Publication: One-to-One, Winter 2006
God’s response to the need of humanity is a wonderful fragrance both in heaven and earth. The apostle Paul wrote, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2, emphasis added).
In this passage, Paul is comparing the sufferings of Christ on the Cross to the release of the aroma of Old Testament sacrifices of animals as described in Exodus 29:18 and numerous other places. Something was released in both Old Covenant and New Covenant sacrifices which pleased God immensely.
However, Paul also said that a similar fragrance is released in the earth when believers reach out to the lost around us.
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).
I doubt that I grasp the full meaning of this. However, as director of International Outreach Ministries (IOM) for the past sixteen years, I believe I have enjoyed something of the same pleasant sensation as I have watched numerous missionaries sacrifice in going to other nations and peoples.
I recall the amazement of many when Dean and Autumn Jordon went to the Congo with their six children. Dr. Timothy Henry and his family have served that country also in a medical clinic 600 miles from the nearest paved road. Congo is an extraordinarily difficult and dangerous country, and they have endured two civil wars which killed more than four million people. Today, both families are still there, and thousands of lives have been affected by the fragrance of their sacrifices.
Then there is “Linda” (not her real name) who went alone in her 40s to one of the toughest Muslim people groups in Asia. She was expelled once, but went back when the tsunami of December 2004 struck the very people group to whom she was ministering; the terrible wave destroyed virtually everything for miles. Knowing the people, the terrain, and the language, she guided recovery ministries, and has also touched the lives of the same people who expelled her a few years ago.
I have been with Larry and Beverly Neese in Kenya. In their late 50s, they made a great sacrifice, saying their goodbyes to loved ones, including grandchildren, so Larry could develop the successful satellite schools of Kenya Ministry Training Institute. Larry is a go-getter who earned the name “Father Hurricane” from the Kenyans. But I know that his “hurricane” travels on arthritic knees which give him constant pain.
“Ellis” was the pastor of a church he had founded in the Northeast, when he and his wife “Emma” (not their real names) accepted an invitation to use their skills as church planters in a vast Muslim country. They left three grown sons behind, took two daughters with them, learned two different languages to communicate, and have been harassed by the government there for the past several years. They also survived a midnight attack by masked men who nearly killed Emma with a hatchet.
In the midst of it all, they have trained hundreds of young church planters and touched thousands of lives who might have never heard the name of Jesus if the heavenly fragrance of this family had not wafted through their country. The same aroma also spilled over into an adjacent and equally tough country where teams now minister. I smile often when I think how God has enjoyed the aroma of their sacrifice.
Evangelization does not happen without sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus, of course, is the basis of God’s forgiveness which we offer to others. But that forgiveness would be offered to no one if someone didn’t lay aside their own security, their preferences, their homes, their families, their reputations, and their right to live in freedom. Paul, speaking of the sufferings of Christ, said, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24).
Did Paul mean that Christ’s afflictions were not enough to save us? No, he meant that without additional sacrifice on my part and yours, this wonderful salvation would never reach some others. The Cross of Jesus was the point of redemption, but the cross borne by His followers becomes the point of distribution.
I could tell you dozens of other tales of sacrifice, but even these pale in comparison to the 160,000 believers who are martyred every year for their faith in Christ. Jesus’ word to them is, “Rejoice and be very glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12).
Even giving to spread the Gospel can be the source of a sweet aroma in heaven, if it is done with some sacrifice. Paul said to the Philippians who, by the way, were the only church supporting him, “I received the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, and acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”
But later, speaking to others about the same Philippians givers, he said, “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (2 Corinthians 8:2-5).
These same Philippians were the ones to whom Paul gave the promise, “And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Forgiveness is for those who believe; but the rewards go to believers who sacrificially give to those in need, and who go to those who have not heard! Jesus said that the tiny gift of the widow at the temple was actually more than that given by ALL the others, because it was sacrificial (see Luke 21:2-4).
Because of sacrifices such as these I have listed, we live in an amazing day. More people place their faith in Christ each day than ever in history. The evangelical population of the world grows about 21,000 each day. Today, we are approximately one out of every eight people in the world.
Rejoice! You are part of the most fruitful generation in history in fulfilling the Great Commission. The question is, “How much a part are you?” Are you a source of fragrance, a part of the sacrifice that is winning the world? Are you paying a price for someone else’s salvation, or just enjoying your own?
Scripture Reference: Ephesians 5:2; Exodus 29:18; 2 Corinthians 2:14-15; Colossians 1:24; Matthew 5:12; 2 Corinthians 8:2-5; Philippians 4:19; Luke 21:2-4
Gary Henley is a member of the International Outreach Ministries (IOM) Board of Directors. He served as the President and Executive Director of IOM for twenty years, traveling widely and encouraging missionaries around the globe. In addition, he spent twenty-six years as a church planter and pastor.