the corner and walked into an invisible wall of fragrance.
What is that smell? I wondered.
I took a big deliberate whiff just to savor it. The fragrance completely overwhelmed the normal odors—no hint of stagnant water or decaying plants—just a sweet, invisible scent.
Nature’s perfume swirled in the air, but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Tiny leaves had just started to uncurl themselves on branches, so it took me a minute to realize I was smelling the brand-new baby buds of the shrub-like plumb trees lining the road.
The old country song, “If I could bottle this up, I could make a million…” ran through my head.
I stepped into the ditch, pulled a little branch to my nose, and inhaled. And here, words fail me. It smelled so good. I was walking alone that day, and I thought, “I wish someone were here to smell this with me!”
I thought about breaking off a twig and taking it back to the house, but I knew my boys would be less than impressed since we have a whole row of plums on our fence line. They’re a distance from the house, so maybe that’s why I never smell them.
I stepped back onto the road without a show-n-tell branch and thought, “Too bad you can’t send a smell over social media.” Then I immediately wondered how long it would be before Apple devises a way to add a scent library alongside their GIF and emoji libraries. It turns out it’s already been attempted.
Fragrances and odors coexist, but isn’t it interesting that pleasing scents can mask, mitigate, and even overwhelm the stink?
I suppose that’s why Paul refers to the gospel as a fragrance.
“God uses us to make the knowledge about Christ spread everywhere like a sweet fragrance”2 Corinthians 2:14, (GNT)
Fragrance is a hidden alert and invitation to investigate, and Paul says that believers are the fragrance dispensers. We are like shrubs in various stages of blooming with buds of the fruit of the spirit. Whether the buds are just popping or the flower has opened, Christ’s work in us inevitably emits the fragrance of the gospel that invites folks to investigate.
I suppose that’s also why we’re encouraged to, “Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you” (1 Peter 3:15, GNT).
When people smell the hope of the gospel, they are compelled to ask questions. Our job is to graciously, gently, and respectfully explain what Jesus has done for us and in us.
The good news of Jesus is a sweet aroma powerful enough to overwhelm the stench of despair, pride, loneliness, and fear. In a world full of odors, gospel fragrance dispensed by believers is an unexpected relief.
As we simply point to the source of the fragrance, we are sharing Jesus. It doesn’t feel like an engineered evangelistic program akin to Apple’s scent-sharing library. It’s a natural delight that honors God, magnifies Jesus, and offers peace to anyone brave enough to ask, “What’s that smell?”
When did you first “smell” the fragrance of “the knowledge of Christ?”
What did you experience that made you want to investigate the source?