A Sweet Smelling Aroma

IntroWhat is your favorite smell?  Coffee brewing in the morning?  Flowers in your garden? Bacon frying in the skillet? Aromas can have a powerful effect on us. Re-connect us with the past; elicit memories. Incite our desires and motivate us to do things.

Some interesting facts about the sense of smell:

  • It is said to be the most sensitive of the senses. People can remember smells with 65% accuracy after a year. Visual recall is only about 50% after three months.
  • It is said to be most linked to our emotional recollection (it motivates us to think and even do certain things)
  • It is the first of all our senses to develop – before we are born our sense of smell is fully formed and functioning.
  • Humans have five to six million odor detecting cells but that is nothing compared to the animal kingdom. Rabbits have 100 million and a dog 220 million.

These thoughts lead us to a passage in the context of our theme this month:

  • Phil 4:14-18Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. 15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. 18 Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.
  1. “You have done well – A few weeks ago we examined the historical context of these words – the apostle Paul’s concluding personal words to the Philippian church. These generous Christians had financially supported Paul in his ministry (more than once when he was in Thessalonica). Paul writes to thank them for their gifts.  But he does more than that here.  He tells them they did what was right when they sent him support – “you have done well..” It was right, not only because it satisfied his needs completely (“I am full”). But because it was “well-pleasing to God.”  This is the most important qualification of all… Does it please God?
  2. A Sweet Aroma to the Lord” How does the Bible describe the actions that please God? One reoccurring phrase in the OT used to describe a sacrifice that pleased God is “a sweet aroma to the Lord” (44 times in the NKJV of the O.T.; 17 times in Leviticus; 18 times in Numbers). It is used to describe the burnt offering, the freewill offering, the wave offering, the drink offering, the firstfruit offering, the daily offerings and the monthly offerings, the sacrifices on the feast days (Passover, the feast of the Trumpets, and the feast of the Tabernacles)Why so much emphasis on the aroma that a sacrifice produced?
  3. The intentions of a devoted heart – Many scholars point out that the sacrifices of the OT that are described as a sweet savor to the Lord are those that represent a full and voluntary devotion to God. Lev 1:2-3Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the livestock — of the herd and of the flock. 3 ‘If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord… v. 9 – And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord. The phrase is most often associated with the burnt offering where the whole animal was consumed by fire. The worshipper gave it all to God. The Hebrew term for burnt offering literally means to ascend, or go up, as the smoke or aroma would ascend from the flames. Thus, the sacrifice that produced the sweet aroma was the one that was designed to ascend to God in full, unreserved worship or devotion to Him.  The intentions of his heart was to please God.
  4. The evidence of an obedient heart – I am not convinced that God actually likesthe smell of burning animals or roasting grain in the same way that I like the smell of cookies baking in the oven. But rather, God was actually pleased with the results of an obedient heart that offered an acceptable sacrifice. The lingering smell produced by the burning meat or grain was the physical evidence that the worshipper had actually offereda sacrificeaccording to God’s command. It was, in a sense, the smell of obedience. Thus, the worshipper was to strive to produce this sweet-smelling aroma that pleased God by doing everything as God commanded.
  5. The first occurrence of this God-pleasing aroma is in found in Genesis 8, when Noah, after exiting the ark, offered an extensive animal sacrifice to the Lord. Gen. 8:20-21Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. The thought seems to be that God was pleased with all that Noah had done, and the results of his obedience, and thus promised His blessings upon him and his descendants.

a.Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “soothing” (sweet – KJV) literally means restful, associated with being at rest. (Home Sweet Home)  Some suggest it is a play on words with the name Noah – one who gives rest. What God smelled in the burnt offering of Noah was the aroma of the rest God had provided through the obedience of Noah. The sacrifice pleased God, as it represented the results of Noah’s obedience, and was given in response to the blessing that God had provided.

  1. In the same way, those sacrifices that God commanded later in the law of Moses produced a soothing smell to God because, when offered properly from the heart, they also reflected a submissive and obedient heart that was freely responding the blessings of God.
  2. God can smell the difference. In our recent study of Leviticus, we noticed the words of Leviticus 26. God gave Israel a choice: if you obey me, blessing– abundant lives, peace, prosperity, defeated enemies, and freedom. if you disobey me, cursings – terror, disease, defeat from enemies, and in v. 31 God says, “I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas” (Lev. 26:31).  A holy God will not smell the unholy sacrifice of a disobedient child.
  3. In 1 Samuel 15, King Saul disobeyed God when he spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites and some of the livestock. He excused his disobedience by appealing to the value of sacrifice – 1 Sam 15:15for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; But any attempt to sacrifice was futile, and could not bring God’s blessings. “So Samuel said: ‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king’” (vv. 22-23). Those sacrifices would not have smelled sweet to God.
  4. God can smell the reality behind our best efforts even when we pretend that what we are putting on the altar is real. He knows when it truly is the sweet aroma of an obedient heart or some sheep in our lives we were meant to destroy.

III.  The Aroma of an Acceptable Sacrifice– This OT connection helps us to understand Paul’s words to the Philippian church in 4:18  –(“a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God”) Their gift to Paul was more than just a kind gesture or good deed. It was an act of obedient worship to God – a sacrifice to God. Their generosity produced an aroma that pleased God because it was evidence of submissive and obedient hearts.They gave voluntarily and cheerfully.  Although they sent it to Paul, God accepted it as a sacrifice that ascended to Him.

  1. We are called to offer our sacrifices to God. Not animals or grain, but our genuine response to the blessings of God through worship and doing good to others.  Hebrews 13:15-16–  Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Paul commanded the Roman Christians to not be conformed to the world around them but be transformed and offer their bodies as a living sacrifice to God.  Romans 12:1Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. (HCSB) The question is not just if we offer our sacrifices to God, but what do they smell like to God when we do?  God can smell the difference between a sincere prayer of thanksgiving, and one said as a common ritual to please the expectations of others.  God can smell the difference between a gift given from true compassion and love, and a token gesture given by compulsion. God loves a cheerful giver.
  2. The Aroma of LoveWhat does love smell like? Does that sound like the beginning of a perfume commercial? The aroma of love is not Chanel # 5.  Ephesian 5:1-2Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. God is pleased when His children act like Him. God is the greatest giver – So His children should give to others. God does everything out of love; So His children should walk in love.   In fact, Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us.
  3. But although He gave Himself for us, and we were the recipients of His Gift… It was also an offering and a sacrifice to God that produced a sweet-smelling aroma that pleased God. Of all that sacrifices ever offered, this one smelled the sweetest, and pleased God, the Father the most. Centuries before the sacrifice itself, the prophet Isaiah spoke of a lamb that would be slain in behalf of others. In that familiar description of Isaiah 53 he wrote… Isa 53:10-11 –  Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. 11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. This was the aroma of selfless love.  This was the aroma of full devotion. This was the aroma of submissive obedience.
  4. God expects us to offer the sacrifice of love to God by giving and expressing selfless love to others. In Matthew 25 Jesus depicts the judgment scene – accounting even the dialogue between the Judge and those being judged. The Son of Man welcomes those on His right hand, declaring that they had showed compassion and love for Him during their lifetime. Matt 25:35-40 –  for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’   They did it for others, but it ascended to God Himself. It was a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling aroma.  It pleased God.
  5. The Aroma ofTriumph – Another passage where the apostle speaks of an aroma that should permeate the Christians life is 2 Corinthians 2:14-16– Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.
  6. On an occasion when the uncertainties of life were oppressive toward Paul (waiting for the return of Titus from Corinth) he found strength in the powerful image of Jesus’ victory over sin. The “triumph” Paul references here was a familiar image to the Corinthians – the triumphal procession of the victorious Roman general. It was a large and magnificent procession through the city. (ticker tape parade)
  7. Adam Clarke gives us some specifics about the event that Paul alludes to here:
  • The general was usually clad in purple and gold, he wore a crown of gold, with a laurel of victory in his hand.
  • He rode in an ornate chariot pulled by white horses. (elephants, tigers, lions). Beside him rode his sons, who shared in the victory. Behind him walked his vanquished captives with the spoil of the battle. Some were killed in celebration at the end of the procession.
  • The priests would also walk beside with censors of aromatic incense given in honor of the pagan gods and to honor the king.
  • As the procession passed by the citizens would cast flowers along the way and shout the accolades of victory to the king.
  1. Paul sees Christ as the conquering King who is leading the procession. The victory has been won and Paul (and the other apostles) are being led in triumph through the streets. We notice that Paul depicts himself as who “diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place”.  Paul was busy spreading an aroma everywhere.  The aroma of the knowledge of Christ. He was preaching the gospel and  he describes this work as spreading a fragrance for others to smell.
  2. The image of the aroma may point back to the O.T. description of the burnt offering and the “sweet aroma to the Lord”. So Paul pictures the preaching of the gospel as a sacrifice that pleases God and spreads the fragrance of Christ to others. Do others smell Christ in your life?
  3. The image of aroma may also point to the smell of incense that was a part of the triumph procession, done in honor of the King. The aroma of the event meant different things to different people.
  4. Aroma of death or life: Some of those who were conquered in a triumph were put to death when the procession reached the capitol. Others were spared. To those who died, the incense offered along the way (the gospel preached) was the “aroma of death”. To those who were spared (saved) it was the “aroma of life”.  So too, the gospel message was and is both, depending on the response of those who heard it.
  5. vs. 16 – “of death leading to death”; “of life leading to life” – The gospel message is a message of destiny. Again we recognize that the distinction is not in the power of the gospel message to save, or in the faithfulness of those who preach it, but rather in the reception of those who hear it.
  6. To those who reject the message it is viewed as a lifeless message about a dead Christ that leads only to their own death; But to the one who embraces the gospel in obedience, it is a life-giving message of a living Christ that brings them back to life again.
  7. Jesus’ work does not end in neutrality. Luke 2:34Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, . he was prophesied to be the chief cornerstone of the God’s building yet a stone of offense and stumbling to many. Isa. 28
  8. The aroma of Christ is not received equally in the nostrils of men’s hearts. What does Christ’s victory over death and sin smell like to you? It is the aroma of death or life? If you come in obedient faith to the message and share in the victory, the gospel message becomes the sweetest smell of all.

Conclusion:  God wants to smell the aroma of your obedience.  He wants you to spread the aroma of the life-giving message to others, so they will come to Him as well. (When your neighbor is grilling his steak and you want to invite yourself over and share in what he is cooking.  God wants our lives to give such a scent of obedience and grace that others will want to peer over the fence and see what is cooking.)  Let your life be a sweet smelling aroma unto the Lord. Be obedient today.