Like My Sweaty Stinky T-Shirt
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 2 Corinthians 2:14
Despite washing my t-shirts after every workout, sometimes it just doesn’t seem to get the sweaty, stinky smell out. It’s not usually noticeable when I take the t-shirt out of the clean drawer. When I start to exercise however, the smell seems to come out, blessing everyone in the gym with the odor of my stinky t-shirt. I’ve taken to soaking them in a detergent designed for this purpose, but occasionally, one still sneaks through. Then, once again, the aroma that starts with me, permeates the gym for everyone else to appreciate.
That’s a little disgusting, but in today’s passage, Paul used this metaphor of an odor – only in a good way – to describe our influence as Christians on those around us. He said that God first leads and transforms us, filling us with his fragrance, which then emanates out from us, impacting others. The key is, that we must first be changed before we affect those around us. If our thoughts, words, and actions stink, we cannot spread the fragrant aroma of Christ. To do God’s work, and to impact others for the kingdom, we must first be transformed ourselves.
I’ve gotten this backwards. In my addiction, I wanted to do good things but I was still enslaved to my pills. I think I hoped that my good deeds would atone for my bad ones. So, even though I was using drugs, I tried to point others to sobriety. This was futile. It was like wearing my sweaty, stinky t-shirt while trying to convince others to use the same detergent I was using. My life couldn’t impact anyone else for the better because my life was a mess.
We first must be transformed by God ourselves, before we can participate in the transformation of others. Paul didn’t say that we must be faultless before we can be of service to God. We’re all flawed and we’re never going to be perfect in this life. We cannot expect though, that we may participate in God’s work of changing others while we’re living enslaved to our drugs, pornography, greed, and anger. If our lives stink, that’s what others will smell. If, however, we’re filled with the fragrant aroma of God, then we can’t help but share his love and grace with those around us.