But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient to these things? For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence (2 Cor. 2:14-17).
We live in a consumer society in which even ideas become merely commodities to be bought and sold according to one’s need. We sell everything from perfume to industrial cleansers to political platforms to new entrees to religion. Everything is available for purchase. Everything is an option in the marketplace. Individual choice has been elevated to the status of working assumption. Which is to say, I can believe whatever I want, and nobody can tell me any different. If I want to believe that Big Macs are better than Whoppers, that’s my choice. If I want to believe that Danielle Steele is as important an author as Shakespeare, I can do that. If it is my considered opinion that God is really an alien being who flew in on a spaceship and landed at the pyramids in Egypt, I am free to believe it. Why? Because there appears to be no way of verifying these statements. They all seem to be statements of personal preference, and we all know that we can’t assault the logic of personal preference.
Consequently, when someone stands up and claims to speak for God, we don’t want to say anything negative. Even though their primary understanding of Jesus may be as a divine cash cow, people listen and figure it’s just another choice in the religious cafeteria—relatively equal in significance and veracity with every other choice.
But Paul says that there are people whose only concern in spreading the Gospel is motivated by self-interest. So many empires have been built on peddling God’s word, that it’s become a cottage industry. Power, wealth, fame are all available to those who peddle it best. Evangelism, in some instances appears to be little more than an attempt at kingdom building. Only, the kingdom that’s being built has little to do with the kingdom that Jesus announces in the gospels. There are some who cynically sell the Gospel at whatever price will attract the most buyers. Evangelism is a means to an end, a way to a bigger church and a more impressive budget.
But for us, spreading the good news is an outgrowth of the lives we live. Our call is to live faithfully. And as we pass through this life, the way we live, the words we speak, our willingness to embrace the stranger and the outcast speak loudly about who Christ is. Actually, Paul refers to us almost poetically as “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”
It’s not flashy. But that’s all right, following Jesus rarely is.