Diffusing the Fragrance of the Knowledge of God
“Thanks be to God who always leads us in a triumphal procession in company with the Christ and makes the odor of the knowledge of him perceptible through us in every place!”—2 CORINTHIANS 2:14.
1. What fragrance are we here discussing, and how is the privilege of diffusing it to be viewed?
SNIFF, sniff! M-m-m-m! Do you smell the sweet fragrance? We do not here refer to the fragrance of blossoming flowers but, instead, to a figurative fragrance emanating from the choicest writings on earth. These writings are not those originating with mere men but are the figurative bouquet inspired by the One who also created the fragrant flowers that adorn the earth. The privilege of diffusing this fragrance of the knowledge of God is a great treasure. Yes, it is a service that is especially valuable—not possessed by all, not shared by mankind in general.
2. When did the disciples of Christ begin to diffuse a figurative fragrance, and with what result?
2 This precious treasure was conferred upon the disciples of Christ when they were introduced to an active service to Jehovah God on the day of Pentecost in the year 33 of our Common Era. Filled with holy spirit, they began to diffuse a figurative fragrance, expounding “the magnificent things of God.” (Acts 2:1-4, 11) Through them the fragrance of the knowledge of God would go to others, not only to natural circumcised Jews but also to uncircumcised nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues. (Acts 10:34, 35) The true disciples looked upon this service as more valuable than all the material wealth that men heap up for themselves.
3. To what extent is the work of diffusing the fragrance of the knowledge of God being carried on, and what question do we need to ask ourselves?
3 Today, the grand work of diffusing the fragrance of the knowledge of God is being carried on earth wide—on a scale greater than ever before in human history. It involves witnessing to all mankind about the now established Kingdom of God under his appointed King, Jesus Christ. (Matthew 6:10; Acts 1:8) Do you look upon the service of advertising the King and his Kingdom as a priceless treasure? Jesus Christ, who spearheaded the preaching of the good news of that Kingdom, appreciated it that way, setting the pattern.—Matthew 4:17; 6:19-21.
Perfuming the Way of the Triumphal Procession
4. According to 2 Corinthians 2:14, how is God now leading his servants on earth, and to what ancient practice do Paul’s words allude?
4 Why is serving God something to be treasured? One reason is that even now those who serve Jehovah have the remarkable privilege of being led by God in a grand triumphal procession. According to the New International Version, 2 Corinthians 2:14 says: “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 [“makes our knowledge of him spread throughout the world like a lovely perfume!” Phillips].” Those words of the apostle Paul appear to allude to an ancient practice of having victory processions.*
5, 6. (a) What took place during ancient Roman triumphal processions, and what did the sweet fragrance signify to various ones? (b) What is the spiritual application of the illustration at 2 Corinthians 2:14-16?
5 In the days of the Roman republic, one of the highest honors the Senate could bestow upon a conquering general was to allow him to celebrate his victory with a costly procession of triumph. The Roman procession moved slowly along Via Triumphalis and up the winding ascent to the temple of Jupiter atop Capitoline Hill. The kings, princes, and generals taken captive in the war, with their children and attendants, were led along in chains, often stripped naked, to their humiliation and shame.
6 As the procession passed through the city of Rome, the populace threw flowers before the victor’s chariot, and burning incense perfumed the entire route. This sweet fragrance signified honors and a more secure life for the victorious soldiers. But it signified death to the unpardoned captives who would be executed at the end of the procession. This throws light on Paul’s spiritual application of the illustration at 2 Corinthians 2:14-16. That picture presents Paul and fellow Christians as devoted subjects of God, “in company with the Christ,” all following in God’s victorious train and being led by Him in a grand triumphal procession along a perfumed route.
Fragrance of Life or the Smell of Death
7, 8. (a) How are Jehovah’s Witnesses diffusing the sweet fragrance of the knowledge of God? (b) As the Witnesses diffuse the figurative fragrance, what is the reaction of those who are being saved? (c) What reaction is there from those who are perishing?
7 By spreading abroad everywhere the truths of the Bible concerning God’s Kingdom under Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses are diffusing, displaying, and making manifest everywhere the sweet fragrance of the knowledge of the gracious God whose truth has set them free from false religion. They march triumphantly along in Jehovah’s service. Their offerings of service as Witnesses of him and his King are like pleasing incense to Jehovah. Thus, we can appreciate what the apostle meant when he said: “To God we are a sweet odor of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the latter ones an odor issuing from death to death, to the former ones an odor issuing from life to life [“a vital fragrance that brings life,” The New English Bible; “the refreshing fragrance of life itself,” Phillips].”—2 Corinthians 2:15, 16.
8 Honest people of sheeplike disposition sense the sweetness of the knowledge of Jehovah as diffused by his Witnesses. To such people the witness work has the smell of health and life, of living, life-giving truth. They render thanks to Jehovah and his King, whose triumphal procession they join, and loudly cry out: “Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:10) They breathe in the atmosphere of Kingdom truth, which is a refreshing fragrance of life that leads to life. But Satan and his demons have perverted the smelling powers of those hanging on to false religion, so that they hold their noses and disdainfully refuse the truth. To “those who are perishing,” the truth and its faithful bearers diffuse an odor of death that leads to death. Or as the New International Version puts it: “To the one we are the smell of death.” Phillips translation renders it: “To the latter it seems like the deathly smell of doom.”
9. What question does Paul now ask, and how would you answer, and why?
9 “And who is adequately qualified for these things?” the apostle then asks. (2 Corinthians 2:16) That is to say, “and who could be qualified for work like this?” (The Jerusalem Bible) “And for such service as this who is competent?” (Weymouth) The Scriptural answer is: Jehovah’s Witnesses! Why? Because only dedicated ones who are honest, sincere, and seeking no selfish gain and who speak forth truth, plainly and without compromise with false religion, are qualified for this work of spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of God.—Colossians 1:3-6, 13; 2 Timothy 2:15.
10. Why do the clergy not qualify for the work of diffusing the fragrance of the knowledge of God?
10 Christendom’s clergy, who seek a good standing with this world, fail to be qualified and competent for this unselfish service. Why? Because they fail to meet the requirement indicated by Paul’s statement: “We are not peddlers of the word of God as many men are, but as out of sincerity, yes, as sent from God, under God’s view, in company with Christ, we are speaking.” (2 Corinthians 2:17) Or as the New International Version puts it: “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.”
11, 12. (a) Why are the Witnesses not “peddlers of the word of God” because of accepting donations? (b) In contrast with the adulterated version of Christianity purchased by many, what do Jehovah’s Witnesses present?
11 Jehovah’s Witnesses are sent from God, and they are doing their witnessing work under God’s view. While they provide interested persons with valuable books and other publications that explain God’s Word and accept voluntary donations for the worldwide Kingdom-preaching work, such practice is not peddling or adulterating the Word of God. In fact, such donations are simply an aid toward the spreading of the knowledge of God to still others.
12 A great many today, knowingly or unknowingly, have purchased an adulterated version of Christianity, for it suits their selfish desires and does not cramp their life-style. They believe that God accepts them because of their claim that they have love for him in their hearts. However, when God’s Word is shown to conflict with their beliefs and conduct, they twist the Scriptures so as to elevate personal opinions above the proper Biblical understanding. (Matthew 15:8, 9; 2 Peter 3:16) But Jehovah’s Witnesses present the pure, unadulterated truth from the Bible, thus producing a sweet fragrance acceptable to God and to his true worshipers. Thereby they drive away all the religious traditions and impediments to having the true knowledge of God.
13. Who, besides the anointed Christians, are in God’s triumphal procession, and what are they doing everywhere they go?
13 Truly, being in God’s triumphal procession in company with the Christ is an incomparable privilege enjoyed by not only the anointed Christians but also the “great crowd” of “other sheep” even now, for the Kingdom’s triumph is at hand. (Revelation 7:4, 9; John 10:16) As we anticipate further triumphs of our conquering King, everywhere we go we diffuse the life-giving knowledge of God like perfume, or precious incense, to those whose hearts are yearning for truth and righteousness. What a privilege for those qualified for this remarkable work!—John 17:3; Colossians 3:16, 17.
Authorized to Be Human Perfumers
14. Why do those who diffuse the fragrance of the knowledge of God not need a certificate of authorization from men?
14 But do those who diffuse the fragrance of the knowledge of God and of his Kingdom need a diploma or a certificate of authorization from men? No! We are already commissioned, or appointed, as Witnesses for the Supreme One of the universe. Hence, we need not hesitate to go forth into the field spreading the fragrance of the good news of God’s Kingdom. Keep in mind that Jehovah leads us. Jesus’ ministry was carried out in the face of “contrary talk by sinners.” (Hebrews 12:3) Yet, Jesus’ record of field activity, as found in the Bible, still stands true, and his work in the field speaks in commendation of him and argues in support of his being a true minister of Jehovah God.
15. How did the apostle Paul show that true Christians do not need “letters of recommendation”?
15 The apostle Paul met a similar challenging situation in his day by submitting this argument: “Are we starting again to recommend ourselves? Or do we, perhaps, like some men, need letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, inscribed on our hearts and known and being read by all mankind. For you are shown to be a letter of Christ written by us as ministers, inscribed not with ink but with spirit of a living God, not on stone tablets, but on fleshly tablets, on hearts.”—2 Corinthians 3:1-3.
16. What kind of letter do Jehovah’s Witnesses present as testimonial evidence that their ministry is from God?
16 Worldly authorities do not acknowledge our commission as Jehovah’s Witnesses. But let our work of diffusing the fragrance of the knowledge of Jehovah speak for itself! This work cannot be erased, though some men refuse to read this testimonial evidence of our ministry. Clergymen present their documents of certification from clerical ruling bodies. Such, however, are scraps of paper, man’s word. Jehovah’s Witnesses, besides quoting support from God’s Word, stand as testimonials in flesh and blood. The great crowd of other sheep who have been reached by the good news of the Kingdom have also been gathered to the right side of Jehovah’s King. (Matthew 25:33, 34) All of these are our letter of recommendation, a letter that we as Jehovah’s Witnesses carry everywhere on our hearts and minds and can display with confidence. Those who take a stand for God’s universal sovereignty and take part in serving God in company with Jehovah’s Witnesses are themselves a document of recommendation that cannot escape being read and known by all men.
17. How is our “letter of Christ” written, and why does Paul say that it is inscribed on hearts?
17 Of course, this makes the false religionists angry and envious when they read it. Nevertheless, the increasing great crowd of other sheep are a letter of recommendation from Jesus Christ, the Fine Shepherd, who is using all of Jehovah’s Witnesses in his pastoral work. We are the pen, or human instrument, that he uses to write this letter. The letter is not written in ink that can be rubbed out, but it is inscribed by and with the active force, or spirit, of God, which works in us. It is not as in the case of Moses when the law of the Ten Commandments was written with the finger of God on two tablets of stone. Our letter is written on the fleshly tablets of human hearts, since our spiritual ministry produces a change of mind and heart in the recipients of the fragrant good news.
18. What result makes the recipients of the good news a letter of recommendation?
18 Our work with God’s Word has made an impression upon appreciative recipients of the good news and has brought about remarkable changes. Their decision to serve God has proved to be no mere spur-of-the-moment stand due to some fervor stirred up in them by an emotional evangelist. Rather, it represents a permanent transformation of their lives based upon the crystal-clear truths of the Holy Bible. Love for the true God, Jehovah, motivates them to ‘strip off their old personality with its deceptive desires and put on the new personality,’ which displays “the fruitage of the spirit.” (Ephesians 4:20-24; Galatians 5:22, 23) The result, therefore, makes them a letter of recommendation. It speaks more plainly than any handwritten letter by us or by any visible organization that could send us.
19. How does Paul describe the qualifications of the “ministers of a new covenant,” and what effect has their work had on the great crowd?
19 At 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 Paul continues: “Now through the Christ we have this sort of confidence toward God. Not that we of ourselves are adequately qualified to reckon anything as issuing from ourselves, but our being adequately qualified issues from God, who has indeed adequately qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant.” Though only those of the anointed remnant are “ministers of a new covenant,” their work has had an effect upon the great crowd of other sheep, and it will yet affect countless numbers of such other sheep still to be gathered. This is the confidence that all of Jehovah’s Witnesses have through Christ Jesus toward Jehovah God. The remnant gratefully encourage the great crowd of other sheep to participate wholeheartedly in the ‘letter-writing’ ministry that Jesus Christ foretold at Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 28:19, 20.
20. (a) What does the Yearbook report indicate about those diffusing the fragrance of the knowledge of God? (b) What can all of us say about our qualifications for the letter-writing ministry?
20 That is what they have done, as is evident from the 1990 Yearbook report in which Jehovah’s Witnesses are shown to be diffusing the fragrance of the knowledge of God in 212 countries. They number more than 3,787,000 active publishers, and last year alone they put in about 835,000,000 hours in preaching this good news of the Kingdom. At the Lord’s Evening Meal last year, 9,479,064 were in attendance. Both the anointed remnant and the members of the great crowd of other sheep can say: “Our being adequately qualified issues from God.” Or as The Jerusalem Bible words it: “All our qualifications come from God.”
21. What should all of us be doing, and why?
21 Therefore, spread the sweet, life-giving fragrance of God’s knowledge in every place! Make the atmosphere of your congregation’s territory heavy with fragrance of the knowledge of Jehovah. Then, as a triumphant theocratic General, he will lead you in his victorious procession as all of his Witnesses press forward in this modern-day ministry of glory!
For more details, see Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, pages 1128-9, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
How Would You Answer?
□ What illustration does Paul use at 2 Corinthians 2:14-16?
□ What is the effect on others of diffusing the fragrance of the knowledge of God?
□ Who only are qualified for this work, and why?
□ Why do the human perfumers not need handwritten letters of recommendation for their work?