2 Corinth. 2: “Is Your Aroma Cotton Candy or Limburger Cheese?”

Smell is a powerful sense! So powerful in fact, you would be able to recall things from your far distant memory just by smelling something associated with that memory. It’s true, and it’s happened to me.

Since my mom was born and raised in Scotland I have had the opportunity to visit family there since I was a little kid. Although I don’t remember my first trip, which I think I was 4, I had more memory of my second trip when I was 12. After walking into my grandparents apartment complex at the age of 12, a flood of memories came pouring back to me from when I was 4. I remember that there was a motorcycle that used to sit at the bottom of the steps. I remembered my grandparents waving from their second story apartment window. I remembered walking with my grandfather under the road just outside their apartment. All from the smell in the stairway of my grandparents apartment.

Smell has always played an important part of the rituals in our lives. Don’t think it’s true? Lets test it:

Name the ritual associated with…

  • A. The smell of a pine tree?
  • B. The smell of sun tan lotion?
  • C. The smell of hotdogs and hamburgers cooking on the grill
  • D. The smell of a campfire
  • E. The smell of a family member fart in the car
  • F. (Make up your own)

*Answers are listed at the bottom of the reflection 

In 2 Corinthians 14-16 Paul is calling on the knowledge of scent to make a point:

2 Corinthians 14-16 (NLT)  14 But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. 15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. 16 To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?

We Stink

Paul’s use of “Christ’s triumphal procession” is really two-fold. During the time of Paul’s writing the readers would be very familiar with the scents associated with the parade of a victorious Roman General returning from battle. Upon his return the crowds would swell in the streets and incense would have been burned throughout the city in honor of the gods. They would do this all the way to the temple of Jupiter.  

If you remember in a pervious reading, the prisoners of war would be paraded at the end of the parade line. Now think about this: While a cloud of incense hung over the whole city, to the Romans, this aroma would have been the sweet smell of victory. However, to the prisoners of war, this was the smell of slavery and perhaps even death.

You have to know there’s a debate among commentators regarding Paul’s use of this analogy. Some say he’s referencing that Christians are the victors here, others say the Christians are the prisoners. Either way, Paul continues in verse 15 that “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.”  For Paul’s Jewish readers, they would recognize that Paul is referencing back to Leviticus 23:18 that speaks of the burnt offerings being, “an aroma pleasing to the Lord.”

The Challenge 

Let me end with asking you this question: What does your life smell like? If you had describe your spiritual aroma would be more like Cotton Candy or Limburger Cheese?

This sounds funny, but there’s also a powerful truth here. Don’t be surprised if your life smells like cotton candy to God, but to unbelievers around you it smells like Limburger. The good news is, you don’t live for the world, you live for God. Worry more about stinking for Him.


  • A. Christmas, Cleaning the kitchen floor
  • B. Could be going to the beach. Could be sunbathing.
  • C. Fourth of July
  • D. Camping, Summer Camp
  • E. Family Vacation!
  • F. It’s your answer silly