How to be Effective
Evan R. C. Reynolds, Oxford
Here is a superb definition of Christians: "we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish", 2 Cor. 2. 15. Only One Person delights God. Christ is the sweet perfume which was but imperfectly pictured in the sacrifices, ointments, incense and scents of the tabernacle. A Christian can present nothing better, and should present nothing less, to God than who Christ is, and what He has done. Like scent, this appreciation should be a pervasive and effortless emanation from the believer. Indeed, God's own south wind warmly disseminates the fragrance of Christ, see Song of Songs 4. 1 6. The crux of the matter is that if we are of God a perpetual fragrance of His Son, our ministry to our brothers and sisters and our gospel testimony to unbelievers would be effective without the burdensome toil and sweat which so often we make them. Human effort is external; but the savour of Christ, primarily for the delight of God's heart is absorbed by the saints and sinners around. That is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Beyond our expectations God takes the sweetness of what we know of His Son, and wafts it everywhere (Paul had been thinking particularly of his Troas experience). We can thank God for the testimony He graciously makes us, 2 Cor. 2. 14. Just as we have an amazingly acute physical sense of smell, when it comes to detecting gas leaks for instance, so we should distinguish the sweet odour of a believer speaking of Christ in the presence of God from the stench of a corrupter of the World of God, 2. 17.
What an amazing difference in attitude there is to our testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ, on the parts of those who are saved and those who are perishing, 2 Cor. 2. 16. To the first the Person of Christ means eternal life, and they joyfully scent the assurance of their salvation: we have ministered to profit their souls. To the unsaved the Name of Christ is unpleasant; they are reminded of judgement as they see our devotions; we are unwittingly confirming their hopelessness; they scent death. It is almost frightening to think of the effectiveness of the testimony of the believer who simply desires to glorify the Saviour who loved him and bought him. We might well echo Paul's exclamation, "And who is sufficient for these things?"
There are two Old Testament incidents which will help us to appreciate how such different effects can result from the same thing.
The first picture is the pillar of cloud which proved such a blessing to the Israelites at the Red Sea, Exod 13. 21-22; 14. 19-20, 24. The cloud was the constant visible indication of the Lord's presence directing them and illuminating their way. What other nation had enjoyed such a gracious provision by God? How thankful they must have been as they were brought unerringly to the Red Sea shore!, 15. 13. The Egyptians were lured after them, and appeared to have cornered their erstwhile slaves. Then the Angel of the Lord interposed Himself, and the cloud came between the two hosts. Israel needed to do nothing but thankfully enjoy the light side of the cloud through the night hours. But that same Presence intensified the Egyptians' darkness, prevented them from achieving their evil purpose, and probably kept them in a state of fear. As with the presence of the Lord Jesus in the godly believer, the cloud divided between God's people and the Egyptians, distinguishing those who would die from those who would be saved. The Israelites would have been as unaware of the hated shadow cast on the Egyptians, as the Egyptians would have been of the brightness and security enjoyed by the Israelites. The parallel between the words of 2 Cor. 2 and Exodus is clear in the words, "it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these".
The other incident is in Numbers 16. 41-50 after the judgment upon Korah and his company. The people rejected God's righteousness and murmured. With the appearance of His glory in the cloud over the tabernacle, the Lord pronounced judgment on the people. Who would plead for them? Moses and Aaron, though wrongly accused, showed their love for the wayward Israelites. Moses was sensitive to their peril, and appreciated that the plague had already begun to take its toll, but he instinctively knew the remedy. However, it was not a task for Moses; it was work for a priest to minister among the people. Similarly today, New Testament priests can have an effect on neighbouring believers and unbelievers as they "are unto God a sweet savour of Christ."
Whoever would have thought of curing the plague by burning incense? And who would have thought that offering our appreciation of Christ to God can be a more effective witness to the church and the world than teaching and gospel campaigns? "Go quickly”; "and (Aaron) ran into the midst of the congregation": a current danger demands prompt action. Aaron's incense of worship was not offered in monastic secrecy, but among the people. That is where we should be "unto God a sweet savour of Christ". God graciously accepted atonement for the people as Aaron sprinkled incense into his censer. Some folk died under the judgment of God as they smelled the aroma of the ministry of Aaron. Others were blessed through that same offering and were delivered from the plague. As 14,700 died, the priestly Aaron stood with the sweet cloud of incense rising from his censer "between the dead and the living". May God graciously use us effectively for His purposes today. Then, as Aaron "returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle", may we look forward to being at home with the Lord after He has used effectively our testimony to His glory down here.