The Aroma of Christ in Our Lives
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)
Although we know that Paul lived as a strict Pharisee (Acts 26:5, Galatians 1:14, Philippians 3:5), his thinking was more in step with the Levites and the Priesthood. Numerous examples in the New Testament reveal that Paul had a keen understanding of the symbolism contained in the rituals, sacrifices, and furniture. It is highly instructive and enlightening to separate these revelations out to form a wonderful picture of truth.
Our passage in Ephesians 5:1-2 is one of those many examples of Paul explaining the mysteries of the Old Testament priesthood (temple cultus). The “sweet-smelling aroma” is introduced in Genesis 8:21 when Noah offered of his flocks a burnt offering. When a sacrifice is burnt, it is completely given to God. Other offerings were made, and the meat was eaten, but not the burnt offering. It was completely sanctified to God. We find the burnt offering again in Exodus 29 and Leviticus chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 17, 23, and 26.
The Sacred Fire
The examples in Exodus and Leviticus offer a clearer “aroma” picture because the burnt offerings were carried out with the sacred fire that God kindled from heaven. Noah presumably used fire that he kindled (started), but the sacred fire was kindled from heaven by a lightning bolt or something similar. The sacred fire was God’s unique fire and was used exclusively for the lampstand, altar of incense, brazen altar, and the preparation of the shewbread. Without the sacred fire, the priests couldn’t perform their service or worship. This is why they were commanded to keep it burning continually on the altar. If the sacred fire went out, there wouldn’t be any way to do these services. Common fire (strange fire) was forbidden.
What was God teaching us in the Old Testament regarding sacred fire and burnt offerings? How do these great truths relate to Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:1-2?
As we will see in this entry, the sacred fire of God was generally symbolic of the Holy Spirit, but specifically the love of God. The priestly context of Ephesians 5:1-2 reveals our responsibility to imitate the kind of love that God expresses. That love is the antitype of the sacred fire that the priests were commanded to use in the Old Testament. When the sacrifices were offered using the sacred fire, they gave off a sweet-smelling aroma to God. In other words, the holy sacrifice was consumed (fully sanctified to God) by the holy fire.
When Jesus offered Himself for our sins, His offering was a sweet-smelling aroma to God. Why? Because His offering was perfectly holy and was consumed by the sacred fire of the love of God. The sweetness of Christ was revealed to the very end of His earthly life. It was a sweet aroma until He yielded up the ghost. Even in the face of unspeakable trial and mistreatment, He could look at the soldiers and robbers and burn with compassion. It is this reality that we are to imitate.
God revealed in the Old Testament in the strongest of ways that He will not accept offerings made to Him with common fire. You will recall that Aarons’s sons Nadab and Abihu offered common fire to the LORD and were struck dead. It’s believed that they were intoxicated at the time because immediately afterward, the priests were issued prohibitions concerning intoxicating drinks (Lev. 10:9).
Continuing with his priestly thoughts in Ephesians 5, Paul writes, 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, but it also tends to ungodly lust rather than godly love. Millions of people can’t distinguish between love and lust. Love is pictured by the sacred fire and lust by the common fire. The same could be said for compassion as the sacred fire and fleshly anger as common fire (James 1:20).
There are two other occasions that come to mind as it relates to offerings as Christians. In Romans 12:1-2, we’re 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. We are completely sanctified to Him as we live our lives. All that we do, motivated and energized by the love of God, produces an acceptable aroma and offering to the Lord. Any other motivation than the love of God is a strange fire to the Lord. It is simply not acceptable to Him.
We also 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 a financial 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 reveals the necessity of love in all that we do. He asks, what does it matter if we gave ALL of our goods to the poor or our body to be burned if we didn’t offer them in love?
In Revelation chapter 2, we have the Ephesians in a condition 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 evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit and is the antitype of the sacred fire of God in the Old Testament. When the fire goes out, the 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 (1 Cor. 13:2).
The key to presenting our lives to God as an acceptable living sacrifice (offering) is to do it burning with the love of God. That holy love — that sacred fire — must be the energy source and motivation behind all that we do in ministry. Our whole lives should be a sweet aroma of Christ everywhere we go. When the fiery love of the Holy Spirit is present, and our lives are holy, our labors and offerings are a sweet-smelling aroma unto Him. Even as we see in Jesus, this is the key to holy and acceptable living and ministry. This is how we achieve the sweet aroma of Christ.