Neither individual Christians nor congregations of Christians are required to be victims. Wizened by the word of God, we know that "Satan masquerades as an angel of light" (II Cor. 11:14). We know about and should be prepared for "ferocious wolves...in sheep's' clothing" (Mt. 7:15) who will "not spare the flock" (Acts 20:29).
These Bible words teach us that we will most certainly become the targets of people who pretend to be faithful brethren, but who are not. Instead, they are camouflaged predators who target Christians for different kinds of schemes. Who are these predators? What can we do about them?
The gap could not have been wider. Some ancient Christians endured the sting of persecution and even saw other Christians persecuted unto death. Other ancient Christians dodged persecution, and briefly abandoned the faith in order to avoid the sting of religious-based punishment. How did ancient brethren close this gap?
Benjamin Franklin said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Beyond the affairs of this world, Paul added another certainty. "In fact," said the Apostle, "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Tim. 3:12). If we do any Christian pushing, in other words, this present evil world is going to push back.
What Kind of Smell? Who Is Sufficient?
Following last Sunday morning's sermon about persecution, Kelly brought a passage of scripture to my attention. I wish that I would have included II Corinthians 2:15-16 in my lesson. That opportunity long gone, but I will bring that verse to your attention with this bulletin article.
II Corinthians 2:15-16 in Three Versions
For we are a sweet savor of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one a savor from death unto death; to the other a savor from life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? (ASV)
For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? (NASB)
For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ [which ascends] to God, [discernible both] among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the latter one an aroma from death to death [a fatal, offensive odor], but to the other an aroma from life to life [a vital fragrance, living and fresh]. And who is adequate and sufficiently qualified for these things? (AMP)
Explaining II Corinthians 2:15-16 - The Good News
Writing about aromas or smells, Paul might have been reflecting back on the smell of Israel's Temple, made fragrant with incense offered in praise of God.
The golden altar of incense...sat in front of the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies...God commanded the priests to burn incense on the golden altar every morning and evening, the same time that the daily burnt offerings were made. The incense was to be left burning continually throughout the day and night as a pleasing aroma to the Lord (see Ex. 30:1-10).
Like the Temple's incense, Christian lives "are the sweet savor of Christ." The image is of Christian lives so thoroughly infused with Christian values and virtues that they fragrance the air around them. Putting off this sweet smell, other Christians "smell" the spiritual life in them and love them for their "smell."
The Bad News
Smells and aromas are matters of taste. Occasionally Janie buys a candle to bring home and burn with a smell that she enjoys. There are times when I find those smells annoying.
Like so many other things, smells are a matter of taste. What some like, others dislike. This is also in the background of II Corinthians 2:15-16. What dedicated Christians find sweet smelling in other dedicated Christians, others find an offensive stench.
An example is found in a recent edition of The Atlantic magazine. Christians value the discipline of sexual purity and respect godly sexual ethics in the lives of others. Contradicting this, The Atlantic has said that preaching Christian sexual morality to the unmarried is out of the mainstream and offensive.
What some like, others dislike. Christian living, appreciated by other Christians, is offensive to those who prefer to die in their sins. To the terribly immoral, for example, Christian sexual morality is "oppressive," "guilt-ridden," and wrong. To borrow Paul's words, Christians smell like death to those who are dying in sin - and they do not like either our "smell" or us for smelling that way. Paul is simply using reactions to offensive smells to explain the reaction of non-Christian to Christians, and their rejection of what we do and who we are.
Who Is Adequate For These Things?
The worse news is that we have to be prepared for these reactions of rejection. "Smelling" the way that we do, the world is going to turn up its nose at us. Behaving as we must behave, the world is going to push back against us and persecute us. Taking up this cross is an unpleasant necessity of Christianity. Are you equal to this job?
With the question, "Who is adequate and sufficiently qualified for these things?", Paul is placing a great challenge before us. "Who is worthy of so important a charge? Who can undertake it without trembling? " (Barnes).
Once upon a time, the ideal personality was thought to be, well, thoughtful and emotionally controlled. Now, when emotion is so very highly regarded, letting our emotions all hang out is thought to be ideal. These sharp distinctions about the place of emotion effect the church: what is the proper place of emotion within Christianity? Does the cart come before or after the horse?
Abraham Lincoln perfectly characterized the old ideal. Apparently passive, reserved, and solemn, Lincoln led the nation through its darkest hours. Sadly, the nation's darkest hours were also Lincoln's darkest hours - his beloved 11-year old son Willie died during the early years of the Civil war as his wife slipped into depression. Regardless of his circumstances, Lincoln's most powerful leadership tool remained his dominance over his own emotions.
In his dark suit, in his dark top hat, and in his somewhat dark personality, Lincoln does not suit the current, emotionally "out there" ideal. The new emotional ideal is characterized on OPRAH and on DR. PHIL (where celebrities go to confess and cry) and on THE VIEW (where celebrities go to shout and argue). Emotions that were once expressed only in private are now welcomed in public.
Religious thinking has been influenced by these extremes. Once, worship services were more emotionally controlled (Did God accept our service?). Now, services are measured by an individual's emotional reactions to the service (How did I feel?). Pentecostalism and pop-Psychology have had a profound effect. The Encounter Groups of the 60s and 70s and the once-rejected assumption that emotionality is spirituality have become emotionally hyperactive worship services of today.
Twice in Acts 2, people reacted emotionally. In both cases, however, (ii) the cart of emotion (i) followed the horse of teaching. Perhaps there is a lesson here about where emotion best fits within Christianity.
- "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do" (Acts 2:37)?
- "And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized" (Acts 2:41-42).
Emotionalism is a poor substitute for reason. Why would mature people who have learned not to let their emotions control major life decisions allow their emotional reactions to dictate their religion? There is something "less" about a religion that allows the cart to run away with the horse. There is something "more" to a religion that (i) begins with teaching from the word of God and (ii) then proceeds to the various emotional reactions of people to that teaching. God approaches us through the reason of learning His will.
Emotional extremes are a poor substitute for normal variations in emotional make-up. Just as we all wear different sizes of shoes and clothing, we all have different emotional constitutions. Just as some need more and others need fewer inches in their waistbands, some need more and others need less emotionality, in life and in worship. Here is the rub: these different emotional constitutions need to work and worship together as the church. Identifying the extremes (Lincoln; Whoopie Goldberg on THE VIEW) is easy, but where is the happy medium?
Catharsis is a poor substitute for repentance and for the discipline of the new life. A catharsis takes place when people get worked up emotionally, and then release their emotions into a great sense of relief. Two examples: (i) some people feel better after "a good cry," and (ii) some people feel better after they "vent." Similarly, some people fell better if there has been a lot of emotion expressed in worship services.
Affirming the normal differences in emotional make-up, other people feel better if they choke back their tears, bite their lip instead of venting, and keep their emotions in check. Those people tend to be put-off by highly emotional displays in worship and by highly emotional appeals by preachers.
Much to the detriment of its followers and of itself, religion can pander to catharses. In other words, emotionalism can so dominate a worship service that many feel better after a service in which emotion has played a huge part - and leave being no better at all. Satisfied by their good feelings, they fail to satisfy God with their better lives and more dedicated service.