We live in a time of degenerate preaching, when men toy with the presentation of the Gospel and God's Word. They mingle it with the wisdom of men, decorate it with humorous anecdotes, and dilute it with attempts to satisfy souls with little interest in the Lord. This situation creates an environment in which mediocre preaching can flourish. But you must not allow this to happen. When this occurs, the entrance to the courts of the Lord is obstructed. Jesus referred to this when He said to the lawyers (supposed experts in the Law of the Lord), "Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered" (Luke 11:52). Recall His words to the religious elite of the day. "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (Matt 23:13). It was their preaching and teaching that accomplished this despicable deed. Men who supposedly came with knowledge and understanding, actually made it difficult for the people to understand the things of God. The preaching and teaching of these pretenders actually kept "the people" from entering into the kingdom of God.
All about us--in this very area--there are multitudes of people that remain in gross spiritual darkness. The times are like those that prevailed when Jesus was born. "The people" of God were sitting in darkness, or in a state of ignorance, even though religious teachers were in great number. When Jesus came, He shed light on those benighted people. Thus it is written, "THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND TO THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED" (Matt 4:16, NASB). The tragedy of this situation cannot be overstated. "The people" of God, in possession of the Word of God and the prophecies of a coming Redeemer, were "sitting in darkness." "The people" of God, with Pharisees, Scribes, Lawyers, Sadducees, Chief Priests, and a High Priest "were sitting in the land and shadow of death!" Can you see the gravity of the situation? Can you perceive the parallel with the times in which we live, and the generation we have been called to serve? Do you wonder why Jesus was so stern with the religious teachers of His day? His blistering rebukes of them are most remarkable. He extended no mercy to them, gave them no credit for being honest, and soundly condemned them. He held no classes for them to correct their theology, or chose disciples from among them. The words ring in my ears, "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees . . . Woe unto you blind guides . . . Woe unto you lawyers . . . " (Matt 23:13,16; Lk 11:52). It is not popular to say this--in fact it can even jeopardize your religious career (if there be such a thing). Still, we are living in the spiritual aftermath of spiritually deficient preaching. It has produced a harvest of spiritual ignorance, a lack of confidence, and a condition of spiritual impotence. The situation is inexcusable, and necessitates an aggressive return to the kind of preaching God "ordained" to "save them that believe." In my judgment, one of the primary ways to restore sound preaching is to determine that God will be pleased by our proclamation. After all, it is His Gospel that is being proclaimed, His agenda that is being served, and His purpose that is being fulfilled. You have the privilege of involvement in God's work--the ministry of reconciliation.
"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God" (NIV). This text of Scripture is particularly enlightening. It reveals the impact of declaring the mind of the Lord upon the Lord Himself. Repeatedly the Spirit refers to this effect: "the savor of His knowledge . . . a sweet savor of Christ . . . savor of death unto death . . . savor of life unto life." The NIV reads, "fragrance of the knowledge of Him . . . aroma of Christ . . . smell of death . . . fragrance of life." More than being an effect, this is a task, or commission! In Christ, God makes selected individuals adequate to produce this flagrance, or savor. It is a matter of stewardship.
No wonder Paul said, "And who is equal to such a TASK?" ("sufficient for these things", KJV). Woe be to the individual that seeks to equip preachers of the Gospel with the wisdom of this world. It is NOT an innocent gesture, and will not be overlooked by the One has commissioned the preaching. When you deal with preaching, you are dealing with the ordinance of God. This is something He has appointed, and which He uses to accomplish His objective for humanity. How does one become adequate for this task? Paul unveiled the means when he wrote, "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, Who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:5-6, NASB). Our adequacy must come from God, or we simply will not be adequate. After all, you are going to raise the dead, comfort the afflicted, convict the guilty, and announce release to the captives. Those are remarkable tasks, requiring remarkable resources. This lesson will deal with a primary way of obtaining those resources. In referring to a "sweet savor," or fragrance, the Spirit is not speaking about living, but about preaching. That is clear from the phrases "through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him" and "In Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God" (NIV). Furthermore, the fragrance is not to men, but to God. We have two allusions here. Both are taken from the times prior to the New Covenant. First, sacrifices are said to have produced a sweet aroma to God. When Noah exited the ark, and offered a sacrifice to God, it is written, "And the LORD smelled a sweet savor; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake . . . " (Gen 8:21). Under the law, sacrifices were also associated with a pleasing fragrance to God. As it is written, "And you shall offer up in smoke the whole ram on the altar; it is a burnt offering to the LORD: it is a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD" (Ex 29:18; also 29:25,41; Lev 1:9,13,17). Even meal offerings were said to emit a "sweet savor unto the Lord" (Lev 2:2,9). Second, the altar of incense, positioned immediately before the veil that separated the Most Holy Place, was a source of continual fragrance to the Lord. Every morning, when Aaron tended the golden lamp stand, he was burn fragrant incense before the Lord. Thus it is written, "And when Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. You shall not offer any strange incense on this altar, or burnt offering or meal offering; and you shall not pour out a libation on it" (Ex 30:8-9, NASB). What may have emitted a pleasing odor to men, was not to be offered upon the altar of incense--no "strange incense." The good pleasure of the Lord God Almighty was absolutely preeminent. This is the background to Paul's reference in our text. The wisdom of men, for example, would be "strange incense," as it were, before the Lord. That is why Paul refused to "corrupt the Word of God" as "many" were doing (2 Cor 4:17). That would have equated with offering "strange incense" to the Lord. That is why he did not seek to please men in his preaching. He knew that at the point men were his dominant consideration, he would cease to be a servant of Christ--it would be "strange incense." As it is written, "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Gal 1:10, NASB). Pleasing the Lord is an absolute requisite to good preaching! If God does not honor it, it is bad in every sense of the word. The blessing of the Lord is to be zealously sought in preaching. Give your preaching to Him, as a sweet offering.
Romans 9:3-5 Romans 12:1-2 Romans 16:20 1 Corinthians 15:33 1 Corinthians 16:13-14