Should believers use essential oils and aromatherapy?
God enjoys pleasing aromas. Our Creator even specified a formula of sweet, warm, and spicy botanical scents for a holy anointing oil and incense, and forbid anyone from using the formula for ordinary purposes. We too assign meanings to different aromas. Smells tap into our brains very differently from all our other senses – they go directly to our brain’s limbic system, which governs our emotions, behaviors, motivations, and long-term memories, and bypass our logic and reasoning. It is little wonder that essential oils and other fragrances are used by consumer brands to create subconscious emotional connections; used in witchcraft for “magic potions” for “healing” or casting spells; and used in idol worship.
Exodus 30:22-33 ESV The Lord said to Moses, “Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh 500 shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, 250, and 250 of aromatic cane, and 500 of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the basin and its stand. You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy. You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. And you shall say to the people of Israel, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be poured on the body of an ordinary person, and you shall make no other like it in composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an outsider shall be cut off from his people.’”
Exodus 30:34-38 ESV The Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the Lord. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”
The use of aromatic plants in the Bible
God has created an incredible variety of aromatic flowers, leaves, seeds, bark, and roots, which He has called good. We see that God’s people used some for practical purposes – as well as spiritual reasons.
Genesis 1:12 ESV The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
1. Topical treatments as ointments or balms
- Ointment for bruises and infections | Isaiah 1:6 NLT You are battered from head to foot— covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds— without any soothing ointments or bandages.
- Balm for wounds | Jeremiah 8:22 NIV Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?
- Perfume for one’s bed | Proverbs 7:17 ESV I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.
- Fragrance for one’s clothes | Psalm 45:7-8 ESV … Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia…
- Perfume for the body | John 12:3 ESV Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
3. Marking what is dedicated to God
- Oil for anointing the priesthood and objects for worship | Exodus 30:25-26,30 ESV And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony… You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.
- Oil for anointing objects of worship | Exodus 40:9 ESV “Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy.
- Oil for anointing kings | 1 Samuel 16:13 ESV Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.
4. Anointing oil for the sick during prayer, usually applied on the head
- Oil for anointing the sick | Mark 6:7,12-13 ESV And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
- Oil for anointing those who confess their sins, ask for God’s forgiveness, and pray for healing | James 5:14-16 ESV Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
5. Offerings to God
- Incense as a burnt offering to God | Exodus 30:7-8 ESV And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations.
- Tithe to God | Luke 11:42 ESV “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
The use of aromatic plants for well being
Aromatic plants can also be used to manipulate our emotional and mental state. At one extreme are mind-altering drug substances such as cocaine (coca plants), marijuana (cannabis plants), heroin (poppy plants), magic mushrooms (magic mushrooms), and nicotine (tobacco plants).
While it is clear that believers ought to stay away from such drugs, what is less clear is the use of essential oils and aromatherapy products to alter our well-being.
We are told that essential oils can be good for countering stress, anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation, and improving cognitive performance. Some essential oil brands also claim that their products can bring us peace, prosperity, clarity of mind, alertness, and empowerment, things that should only come from God and which are now being replaced by product brands that falsely tout their ability to do the same.
Psalm 128:1-2 NIV … Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in obedience to him. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.
While essential oils and aromatherapy can indeed help us cope with the outward symptoms of our inward emotional, mental, and even spiritual issues, none really bring us true lasting healing. Rather, they can become addictive over time.
We need to be aware that fragrances hit our brains’ limbic system, which is also the “addiction centre”. By using aromatherapy for “self-medication,” we may inadvertently “train” our brains to enjoy and desire the smell-good-feel-good feedback. This is why we keep buying essential oils. Some of us may even feel as if something is missing without such products. When we find it hard to give up our essential oils, it is a sign that we have already formed a fleshly addiction and subconscious emotional bond to them.
1 John 2:15-16 ESV Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh …—is not from the Father but is from the world.
Examples: True healing comes from the Holy Spirit
God gave us the Holy Spirit to bring new life to our mortal bodies, from our heads down to our toes. There is no illness the Holy Spirit can’t relieve us from, He is even able to raise people from the dead. How can plants substitute the Holy Spirit’s healing power?
Romans 8:11-13 ESV If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
In fact, God’s Word shows us that we can use all sorts of therapeutic remedies and find that none work. This is because sometimes, God uses impairments in our bodies to bring our attention to the things we need to get right with Him first. God is faithful and will heal us when we humble ourselves and seek Him first, like the real-life examples below show.
Jeremiah 46:11 ESV Go up to Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt! In vain you have used many medicines; there is no healing for you.
Jeremiah 30:12-15 NLT This is what the Lord says: “Your injury is incurable—a terrible wound. There is no one to help you or to bind up your injury. No medicine can heal you. All your lovers—your allies—have left you and do not care about you anymore. I have wounded you cruelly, as though I were your enemy. For your sins are many, and your guilt is great. Why do you protest your punishment— this wound that has no cure? I have had to punish you because your sins are many and your guilt is great.
Proverbs 6:14-19 ESV with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord; therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing. There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
1. Stress and anxiety: We are to cast our anxieties on God, not ruminate on them, and leave all things to His will | 1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
2. Depression: God’s children are called to be filled with His love, hope, and peace. Depression can be overcome through the Holy Spirit’s cleansing and renewal. | Romans 15:13 ESV May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
3. Sleep: God promises sweet sleep if we remember Him and submit to His will and wisdom | Proverbs 3:19-21,24 ESV The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew. My son, do not lose sight of these— keep sound wisdom and discretion… If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
4. Mental ability: We are called to go to God for wisdom. His wisdom and counsel are greater than any human wisdom or mental ability. The Holy Spirit will even relieve people of their mental illnesses, as shown by the testimonies below. | James 1:5 ESV If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
The use of essential oils in witchcraft and idol worship
Essential oils are a major component of witchcraft potions, charms, spells, and curses, as well as the incense and candles that burn in many idolatrous temples.
Most witchdoctors, shamans, and new-age healers used plant oils in their rituals, because they believe that trees and plants have “healing energies” or “spirits” that they can summon or tap onto. In promotional material for “magic oils”, the essential oils are said to “awaken something” in people so that they are able to direct the “invisible powers of the universe” to achieve their aims.
Ephesians 2:2 NLT You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.
These products will promote their ability to “cleanse” us, direct our “energy or thoughts”, enhance our “spiritual awareness, dreams, visualisation, or creativity”, or bring “balance” – all of which are typical buzzwords from witchcraft and pagan practices, which do not glorify God but glorify Satan.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Most believers will not intentionally practise witchcraft but if we use essential oils to alter our minds and sense of well-being, we are in principle, following the same teachings from witchdoctors and shamans. God is the only Source of our mental state and well-being.
As believers, we are called to be sober-minded and alert to the devil’s schemes, and resist his deceptions and temptations to mimic the practices of this world. Satan will always try to lure believers with counterfeit healings that appear genuine, good, and widely accepted, in order to enslave us to earthly answers for our bodies. This is because our bodies belong to Jesus and are intended to be His temple. Satan will always try to defile God’s temple as much as is possible – if we let him. We ought to resist the devil’s schemes, standing firm in our faith.
1 Peter 5:8-9 ESV Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith…
We are to be the aroma of Christ
More importantly, God calls us to be the sweet aroma of Christ to others. We are to care for the nations and people who do not yet know Him personally, and spread the “fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere”.
2 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
Amos 6:6-7 ESV You drink wine by the bowlful and perfume yourselves with fragrant lotions. You care nothing about the ruin of your nation. Therefore, you will be the first to be led away as captives. Suddenly, all your parties will end.
This is not a fragrance we can extract from any plant. It is the fragrance of a life lived in submission to God, as shown by the two testimonies below. These are real-life examples of believers who have literally smelled the sweet aroma of the Holy Spirit’s comforting presence as they sought God through confession and repentance. God’s sweet scent is not perceivable to us most of the time, but we can trust His Spirit is always present with us and He will help us spread God’s fragrant aroma.
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