I painted a series of magnolia flowers a while back and I was just in awe of their beauty. The petals are pure white inside, and outside, it could be hot pink or magenta. All the time that I was painting each delicate petal, I was thinking of Philippians 4:5:
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
The magnolia is a very fragrant flower and it is this fragrance that made me think again and again about gentleness. We are counselled by Apostle Paul to make our gentleness known to all. It is like the magnolia flower giving off its fragrance for all to enjoy. It wafts into the air and whoever passes by or draws near will be rewarded with an stimulating sweet scent. I imagine our gentleness wafting to the people around us like fragrance.
When we are around people, what do they breathe in from us? Is it grace? Gentle words that minister to them? Do we leave off a pleasant fragrance in our wake? Or are people offended with our rough edges, maybe with our words that are actually thinly-veiled bragging or condescension or sarcasm?
Are we, like the Lord Jesus Christ, “an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma”? (See Ephesians 5:2). That would be a good gauge on the degree of our Christlikeness or un-Christlikeness.
So, I had been studying magnolias and gardenias for watercolor painting, and I just couldn’t help thinking that what is pure and white also carries a lovely scent. In their whiteness and stark simplicity, they are both beautiful and very fragrant. What an exquisite combination! I believe God created them that way to drive home the truth that the modest and holy are the ones who give off a fragrance that is a delight and blessing to others.
The gardenia is no less than the rosal in our local Filipino dialect. When I was a young girl, there was a rosal tree at the corner of my grandmother’s house’s front yard. Every morning, the flowers bloomed and — oh, their fragrance! Like the gardenia, the sampaguita, which is the Philippine’s national flower, is also white and very fragrant. Sampaguita is one of the main varieties of jasmine. The jasmine fragrance oil is the most expensive perfume in the world! In the Philippines, the sampaguita flowers are made into small garlands and are sold in the streets by young boys and girls to be hung inside cars or Catholic altars.
White symbolizes purity, modesty, and simplicity. God wants us to be pure, modest, and simple. Ecclesiastes 9:8 says, “Let your garments always be white…” It is not primarily literal, but it’s more of washing and making the garments (or robes) white in the blood of the Lamb (see Rev. 7:14). The wearing of white robes is a metaphor of being holy. It does not solely lean on our own strivings, but that we were made holy by the blood of the Lamb. But we have a part to fulfil.
And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Rev. 19:8)
It’s the Lord Jesus who sanctifies us and our holiness must be manifested outwardly, in the way we speak, act, and adorn ourselves.
Shall we wear blatant vanity and pride and the latest fashion statement? Sporting the famous brands from head to toe and the purse hanging on our arm, ostentatiously displayed and flaunted? But what does Apostle Peter has to say?
Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. (1 Pet. 3:3-4)
Be clothed with humility. (From 1 Pet. 5:5)
The beauty of a gentle, quiet, and humble spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. I’d like to be all of those, for there was a time in my life, before I knew Jesus and His Word, that I was one of those who wore signature brands and flaunted them, too. When pride was my glory and vanity was my friend.
I knew it even then (and now that I am a born-again Christian, I’m ashamed even of the memory of it) that pride and vainglory don’t really bring “pure goodness” (in the truest sense of the phrase) into one’s heart, but a silent and deep wickedness. They don’t bring true joy, but in reality, they stir up guilty feelings somewhere deep down, somehow.
But it’s not only with obvious worldliness that the call to holiness becomes louder. It is also a gentle whisper, a voice calling in the wilderness of our own errant emotions, that tugs on a Christ follower’s heart. Just very recently, I had a firsthand experience of this white and fragrant theme.
I had been nursing a sad and hurting heart because of my watercolor paintings and the gallery I have set up on Facebook. I was feeling very discouraged I trudged through my days with a heavy heart. But during those days, the picture of jasmine flowers went in and out of my mind like a flashing light. So one day, I sat down at my desk and painted them.
Doing so was like a healing balm to my sorrowing heart. The study of the white jasmine flowers was actually a call for me to draw closer to purity, to holiness, to my Savior Himself. Going through that trial was sanctifying as the Lord reminded me to lay my cares at His feet, to give my burdens to Him, not only the feeling of discouragement I was going through, but also the cause of it, which was my art.
To offer back to Him whatever gift I have received from Him. This epiphany would come a few days later.
Even so, immersing my heart and mind to the painting of the jasmine flowers, and knowing deeply the reason behind it, was a cleansing process: The Lord wants us to purify our hearts and minds from whatever feelings or emotions we are harboring deep inside that affect our judgments, responses, decisions, and even our worship of and service to God.
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1)
The purity of the jasmine flowers reminded me to lean in closer to God and listen to what He was saying regarding my art. And He did speak and the relief and happiness that washed over me made me want to rise up and dance!
Whatever we think, say, or do, may it be done in holiness and may it leave a sweet-smelling scent, a lovely fragrance that reaches the throne of grace.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Phil. 4:8)
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Journey with Jesus,