This is a guest post by + Ron Knickerbocker, who preached in our church this past Sunday. But skip past his self-efacing intro. It's golden.
I apologize this morning if the exegesis is not up to Josh’s standards, but it was a pretty busy week with Christmas and finalizing my grades. I was going to apologize for the short length of this sermon – but, who am I kidding, “you’re welcome.”
Now, let’s look at Philippians, Chapter 4, verses 10-20
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
When Josh asked me to preach, he told me the verses for today were 4:14-23. When I looked at that, I thought to myself, “Wow, I’ve got nothing.” (I wish I could preach on verses 10-13, but you’ve probably all heard that sermon before.) So, I kept reading those verses over and over, and I kept getting stuck on vs. 18 – “a fragrant offering.”
A fragrant offering. In the Old Testament, this is the language of temple sacrifice. (For example, we can look at Exodus 29.)
Exodus 29:15-18, 23-25
15 “Take one of the rams, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on its head. 16 Slaughter it and take the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar. 17 Cut the ram into pieces and wash the internal organs and the legs, putting them with the head and the other pieces. 18 Then burn the entire ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the Lord, a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the Lord.
23 From the basket of bread made without yeast, which is before the Lord, take one round loaf, one thick loaf with olive oil mixed in, and one thin loaf. 24 Put all these in the hands of Aaron and his sons and have them wave them before the Lord as a wave offering. 25 Then take them from their hands and burn them on the altar along with the burnt offering for a pleasing aroma to the Lord, a food offering presented to the Lord.
The Israelites were to bring animal and grain offerings to the Lord and the priests would burn them on the altar and they would make “a pleasing aroma” to the Lord.
In the New Testament, this expression of a “fragrant aroma” (εὐωδία euōdia) only occurs in 2 other places:
(Eph 5:1-2) 1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
In this passage, Christ has taken the place of those Old Testament offerings as the final, perfect sacrifice for all our sins.(see Heb. 9-10) His sacrifice on the altar of the cross raises up a “fragrant aroma” to God.
In the next passage from 2nd Corinthians, we see God imparting that aroma to us:
(2 Cor. 2:14-16) 14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.
You know, after you’ve spent a few hours at a bar or pool hall or, better yet, a kalbi restaurant and then you come home… that smell lingers. You still smell like that smoky bar or that delicious kalbi. In this passage, we see the same thing happening that happens with all strong aromas. They rub off on us. As we Christians learn about Christ and experience the fellowship of believers in His church, we start to smell like Jesus.
Smells get everywhere. They’re really hard to keep to yourself – even when we want to. (I’m going to resist the urge to make a joke about that.) I don’t know my neighbors too well, but I can tell you that the wife is a very good cook. Because whenever I walk by that door around dinner time, the aroma of delicious Korean food just escapes through the cracks of the door and fills the hallway. In the same way, if our sacrifices to God really are fragrant offerings, if living a Christ-like life has a smell to it, as we live it that aroma will seep out of our pores without our even trying.
Not to stretch this metaphor too far, but I think there are a few other applications that can be made:
First, you don’t need words. For any of us expats here in Korea or for anyone in a foreign land or for anyone in any place where words aren’t available. For those instances, where you don’t have the right words, they’re not necessary. You can still give off the smell of Christ through your sacrifice of service.
There is a man who lives in my apartment building who smiles and gives me a friendly head nod of acknowledgment whenever I see him because last year I saw him dragging some furniture he found back from the dumpster (it’s not only the foreigners that do this!) and I watched as several people walked past him, ignoring him. So I stopped and grunted and pointed and said “May I help you” in Korean (I think) and then he grunted and pointed and I helped him carry his treasure to the elevator and up to his apartment. Over a year later, I still give off the aroma of Christ to him.
For those of us who are teachers, when you stumble and fumble your way through that English lesson and you’re not sure if your students have learned anything, if you do it in a spirit of service, you give off the aroma of Christ.
For you Koreans here who are not great at English (but still better than most expats are at Korean), when you bump into foreigners lost on the subway who don’t speak Korean and you stumble and fumble your way through to give them directions, if you do it in a spirit of service, you give off the aroma of Christ.
Second, we must be broken. According to the “How Stuff Works” website:
“If a substance is somewhat volatile, it will give off molecules, or odorants. Nonvolatile materials like steel do not have a smell.”
If you want to smell of Christ, you have to be volatile. You must be vulnerable to the hurts of others and the wounds that can be inflicted by a fallen world. If you guard your heart, if your primary goal in life is to protect yourself from being hurt, you will never give off the scent. We are to exude the aroma of Christ as it escapes from our fragile “jars of clay” (2 Cor. 4:7).
The great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis put it this way:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”(The Four Loves)
Now, I want to close with a brief reflection on verse 19. I’m going to resort to some “apophatic” or negative theology. In other words, I’m going to tell you what this verse doesn’t mean in the hopes that it will lead you to a better idea of what it might mean. (Frankly, this is not some rhetorical device. I don’t really know what it means either, but I know it’s important, so I’ll do my best.)
Verse 19 says, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” If you will recall, Paul is writing this letter to the Philippians from prison somewhere, maybe Rome, possibly days from execution. So apparently meeting your needs doesn’t involve keeping you out of prison or protecting you from execution. It also doesn’t always involve keeping you well fed or supplied with the daily necessities of life (v. 13) As Adam read from Romans 8:35 on Christmas Eve, neither does meeting your needs include protection from “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword.” (We are “more than conquerors” of these things, which implies we are open to experience them.) Now by this time, I’m asking myself, “If God doesn’t consider any of those things necessities, then what’s left?” What need does God always meet.
It has something to do with the love of Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). It’s unassailable. Nothing can separate us from Christ’s love or fellowship with him. That sounds like it helps, but really it just plunges us deeper into the mystery. What does it mean to be inseparable from God’s love? What does it mean for this to be our greatest need? And for Christ to eternally meet it? What does it mean to be in fellowship with an eternal being whom you’ve never seen, but is ever present; who is one member of a divine Trinity; who happens to be wholly God, yet wholly man at the same time; who died, but rose; who came, but left, but promises to come again. I wish I could explain it to you. I wish I understood it myself.
As Paul says back in Chapter 3:10-11:
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain the resurrection from the dead.”
If Paul, who wrote half of the New Testament, who studied the scriptures for years to become a Pharisee, who as Matt said 2 weeks ago was “the best of the best” has to speak of it as something which he hasn’t yet attained and doesn’t fully understand, if he has to resort to “somehow” when he speaks of it then I have no clue. But I know what it smells like.