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Sermon Notes

Please note that these are only notes, not transcripts, and as such are not identical to the recorded sermons. They also contain frequent abbreviations.


    1. Verse 14 is an exuberant doxology to God: “Thanks be to God which always causes us to triumph in Christ …” That one word “triumph” is pregnant with meaning.

      1. The apostles uses a striking figure from Roman military, a victory procession.

        1. God gains the victory always and in every place by the preaching of the Gospel.

        2. God is the triumphant King, and Paul with all true ministers of Christ are privileged participants in the victory procession.

        3. And everywhere King Jesus goes the citizens of heaven greet Him with great joy.

      2. As the victory procession makes its way thru the streets, flowers are strewn and incense is burned. The result is that the air is filled with sweet odors.

        1. The odors of the procession are pleasant to all who share in the King’s victory.

        2. But to the vanquished enemies of the King the sweet odors are the deadly smell of death b/c the smell for them meant their execution at the end of the procession.

        3. All that is contained in that very expressive word “triumph” in verse 14.

    2. The Gospel proceeds victoriously thru this world. Whenever & wherever it is preached the fragrance of X, here called “the knowledge of Him,” goes forth.

      1. This is a beautiful smell of victory & salv. to God & to all of God’s people in Christ.

      2. But this is a revolting and deadly stench to those perishing in their sins.

      3. And, writes Paul in verse 15, we are this sweet smell, and we have the calling to perfume the world with the beautiful God-pleasing aroma of the knowledge of J.C.



I. The Meaning

II. The Effect

III. The Calling



    1. The Gospel is a fragrance. We are used to understanding the Gospel as good tidings, something gladsome to the ears. Here the figure is of something pleasant to the nose.

      1. As such: A smell is a stimulus which when it is received by the nerve endings in the nose produces a reaction, either positive or negative.

        1. A smell is caused by particles of a substance diffused or spread thru the air.

          1. Spray a small amount of a substance into the air and very rapidly everyone around will be able to smell it.

          2. Literally, that was the case in John 12:3 when Mary anointed Jesus with precious ointment “the house was filled with the odor of the ointment” (spikenard ointment in an alabaster jar).

          3. We know that to be the case both with respect to pleasant fragrances and unpleasant odors.

        2. A person either enjoys a particular smell and gladly sniffs the air, or he finds the smell unpleasant and tries to cover his nose to avoid the smell.

          1. In English we have different words to describe smells, both pos. or negative.

          2. For example, an aroma or a fragrance describes a pleasant smell; think of the fragrance of a rose, or the aroma of freshly baked bread.

          3. On the other hand, a stink, a stench on a pong describes an unpleasant smell; think of the stench of manure of the stink of a skunk.

          4. The word “smell” itself is neutral and could be either a good or a bad smell. This is important b/c v. 15 uses a pos. word & v. 16 uses a neutral word twice.

      2. Of the Gospel: Verse 15 states that the Gospel is a pleasant smell to God.

        1. Here the word translated sweet savor used is emphatically a positive one.

          1. The Greek word has the prefix which means good or well, the same prefix as evangel, which means good news. Literally, the word means “good odor.”

          2. Of course, we know that God does not literally have a nose; often the Scriptures depict Him with a nose and with nostrils in a figurative way, a figure taken from the OT sacrificial system.

          3. Time and time again we read in the Law of Moses about such sacrifices: “an offering made by fire, a sweet savor unto the Lord.”

          4. For example, after the Flood, Noah built an altar and we read that “the Lord smelled the sweet savor” (Gen. 8:21)

        2. God smells the sweet savor of the Gospel because it is the Gospel of Christ.

          1. Notice that: “We are unto God a sweet savor of Christ.” This is even more emphatic in the Greek original, “Of Christ a sweet savor we are …

          2. The idea is that the only smell in the whole world that pleases God is the smell of His beloved Son.

          3. This world is a cesspool of iniquity, a dung pile of false religion and it emits a loathsome stench, but in this world the perfume of Christ is spread abroad, and with this God is well-pleased.

      3. Christ smells sweet to God especially in His work of redemption, and in this way fulfills the Old Testament type of the offerings made to the Lord.

        1. Christ is pleasing to God because of who He is.

          1. He is the Eternal Son of God, who was eternally in the bosom of the Father, dwelling in love with the Father in the Holy Spirit in the very being of God.

          2. He is the Son of God made flesh who in obedience to the Triune God became the servant of God, sent into the world to bring salv. to God’s chosen people.

          3. As Christ He is appointed & equipped to do this great work & He exercises His office in perfect integrity; as a beautiful rose X emits a wonderful smell.

        2. On the cross especially, where Christ’s obedience was displayed in its fullness, Christ gave off a sweet fragrance pleasing to God. See, Eph. 5:2 (“Christ also hath loved us and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savor”).

          1. The OT burnt offerings were pleasing to God, not because God likes the smell of burning flesh, but because they foreshadowed Christ.

          2. And if God was pleased with the shadow, how much more with the reality?

          3. The sacrifice of Calvary was pleasing to God because it was a satisfaction of Hi justice, a perfect display of His love and mercy and it glorified His name.

        3. To use a figure, Christ, the Rose of Sharon, was crushed on the cross and produced a sweet fragrance.

          1. Jesus was pressed sore under the wrath of God, and as a Rose He released the sweetness of His odors into God’s nostrils.

          2. On the cross He did not curse God or rail against Him. He loved God in perfect obedience even as God’s wrath engulfed Him.

          3. That pleased God more than all burnt offerings & rivers of blood of the OT. God was perfectly satisfied with that sacrifice.

    2. Preaching: But the text goes further. It states that we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ. and the “we” refers to Paul and all true preachers in every age.

      1. The meaning is that in a secondary sense preachers are a sweet fragrance in God’s nostrils. They are used by God to perfume the world with the fragrance of Christ, as verse 14 says (“God “makes manifest the savor [or, fragrance] of His [Christ’s] knowledge by us in every place”).

        1. Preachers are not sweet-smelling to God in themselves but because of the message which they bear.

          1. Elsewhere, preachers are called earthen vessels; here we are containers of a precious ointment, which, when released, fills the world with the smell of JC.

          2. A similar figure is in Ps. 45:8. The idea is of a man whose garments are permeated with myrrh & aloes, and when he walks thru the streets that sweet smell wafts from his garments. Ps. 45 speaks of Solomon as a type of Christ.

          3. The faithful preacher, then, brings Christ, and because he brings Christ he pleases the Triune God who is pleased by the fragrance of Christ.

        2. Because the Gospel is a fragrance the preacher of the Gospel emits a fragrance wherever he goes and wherever he preaches.

          1. When Paul walked the streets of Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens or Corinth, from him the sweet fragrance of Christ wafted through the air.

          2. God smelled it and was pleased. This was Paul’s great encouragement as he faced much opposition.

          3. The purpose of preaching is to fill the world with the beautiful fragrance of Christ. And wherever that Gospel goes God is pleased with the fragrance of His beloved Son, even if men are not.

      2. But not all preaching is a sweet fragrance of Christ. And not all preachers perfume the air with the fragrance of Christ.

        1. For preaching to be a sweet smell it must make known the knowledge of Christ (v. 14).

          1. If it is simply emotional, pulpit-thumping bluster with no doctrinal content, it will not make known the knowledge of Christ.

          2. If the preacher preaches about himself, his experiences, his opinions and his philosophy he does not bring Christ.

          3. If the preacher debases Christ and makes Him less than the Savior of Scripture, but transforms Him into a pathetic beggar who cannot save without the freewill of man, he does not bring Christ.

          4. And if the preacher flatters men and tells them that they are better than the totally depraved sinners that Scripture calls them, he does not bring Christ. and if the minister neglects preaching and simply entertains the people he does not bring Christ.

        2. Far from being a sweet fragrance the preaching of false gospels is a loathsome stench in the nostrils of Almighty God. Such preachers are spiritual dung-spreaders, not perfumers.

          1. Paul calls human self-righteousness “dung” in Philippians 3:8. Any Gospel which makes salvation depend on man’s works or will stinks to high heaven.

          2. It does not matter how eloquent a preacher is, how many best-selling books he has written, how broad his smile is or how many people flock to hear him, if he does not make known the knowledge of Christ, he does not preach Christ.

          3. And if he does not preach Christ, he cannot be a sweet savor to God.

  2. THE EFFECT. The Gospel of Christ is always a sweet fragrance to God, both in them that are saved and in them that perish, but it is not sweet to all men.

    1. To some the Gospel fragrance is the savor (or smell, or odor) of death unto death.

      1. They smell the fragrance of Christ, which to God is a sweet smell, and to them it is the smell of death.

        1. Literally, to them, it is a smell out of death. And because they smell it out of death it leads to their death.

          1. Death here is spiritual death leading to everlasting death: the one who smells the fragrance of the Gospel in this manner is spiritually dead.

          2. He is in a state of enmity against God; he is totally estranged from God; he is filled with spiritual darkness and ignorance, and therefore, he is unable and unwilling to respond positively to the Gospel.

        2. The nostrils of such a man are the nostrils of a spiritual corpse.

          1. In a state of death even his sense of smell is disordered. Blinded by his own corruption he believes the sweet, God-pleasing smell of the gospel is an unpleasant odor.

          2. When he smells X in the Gospel he is repulsed by Him and flees from Him.

          3. As spiritual corpse such a man emits loathsome stench of disob. & unbelief.

      2. Such a man is perishing (“in them that perish”).

        1. That is the force of the Greek here. He is in the process of perishing.

          1. He is lost, under God’s wrath and bound over for execution on the last day.

          2. He is not perishing b/c he rejects the Gospel. He is already perishing before he even hears the Gospel. The Gospel confirms him in his state of perishing.

          3. He perishes b/c he is reprobate, but he perishes in the way of his own sins.

          4. And, terrible as it may seem, the only health-giving fragrance in all the world is death to him. In fact, the Gospel itself is the occasion for his greater condemnation.

        2. The reprobate sinner hears the preaching of Christ.

          1. Suddenly his spiritual senses are assailed by an unwelcome smell. The smell is loathsome to him because it is the smell of one whom he hates.

          2. It is the smell of God. It is the smell of God’s Son Jesus Christ.

          3. And the smell is a deadly shock to him. To the reprobate the Gospel is a deathblow, a deadly smell producing death. [And none of this is accidental. It is God’s purpose with the reprobate in the preaching of the Gospel].

      3. Remember the victory procession of v. 14 in the introduction.

        1. God leads His people in a victory chariot. Incense is burning and flowers strewn along the path.

          1. Everywhere the smell of the victorious gospel wafts through the air as Christ is proclaimed the Victor of God.

          2. Christ has overcome & destroyed the great enemies of our souls. Sin has been taken away! Death vanquished! The grave has been conquered! Hell has been defeated! Christ has made a public spectacle of the devil & his angels!

          3. Send forth the fragrant news and let the citizens of God’s Kingdom rejoice.

        2. But the smell of the flowers and the incense is not a pleasant smell to everyone. It is not a good smell to those appointed to execution.

          1. To the defeated foes of God it is the smell of doom. They stand on the side of sin, death, hell, the grave and the devil. They are the willing servants of the devil and the enemies of God.

          2. At the end of the victory procession the victors are crowned and the enemies are put to death.

          3. Thus the Gospel is the odor of death to the reprobate enemies of God, to the ones who refuse to bow the knee to King Jesus.

        3. But, remember, it is not the fault of the Gospel, or of Jesus Christ proclaimed in the Gospel. Christ IS a sweet smell.

          1. It is the fault of those who cannot smell His sweetness.

          2. Christ is altogether lovely; He is beautiful. His Person is beautiful; His doctrine is beautiful. If the ungodly cannot see, taste, hear or smell His beauty, it is entirely their own fault.

          3. What do you smell this evening? Are your spiritual senses stimulated by the pleasant aroma of Christ’s victory march or do you find the Gospel an unpleasant smell which foretells and even brings about your doom?

    2. To others the Gospel fragrance is a beautiful smell. It is the smell of life unto life.

      1. They smell the Gospel out of life. And b/c they smell out of life it leads to life.

        1. They are not spiritual corpses, but spiritually alive.

          1. Life here is spiritual life leading to everlasting life. The one who smells the fragrance of the Gospel in this manner is spiritually alive.

          2. To them have been given eyes to see, ears to hear, and yes, noses to smell. This must be so if they are to have the spiritual senses rightly to smell the sweet fragrance of the Gospel.

          3. Make no mistake, beloved, by nature we are all lacking in spiritual noses. Our nostrils are as spiritually dead as our unbelieving neighbor who rejects the sweet smell of the Gospel.

        2. In other words, before we can receive the sweet smell of the Gospel, we must be regenerated. A regenerated man has been made alive in the New Birth.

          1. A regenerated man has been reconciled to God by the blood of His Son, has a true heartfelt knowledge of Christ and a love of that knowledge and, therefore he responds positively to the Gospel.

          2. His disordered sense of spiritual smell has been healed.

          3. Now he smells Christ and is attracted to that beautiful aroma. Now his life is perfumed with the smell of Christ because he is found in Christ.

        3. Such a man is being saved. That is the force of the Greek here; in the process of being saved (“in them that are saved”).

          1. God has regenerated him and justified him, and through the Gospel God progressively sanctifies him.

          2. God has rescued him from terrible spiritual danger (of sin, death, hell and the devil) and has delivered him to enjoy the greatest spiritual blessings.

          3. He awaits the final blessedness of glorif. in the new heavens & the new earth.

      2. There is a twofold sense in which the Gospel quickens the sinner.

        1. First, God sovereignly regenerates the sinner and at that moment causes the aroma of the Gospel to waft past his spiritual nose.

          1. When such an elect regenerated sinner hears the preaching of Christ, as it were, the room is filled with a beautiful fragrance to which such a sinner is irresistibly attracted.

          2. He runs toward the source of the blessed smell and embraces Christ with a believing heart. The smell of Christ crucified quickens him and he believes.

          3. God regenerates sovereignly but in the vast majority of cases (elect infants being a notable exception) in association with the Gospel. We call this immediate regeneration, that is, regeneration without means.

          4. However, never does God regenerate a man and leave him for years and years without ever hearing the Gospel. Regeneration and then quickening by the Gospel are almost instantaneous and simultaneous in a believer’s experience.

        2. Moreover, the Gospel is such a life-giving fragrance to the believer throughout his life.

          1. For the child of God the Gospel is like spiritual smelling salts which revive and revitalize us.

          2. Often we are left reeling in our battles against the world, the devil, the false church and our sinful flesh. We are close to fainting.

          3. Then the Gospel cheers our wounded souls and brings comfort to our sin-burdened consciences.

          4. The Gospel is the savor of life unto life for us until we enjoy life everlasting in all its fullness in heaven. Therefore we need to hear the Gospel again and again throughout our lives. The Gospel tells us that our sins are forgiven, that we have peace with God, that we are on the side of the victorious Christ and we shall share His victory. That’s reviving!


    1. Since the Gospel of Christ is the only sweet fragrance in the world the preacher has a solemn calling to be very careful to preach in such a way that it loses none of its unique, God-pleasing flavor.

      1. In the Old Testament the priests were instructed to make incense for the offerings according to a precise recipe.

        1. In Exodus 30:34-38 Moses gave them precise instructions for the composition of this sweet-smelling incense.

        2. The priest was not at liberty to add or take away from the divine recipe, nor could the people use the incense for their own purposes.

        3. Anyone who offered strange incense or misused the incense would be cut off.

      2. The NT preacher must be as careful (if not more so) as the OT priests.

        1. He must bring the pure Gospel; He may not use His own Gospel-recipe.

        2. He must not say, “Well, this Gospel is no good; I need to remove some of the sharpness or add some spice, so that I can have more converts.”

        3. The Gospel as it has been eternally designed by God is perfect and victorious already, and when men tamper with it they spoil it and Christ is lost.

        4. Paul warns against those who corrupt the word of God in verse 17. Such men are Gospel-hucksters, dishonest salesmen of inferior goods. We must not be like them or listen to them, whoever they are.

    2. Second, the preacher must tremble before this Word of God and be awestruck by the task of preaching. He must feel the force of the question, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

      1. The preacher must understand the solemn fact that for some the Gospel which he preaches will be a savor of death unto death.

        1. He must, however, be willing to be used by God for the twofold purpose of saving the elect and hardening the reprobate. If he is not, he cannot be a faithful preacher.

        2. The man who is not willing to be used of God in this way will either despair or be tempted to change his message.

        3. If he believes that it is his calling to convince as many as possible to accept the Gospel, he will water it down, but then he loses the Gospel itself. Let a man be content to preach faithfully and God will impart life or death as He wishes.

      2. The same awe must characterize the hearers.

        1. God’s purpose will be fulfilled in the preaching. God will be victorious. Either you will take part in the victory march or you will be put to death at the end.

        2. Beware, then, that you do not despise preaching or turn up your noses at it.

        3. It is the most serious thing in the world to hear the Gospel of Christ: it either revives a man or stupefies him, but either way, he is affected.

        4. Let us, then, breath in deeply the sweet fragrance of Christ as He is dispensed to us in the preaching and in Him we shall live. Amen.