The Smells of Scripture

This time of year, there are many aromas wafting through the air—freshly cut grass, flowers, the rain-soaked ground. Our sense of smell is such a fascinating thing. It has been said that smell is intricately connected to memory. A smell can trigger all kinds of memories—both good and bad—connected to other times you have smelled the same scent.

There are several occasions in the Bible of smell being mentioned. Most often, it is connected to sacrifice. For example, after Noah offers burnt offerings, we read, “The LORD smelled the soothing aroma, and the LORD said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done’” (Genesis 8:21).

Whereas God is depicted as a God who fully appreciates sacrifice, an aspect of the false gods is that they cannot smell. When the people go against God and are exiled, they “will serve gods, the work of human hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear, nor eat nor smell anything” (Deuteronomy 4:28). Similarly, their idols “have noses, but they cannot smell” (Psalm 115:6b).

Jesus came into the world to show us how to live. Jesus’ whole life was a life of sacrificial love, most profoundly seen in His death on the cross. This sacrificial death, in keeping with the story of the Bible, is referred to as a “fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:2). It might strike modern-day readers as odd that the crucifixion is spoken of in these terms. However, if we know the themes of Scripture, we recognize that this is the language of acceptable sacrifice. The living God is pleased with Jesus’ sacrificial love. This is precisely the larger point of these verses. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

As those who follow in the way of Jesus, we too, are to live lives of sacrificial love. We are to love others. We are to give to others. In short, we are to make sacrifices for others. The Christians in Philippi lived this way toward Paul. Paul thanks them and commends them for their generosity. “But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).

Jesus’ sacrifice was a fragrant aroma to God. The Philippians’ sacrifice was a fragrant aroma to Paul. Let us also strive to live sacrificially toward God and others.