by Don Watson
2 Corinthians 2:14 indicates that God wants to “use us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Christ everywhere.” But what kind of aroma are we spreading? What do people smell in our churches, in our homes, at work, and in our relationships? The more our knowledge of Christ is authentic, the sweeter the aroma, but if our knowledge of Him is inadequate or just plain wrong, the aroma of Christ will be putrid and foul.
I was a member, for a time, of a wonderfully unique ministerial association called, “Open Hands Fellowship” which especially focused on racial and cultural diversity. Various minorities would share the hurt and pain they had experienced growing up under racial prejudice and we would often have opportunity for questions and discussion that was extremely helpful in each of our journeys towards understanding each other. On one occasion a prominent black pastor passionately shared the fear, hurt, and anger he had so often experienced during his childhood and ministry when white Christians would act unkind, mean, and even vicious towards him. Since I had just recently discovered and embraced the gospel I am about to share with you, I was convinced the real gospel would correct such behavior by us as Christians. It had changed me and I knew it could radically take out the dirt in all of us, so I responded to his outcry with what I realize now was a sad, simplistic solution to his pain. Bumbling, I blurted out, “But isn’t the gospel the answer to all of that?” And it is. I know it is, but the term gospel has become so clichéd, bland, diluted, and unspecific that it is not good news any more. Our knowledge of Jesus is so distorted and corrupted that the aroma we spread is not the same aroma that people smelled from the life and teachings of our Master. It was this radical, pure, gospel that Jesus lived out and preached that I wanted us as a group of ministers to explore and rediscover its power to change the in adequate way we love, our fear, our non-acceptance, and lack of forgiveness – but the pastor snapped back, “Pastors throw the word gospel around like snake oil – it can fix anything. But Christians hide behind it and use it to justify their cruelty and every imaginable hateful word or action. It’s just a meaningless word.”
And he was right. We twist the word gospel to mean anything we happen to believe or stand for. We define it instead of allowing the gospel to define us – who we are and what we do. Consequently, the aroma is confusing and more often than not, it stinks.
Sure, all of us know the gospel means good news, but that means something different to everybody. To some of us, it’s simply the story of Jesus – who He was and what he did – history. To others, it’s the message of salvation that Christians are supposed to take to the world. But that message, we all have to admit, has been vastly different from church to church and generation to generation. Can we really say that the gospel of white Christian slave owners was good news, or how about the “gospel” of Christian Ku Klux Klan members? The gospel of the Christian church during the middle-ages that killed millions of fellow Christians who didn’t agree with the church’s doctrines or policies wasn’t good news – certainly not to the Waldensians or reformers burned at the stake. I understand these are extremes, but they merely bear out that what we call the gospel, in many cases, is not good news, and historically, the stench has been more than we could bear.
Even our “modern gospel” is not always good news. Timothy Keller says, “The essence of other religions is advice, Christianity is essentially news.” (Kings Crossing, p. 15) But more often than not, we too give advice and take on the aroma of the world’s religions. We have a list, be it large or small, of things we have to do to be saved and receive the favor of God – repent, confess, believe, accept, etc., etc. In fact, we do not have good news to take to the world, but only possible good news IF the listener will do this or that.
I know it seems simple to those of us who already enjoy our peace and salvation. But what if this “God Guy” we’re trying to sell to the world doesn’t smell as clean to them as He does to us? Think about it. Suppose some Bad Guy is out to kill you? Then a Stranger says a Good Guy sent him to help you. He’s got a plan. But how do you know you can trust him. Maybe you’ve heard all kinds of conflicting rumors about this Stranger. Who knows, maybe this Stranger even works for the Bad Guy. Then the Good Guy, who truly sent the Stranger, comes along and is mad at you because you didn’t take his help – I mean he sent this Stranger Guy to tell you this really good news about his plan to save you and all, but how could you know that all this was legit? Is it right for the Good Guy to kill you because you didn’t know if you could trust the person he sent? That would stink, wouldn’t it?
I know life is complicated and we all too often try to oversimplify things, but it just seems to me that Jesus had a lot of really good news. He was always healing people that religious people said couldn’t be healed because they were sinners, touching people that religious people said should not be touched, and forgiving people religious people would never have forgiven. When he began to do His work as the Messiah, he quoted the Messianic Prophecy of Isaiah, ““The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor . . . to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2) Every miracle, every healing, every act of forgiveness and mercy was God’s way of proclaiming the good news to everyone. Everything He did and everything He said declared to sinners that they were unconditionally loved, accepted, and forgiven by God. That knowledge of who Jesus was, and who He declared God to be, was the sweet aroma that God wants us to spread to everyone. And interestingly enough that was exactly what the angel predicted at the birth of Jesus. ““Don’t be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. 11 today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11).
So let’s take a fresh whiff of everything we teach and all we do in light of this Gospel, this good news – really smell it thoroughly, and try to figure out: Will this belief or practice actually BE good news to everyone and will it spread the same sweet aroma of Christ today that it did 2000 years ago?