Paul expresses that the minister, as one bearing the fragrant knowledge of Christ, is also himself an aroma to God (2 Cor. 2:14-15). Yet this scent smells differently to believers and the lost.
Those who have embraced Christ, although they cannot fully comprehend it, experience his divine life, mystically imparted and present in their being, in rounds of increasing glory and maturity. They possess the life of God himself and the kingdom to come in commenced reality.
Yet the lost who constantly refuse Christ only entrench themselves in the condemnation of sin. The gospel is a constant reminder of a loving God perhaps, but one who calls them out of sin to holiness, which is undesired and even offensive, like an odor.
“To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life,” Paul says. “And who is equal to such a task?” (v. 16)—or what minister is qualified and fit for such a charge?
The logic goes deeper: Who desires such eternal responsibility, except they are called by God? Except they love truth. Except they clearly see the stakes, the soul in the everlasting bliss of God or forever separated from him.
Paul then contrasts genuine ministry and false teachers in his vicinity: “We do not peddle the word of God for profit” (v. 17). Imaged is a huckster, one selling petty items to garner himself a hefty profit. He mostly likely purchased his wares just to resell them with an excessive markup.
Further, a cultural allusion is made to one who dishonestly diluted wine to sell. The idea is applied to the false teachers who used philosophy to corrupt God’s Word to make it more palatable and enticing to hearers though adulterated. These were tricksters.
So Paul means to suggest that with so critical a preaching responsibility, it is unthinkable to do any less than communicate the gospel “with sincerity,” or with all pure motive, knowing we are always in God’s presence (v. 17).
Ours is the task to always be ready to share Jesus (1 Pet. 3:15), in fellowship with other believers and with patient care for those who are lost. We also have a responsibility to gospel purity. We never whitewash the message and neither do we use it with our own design.
Just as the Logos came down to us, we should speak the Word simply and sincerely because the stakes are great. Watch for your “gospel moments” and make sure Christ is fully heard.