Two scriptures from Paul’s writings will occupy our thoughts in relation to this subject; the first one is in Ephesians chapter 5 verse 2, where we have the fragrance of Christ’s offering; the second is found in Philippians chapter 4 verse 18, where it is the Christian’s offering that is brought before us.
The first three chapters of Ephesians lift us up to the lofty pinnacle of Pauline revelation, where we are seen as those who are ‘in the heavenlies in Christ’, possessors of all the spiritual blessings which are connected with such a position, 1. 3 JND. The power of God in salvation has been our experience and since we have links with Christ, then we must have links with all who are Christ’s. These connections have bound us together to form the church, the ‘one new man’ created in Christ, 2. 15; the great mystery of the ages ‘hid in God’, 3. 9, but now revealed through God’s chosen vessel, Paul.
Against this elevated background, the apostle calls upon the Ephesian saints to live their lives in a way that becomes such truth. Thus, in the remaining part of the letter he comes very much down to earth and shows us how doctrine must always have a practical bearing in our everyday life.
As we move into chapter 5, he commands the children of God to imitate God in the matter of showing forgiveness, ‘be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you’, 4. 32. He points them to the example par excellence – Christ and His self-sacrificing love. ‘Walk in love’, he exhorts them, ‘as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour’, 5. 2.
The particular aspect of the death of Christ being highlighted is not so much His suffering for sin under the hand of a sin-hating God, but more the burnt offering aspect of Leviticus chapter 1. This is borne out by Paul’s references to Christ’s devotedness and the sweet fragrance of His sacrifice to God.
In the burnt offering, the emphatic point is the total devotedness of Christ to the will of God even to the extent of the cross. There was only one blessed Man who was fully on the altar for God. All those details, the inwards, the legs, the head and the fat, indicate that nothing was held back and the result was a sweet odour to the nostrils of Jehovah.
Christ is always the perfect standard for His people and, as we ponder this verse, we should be challenged by the giving of Himself. Love is always displayed in giving; God’s love for the world was manifested in the gift of His Son, John 3. 16. In this very Epistle we read, ‘Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it’, 5. 25, and deeply precious to every saint are the words of Paul when he speaks of ‘the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me’, Gal. 2. 20. He could give no more and, at the same time, no less would have sufficed.
What am I prepared to give? Self-interest is always the last thing to die with us but if we are to ‘walk in love’ and be ‘followers of God’ then we must pay the price of self-sacrifice which is, unfortunately, much easier to say than to do!
The next statement in our verse focuses upon the beneficiaries of such self-sacrificing love; it concerns the good of others. He gave Himself ‘for us’; this is not so much directly dealing with the truth of substitution but rather that His sacrifice was in our interests; it was us He had before Him. Of course, it was in the interests ‘of all’, 1 Tim. 2. 6, in terms of its full, unlimited provision, but here, in Ephesians, Paul is speaking to those who, by faith, have come into the good of it.
Such love ought to produce a definite response. Consciousness of His love for me will result in my love for His own.
The consequence of the offering is the glory of God. While it was for us, at the same time it was ‘to God’. How we rejoice in the unspeakable pleasure that God has derived from the cross! It all ascended to heaven as a sweet, fragrant odour of joy and satisfaction to the heart of God.
If in Christ’s love we have an example to follow, in God finding pleasure we have a goal to motivate us. Self-sacrificing love will often go unseen and unrecognized by others but to know that it pleases God should be encouragement enough to continually pursue the pathway of devotedness to His name.
As Paul comes to the close of the Philippian Epistle, he expresses his deep gratitude to the saints at Philippi for their practical fellowship with him in the work of the Lord. He speaks of ‘having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God’, 4. 18.
Sometimes we are apt to look upon the practical matters of the Christian life as being somewhat mundane and less important in comparison with more public ministry but it is delightful to see the elevated nature of all that is done in the Lord’s name and for His glory.
In 2 Corinthians, when Paul is dealing with these very matters, he links them with the great example of Christ’s giving, ‘For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich’, 8. 9, and then he connects them with God’s indescribable gift, ‘Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift’, 9. 15.
If we are to appreciate the value God places upon ‘ministering to the saints’, 2 Cor. 9. 1, and be encouraged to act with full-hearted liberality, we need look no further than the actions of the Godhead.
Paul employs two statements in Philippians chapter 4 to describe such ministry. He speaks of it as:
‘An odour of a sweet smell’. Just like the language used in Ephesians in relation to the Lord’s sacrifice, our minds are taken back again to the sweet savour offerings of the first three chapters of Leviticus. The burnt offering reminds us of the fragrance of a life consecrated to God; the meal offering speaks of the only man who lived that life perfectly; and the peace offering typifies the sweet fragrance of the joy of fellowship with divine Persons. To think that God will in like manner receive a sweet odour rising from the practical expression of fellowship is precious indeed.
‘A sacrifice acceptable’. Because it cost something and was evidently done with a willing heart it was ‘wellpleasing to God’. Philippians, in many ways, is a book about sacrifice, especially chapter 2, where we are given examples of those who put others first, from Christ, the supreme example, down to Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus. All in their own particular ways paid the great price of sacrifice.
Now, says Paul to the Philippian saints, God values your sacrifice too; it has brought pleasure to Him. This reminds us of those words of exhortation at the close of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ‘By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased’, 13. 15, 16. The writer speaks of Christian sacrifice in the most embracive way; it involves the praises of our lips, as we act in the capacity of holy priests, but it also involves well-doing and distribution to the needs of others.
We often delight ourselves in the tabernacle teaching of the book of Exodus as we learn the great typical lessons that it unfolds to us, but, on a very practical level, all that was used for the construction of the tabernacle and its service was a free-will offering from the children of Israel, Exod. 25. 1-9.
The brass for the brazen altar, the shittim wood and gold for the ark of the covenant, the materials for the coverings and clothes, down to smaller but no less precious offerings of oil, spices and gems for the breastplate; all of this and more was contributed from willing hearts for the glory of God. God did not want it from a people who were merely conscripted to give but rather from hearts that felt compelled to give! God calls their contribution ‘my offering’ and ‘an offering unto the Lord’, 25. 2; 35. 5. To an unlearned eye, it may have appeared as something simply given to Moses, the leader of the nation, or to Aaron, the high priest, but no, it was given to the Lord! Our minds cannot but recall the record concerning Mary in the Gospels as she was criticized and misunderstood for pouring upon her Lord the box of precious ointment, ‘Why trouble ye the woman?’, the Lord could ask, ‘for she hath wrought a good work upon me’, Matt. 26. 10.
‘O Lord of heaven and earth and sea,
To Thee all praise and glory be;
How shall we show our love to Thee
Who givest all?
We lose what on ourselves we spend;
We have as treasure without end
Whatever, Lord, to Thee we lend,
Who givest all’.