A Sweet Smelling Aroma

Robert Wurtz II

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. (Ephesians 5:1–2 NKJV)

Our passage is one of many examples of Paul explaining some mysteries of the OT priesthood (temple cultus). The concept of a “sweet-smelling aroma” is introduced in Genesis 8:21 when Noah offered of his flocks a burnt offering. It is taken up again in Exodus 29, Leviticus chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 17, 23, 26, etc. The examples in Exodus and Leviticus are more interesting because those burnt offerings were carried out with the sacred fire that God kindled from heaven. This fire was to be used exclusively for the lampstand, altar of incense, brazen altar, and the preparation of the shewbread. What was God teaching us in the OT and how does that relate to Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:1-2?

The Tabernacle

The context of Ephesians 5:1-2 deals with our responsibility to imitate the kind of love that God expresses. That love, in one sense, is the antitype of the sacred fire that the priests were commanded to use in the OT. When the sacrifices were offered using the sacred fire they were a sweet-smelling aroma to God. When Jesus offered Himself for our sins, His offering was also a sweet-smelling aroma to God. Why? Because His offering was presented in the sacred fire of the love of God. It is this reality that we are to imitate.

You will recall that Nadab and Abihu decided to offer common fire to the LORD and were struck dead. It is believed that they were intoxicated at the time because immediately afterward the priests were issued prohibitions concerning intoxicating drink (Lev. 10:9). Likewise, Paul adds later in Ephesians chapter 5, And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18 NKJV). Not only does alcohol alter our judgment, it tends to ungodly lust rather than godly love.

There are two other occasions that come to mind as it relates to offerings as Christians. In Romans 12:1-2 were are called to present our bodies as living sacrifices — holy and acceptable unto the Lord. This is a picture of a living burnt offering. The love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) and thus we are enabled to offer ourselves to God as a sweet aroma. All that we do, motivated and energized by the love of God, produces an acceptable offering to the Lord. Any other motivation or energy source (as it were) is as strange fire to the Lord. It is simply not acceptable to Him.

Secondly, we have in Philippians:

Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. (Philippians 4:18 NKJV)

Here we have an example of an offering being given to Paul out of love. How do we know? Because it was a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. This agrees with Paul’s words to the Corinthians on love — which reveal the necessity of love in all that we do. What does it matter if we gave ALL of our goods to the poor if we did not offer them in love? So on and so forth.

In Revelation chapter 2 we have the Ephesians in a state where they had left their first love. Jesus informed them that unless they returned to their first love, He would remove their lampstand. Why? Because godly love is (in one sense) the antitype of the sacred fire of God. When the fire goes out — ministry cannot go forward. What use is a lampstand in a darkened room once the flame is extinguished? It’s just one more thing to stumble over in the darkness. So it is with a Christian and a Church. No matter what we do — if we are devoid of God’s love — we are nothing.

So we see then, that the key to presenting God with an acceptable offering is to do so in the love of God. That love — that fire — must be the energy source and motivation behind all that we do in ministry. When it is present… our labors and offerings are a sweet-smelling aroma unto Him. This is a major key to acceptable ministry.

 

 

 

 

 

Redeeming the Time

Robert Wurtz II

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15-16 NKJV)

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. (Col. 4:5 ESV)

Walk in wisdom towards those without, redeeming opportunities. (Col. 4:5 Darby)

Our passages offer great insight into Paul’s approach to the Christian life and ministry. In Eph. 5:15-16, he does not use the Greek word chronos (time) in this verse, but kairos (opportunity).  This is significant because Paul wrote Ephesians in roughly 62 AD (near the end of his life) having experienced severe hardships that left him imprisoned on several occasions. He suffered first hand the “evil days” that he writes about.

Every minute was precious to him because he never knew what a day would bring forth — except that the Holy Spirit warned him in every city that chains and afflictions were waiting for him (Acts 20:23). He was liable to be imprisoned for years at a time with little access to the people he desired to minister to. So when an opportunity presented itself, he “redeemed it” and made full use of it. Otherwise, those moments of time… those opportunities would be lost forever. Other than daylight savings time, there is simply no way to turn back the clock. 

Businessman pulling a clock hand backwards

Wasting Time and Opportunity

When I was a child, minutes seemed like hours, hours seemed like days, days seemed like weeks, weeks like months, and months like years. Everything seemed to be in slow-motion and my mind was recording it as it were on a high-speed camera — logging details so precise that the memory of my youth seemed to be decades long. But now that I’m old, years seem like months and months like weeks, weeks like days, days like hours, and hours like seconds. What happens? When we are young we are so impatient and time seems to drag by. When we are old we grow patient and time no longer waits for us. Youthful impatience slows the speed of time to a crawl. Aged patience unlocks the wheels of times to blazing speeds. The young man asks, “What’s taking so long?!” The old man bellows, “Where has the time gone?”

The famous British missionary C.T. Studd (1861-1930) wrote a poem that captures the essence of Paul’s repeated admonition to “redeem the time.” I quote only the last stanza:

Only one life shall soon be past and only what’s don’t for Christ will last. And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be, If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee. — C.T. Studd

 

When opportunities come along to do God’s work we need to make use of them. In one sense, time is opportunity. In fact, sometimes we need to make our own opportunities. If we make ourselves available to God He will present opportunities to us. If we waste away our time those opportunities will be lost. 

We simply never know what a day will bring forth. Why procrastinate? Why waste our time on meaningless things? We may have far fewer opportunities than we realize. For Paul, he knew he had to make every one count. He could be thrown in jail and the opportunity to minister to specific needs in time would be lost forever. In these last days, loaded with every means of time-wasting one could imagine, may we ever be mindful of Paul’s and C.T. Studds words:

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15-16 NKJV)

Only one life shall soon be past and only what’s don’t for Christ will last. And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be, If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee. — C.T. Studd

 

 

Bound by Reputation

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

(Philippians 2:3–11 NKJV)

 

Have you ever wondered how the Lord Jesus could endure such hostility against Himself? No matter how great of things He seemed to do there was always that element of people around who were trying to destroy His reputation. In fact, the religious leaders even stooped to saying He had a demon. The time would fail to simply list all the times in the Gospels when people were trying to slander Him. How would you and I handle such treatment?

Jesus was humble in the extreme. His beginning was humble, His life was humble, and His death was utter humiliation. Yet we never read of Him fighting back. Think of the times He was mocked. Even His disciples once participated in a raucous where a family laughed Him to scorn (Luke 8:50-55). Indeed, He warned the religious leaders that if they continued to say He had a demon they could be blaspheming the Holy Spirit, but He includes in that warning the hope that people who spoke evil of Him, personally, could find forgiveness. How would you and I handle such treatment?

Good Reputation

 

I truly believe that reputation can become an idol in our life that we serve in a way that does not please the Lord and it hinders our effectiveness as Christians. How far are we willing to go to “not allow our good to be evil spoken of” or protect our reputation? True to the image above much of our reputation is manufactured anyhow. How often do we project to people what we want them to believe about us?

It is human nature to seek to control what others think about us. When David sinned with Bathsheba he was willing to murder one of his most trusted friends in order to cover it up. He was far too concerned in the beginning about what people thought rather than God. He wanted his legacy to be that of killing a lion, bear, and Goliath… or a psalmist who could play and sing and demons would flee. Who wouldn’t? Nobody wants to be remembered as an adulterer. Why? Because our primary concern is far too often our reputation.

When Jesus came into the world He emptied Himself and humbled Himself like a slave. This is what it means for Him to “make Himself of no reputation.” He is God and was willing to humble Himself in this way. What a staggering thing to consider. Perhaps the most striking thing is that while Jesus was emptying Himself out (so to speak) — laying down His reputation — we are perpetually tempted build ours up. We want to be respected and recognized. We want people to know what great talents and abilities we have. Or do we?

“Not caring what others think” does not mean that we all become sociopaths. Jesus was no sociopath — He was touched with the feeling of our weaknesses. Nor does it mean we become careless and foolish. When we make ourselves of no reputation we are liberated from the constant pressure to measure up to whatever version of ourselves we are trying to project. All that God asks is that we walk in the Spirit. If we will do that we will live a life pleasing to Him. But when we get caught up esteeming ourselves better than others — making a reputation for ourselves — we are moving in selfish ambition, conceit, pride and a host of other repulsive and destructive things.

The world says, “Guard your reputation!” Certainly, we want to have a good reputation in the eyes of the world. We should be people of moral character, integrity, honesty, etc. That’s not what this is about. It’s about self-exaltation. It’s about lifting ourselves up by projecting comic-book type caricatures of ourselves. If you or I find ourselves behaving this way the only solution is to repent. The same God who hates a proud look gives us a choice. Paul said, “Let this mind be in you.” We have to allow God to do it in us through the Holy Spirit. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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