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.






God and the Free Sparrows

Robert Wurtz II

“Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6–7 KJV)

The context of our passage deals with the persecution of people who believe in the Lord Jesus. In the time directly following our Lord’s ministry (ca. 33 AD) until the advent of Constantine in the early fourth century, Christians suffered tremendous persecution. It came from unbelieving Jews as well as Roman authorities. The unbelieving Jews sought to snuff out Christianity altogether. The Roman authorities required its citizens to regard Ceasar as Lord. Christians could not do this and remain true to Christ. Therefore, they were tortured, tormented, and killed by the thousands. 

In a society where it seems that Christian lives are worthless, people can begin to despair. With people being killed left and right, the persecuted may begin to wonder if God truly cares about them. Jesus here encourages us by way of illustration. He asks, “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?” Simple math demonstrates that if the cost is two sparrows for one farthing, the fifth one must have been thrown in free. What an awful thing to ponder if you or I were that free sparrow. It’s bad enough to be sold in the first place, but to be the free one? Talk about feeling expendable!

People may make merchandise of God’s creatures in a cold-hearted way, but God remembers the free Sparrow. Jesus adds this detail, Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. The sparrow has great value, but people are created in God’s image. In fact, Jesus adds another detail, But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. We would be hard pressed to find a verse in scripture where both God’s power and love are put on display like this. God knows the present number of the hairs on my head? Yes. And God loves us enough to keep track of them. 

Sometimes in life, people will treat us like we are expendable. If we live long enough, we are sure to suffer rejection and a host of other things. If we live in areas of the world that are hostile to Christianity, we could be imprisoned, beaten, or killed. In some cases all three. The time would fail to discuss the multitudes of dear saints who have been tortured and killed over the centuries. The world hates Christians. That will always be the case. 

What about being mistreated by professing believers? It ought not to happen, but it sometimes does. Paul dealt with it. John the Revelator dealt with it. The risk is that we allow the mistreatment to dictate our perspective of things. What did Paul say? “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? People may reject us or even persecute us, “But if God is for us…” What does it matter if people hate us and mistreat us when we have Christ, who also makes intercession for us? 

People can deal us a lot of harm, but they have not power on over us ultimately. Paul continues on and asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” On the one hand, we seem to be treated, at times, like that sparrow who was sort of thrown in as part of a package deal. Like sheep to a slaughter. What did Paul (who had been beaten within an inch of his life many times) say concerning this? Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 

Does it really matter what people think? should our joy and victory be predicated on people’s response to us (and the message of the Gospel)? I’m reminded of Leonard Ravenhill who once told of how God gave him a “word for the year.” On this occasion, he didn’t even have to look into the scriptures to find it. It was a single word: rejection. Ravenhill’s dejected response? Great! As if to say, “Oh boy, that’s just great!” History is now showing that people may have rejected Ravenhill quite often during his lifetime, but God never did. Moreover, his life and message continue to be a great blessing to many today. This is the key thing. He may have felt rejected, but in reality, he was more than a conqueror through Him who loved us. What does that mean? The late great Greek scholar A.T. Robertson summarized this verse as, “We gain a surpassing victory through the one who loved us.”