Read 2 Corinthians 2
In Hebrew culture, hundreds of years before this was written, there was a prevailing understanding that our actions, as well as our prayers, rose up before God in the same way the smoke rose from the fires of a sacrifice. When we love God and love our neighbors, our actions are a pleasing aroma to Him. However, in the case of Israel, when the turned away from God, even the smell of the Temple sacrifices was repulsive before Him.
Paul draws on this theme as he addresses the church in Corinth, knowing full well that the divisions there, between each other and even what has happened between them and Paul are anything but a pleasing aroma. What’s worse, this so-called aroma is one that everyone else around them can “smell” as well. Rather than being the pleasing aroma of Christ, Paul warns them such actions (as well as many others) could be an aroma of death.
Reconciliation is what Paul is seeking here; living into the call of the Gospel for unity in the Holy Spirit. Paul longs to be reconciled to them and them to each other, that their actions of forgiveness and love would be the “aroma” that those around them smell.
People can almost smell fakeness on others. I think this is something that the church today struggles with a lot. We all want everyone else to believe that we have it all together; that somehow our faith has made everything in life perfect for us (because obviously, it is for everyone else). The reality, though, is that we’re not perfect… we’re all messed up. Pretending to be perfect, or that the hurts of the past don’t matter, doesn’t actually help and those outside of our faith communities can see right through it.
We are called to be reconciled to each other. In fact, we are given the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation as those who are in Christ and it has to start with us. As much as it may be easier to call others to it while ignoring ourselves, reconciliation is the “plank in our own eye” that we may need to get out first.