This passage forms a chiastic structure:
2 Cor 2:14-17
1a) 2 Cor 2:14, Thanks be to God + through us diffuses His knowledge;
1b) 2 Cor 2:15a, We are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved;
1c) 2 Cor 2:15, And among those who are perishing;
central axis) 2 Cor 2:16a, We are the aroma;
2c) 2 Cor 2:16b, Of death leading to death;
2b) 2 Cor 2:16c, And to the other the aroma of life leading to life;
2a) 2 Cor 2:16d-17, Who is sufficient + we speak the word of God from God.
Isn’t this the most amazing thing? We smell like someone, whether we are trying or not trying, as we go about our daily business in the world. We diffuse the fragrance of Christ to all those around us. Now there are two kinds of people in the world who notice our aroma: those who are being saved, and those who are perishing. These two kinds of people both smell the same aroma about us – the fragrance of Christ. But to one it is a pleasant, attractive smell, and to the other it is a repulsive, foul smell.
Isn’t it interesting that Paul chose to say, “those who are being saved,” and “those who are perishing.” The verb is in the state of continuing, uncompleted action. The ones who are saved, past tense, are like us — spiritual fragrance diffusers. They carry the aroma of Christ to the world. Then there are those out there in the valley of decision. God is calling to them, and they have not yet responded to His call. Some of them will end up accepting Him. Those are the ones, I believe, who are in the process of being saved. And some of them will end up rejecting Him. Those are the ones, I believe, who are in the process of perishing.
Are there people in your life who are attracted to you as a person and a friend, who seek out your company and confide in you? They are doing this, I believe, because you smell good to them! Since you already smell like life to them, that is a good sign that they are already on a path which will lead to life! And likewise, are there people in your life, that no matter what you do, how sweet or kind you are, hate you and reject you? They are doing this, I believe, because you smell bad to them! Since you already smell like death to them, that is a good sign they are already on a path which will lead to death. But don’t stop praying for them — prayer changes outcomes. I daresay when Paul was persecuting the Church and approving of the stoning of Christians, he was on the path leading to death. But then God knocked him off his donkey on the road to Damascus, and set him on a different path!