Tired from traveling, I sat on my bed as evening light began to warm the room. As I looked out the window, it was like I saw the sunset with new eyes. It bounced off the mountains of the Beqaa Valley surrounding virtually every side, making the rims glow subtly red and orange. Fire and glory.
I flipped pages to words I’d read numerous times. They came alive, too:
"Thanks be to God, who in Christ leads us in triumphal procession and victory. Everywhere we go, we spread the fragrance and knowledge of Christ." 2 Corinthians 2:14
One night many years ago, in a place similar to the new, Middle Eastern environment in which I found myself, a woman named Mary took expensive perfume – probably something she’d saved for, something she’d been saving – and she poured it out. Poured every drop onto Jesus’ feet, washing with her tears and drying with her hair.
Consequently, the most obvious yet profound thing happened: the smell of the perfume filled the room, and soon the whole house was filled. Mary could’ve kept it in a jar on a shelf, but her act of sacrifice to Jesus alone inevitably spread to every person around her.
As I tried to sleep that night, my mind wandered: what I would do tomorrow and how can I make a difference and how can I bring hope to hopelessness around me?
What I heard in response wasn't a formula to follow but an example.
Our lives as living sacrifices spread the fragrance and knowledge of Christ. Not because we have to earn or achieve something – He’s enough when we aren’t – but because it’s an honest response. It’s Christ’s very example that gives this purpose: He loved us and offered everything for us, a pleasing fragrance to God. He lived a life of love.
The next morning, the pastor stood in front of the Body, and in beautiful Arabic, I heard (with the help of a translator) the pure gospel. The agape love of God – the only type of love that gives, gives, gives without asking for or taking anything in return. The most excellent way.
This is the same love Paul writes about, love that’s poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. What does love do? Love endures, sacrifices, cheers for truth, forgives, hopes, and never gives up. The greatest love gives and lays down life.
If this giving-and-pouring-out love is poured into our hearts, then it won’t simply fill us. It will overflow. What a gift, friends! I’m learning that when the Father gives and teaches, it isn’t for only us as an individual. His heart is for us and for our neighbors and for the world. And we get to steward what He gives and teaches us for the good of people and for His glory.
Remember Mary’s offering: first and foremost a simple act of worship, a response to Jesus’ worthiness and compassion – but everyone nearby was affected. It’s the same for us, because He is deserving of praise and because of His love. Our lives poured out in love, our most costly and valuable things poured out, spread the fragrance of Christ.
We are not merely objects to be used for God’s glory. We are image-bearers of His glory. We reflect His glory. Christ in us is the hope of glory. That’s why we can bring Him glory by living as fragrant, poured-out followers.
This is it. Follow the example of Christ, who took on flesh to dwell among us, who loved the broken and oppressed and those who (looked like they) had it all together. He poured out His life to the point of death ending in victorious life. Look around: the whole world is affected by Christ’s love pouring out. So, I dare to say that in, with, and for Him, we can go forward with bright hope and spread the knowledge of Him.
As I write, I remember the dear people I met this summer who live this with their whole lives. I see the faces of young students eager to receive this love and hope. I think of brothers and sisters who, even though we’re now miles apart, challenge me to follow their example because they’re following that of Christ. And I am filled to the brim with expectation and joy, spilling over in tears sometimes, because real Love is changing the world.
"Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that." Ephesians 5:1-2 (The Message)