A Harvest of Righteousness

…the expectation, substance, goal,
and means of practical godliness

Part 1: the Expectation

2 Corinthians 9:1-15

Introduction

  • The Purpose of this Section
  • Encouraging the Saints to Give Generously

You will recall that Paul is urging and encouraging and spurring the Corinthian church on to finish the collection that they had promised the needy Jerusalem saints. So this section functions with that goal in mind, but it is critical to understand that Paul is not interested in commanding them or seeing merely external conformity to a rule. Rather, his desire is that the Corinthians give willingly and generously from their hearts as evidence of their genuine love for God and His people (8:9).

Instruction on Christian Growth and Encouragement

So as we continue studying through this section we need to be listening to how Paul is thinking about the dynamic of Christian fruitfulness. The way Paul goes about encouraging the Corinthians is extremely important and instructive as we think about fruitfulness and obedience in our own lives and in the lives of others. This section is a wealth of instruction about how Christians grow in godliness and how Christians should encourage one another to grow in godliness.

Generosity as an Example of the Larger Aim of Godliness in all Areas of Life

Now, even as Paul is focused here in this section on encouraging generosity in the lives of the Corinthian believers this section equally applies to instruct us in all areas of life. The way Paul thinks about encouraging generosity is the way we should think about encouraging godliness in all areas of life. So, the broader subject that we can learn about from this section is how we grow in godliness, not just in generosity. Paul’s goal is to see an increase in the harvest of their righteousness (9:10), not a large amount of money in the offering plate. That language of the harvest of their righteousness is found in verse 10 and really serves as the controlling picture.

The Outline of Our Study

So, as we work through chapter 9 our goals will be

  • to learn about the biblical expectation of this harvest of righteousness in our lives now. Should we really expect to live righteous lives in this age?
  • to learn about the substance of the righteousness that will be harvested as described by Paul. In other words what godliness is and what it is not.
  • to learn about the great goal of this harvest of righteousness. Why do we even care to increase the harvest of our own and other’s righteousness?
  • to learn about the means by which this harvest of righteousness is increased. How do we think about what it takes to grow in godliness?

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 9:1-15

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and [because of] the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

  • The Biblical Expectation
    • Addressing A Misapprehension about the Christian Life
      • Romans 7: Multiple Identities?

First, as we begin to try to get our heads around the proper expectation of this harvest of righteousness, I think it is important that we step back and address a misapprehension (a wrong belief!) that seem to plague us. So many Christians today, myself included, are prone to embrace what some have called the ‘loser complex’. Let me explain.I have noticed a tendency in my own heart and in the life of other believers to live with an embattled identity. An identity that I believe is warped and unbiblical. Very often, in my experience, we start in Romans 7 and begin to build our identity there – we are drawn there like a magnet – and we see in Romans 7 (along with many Bible teachers) an embattled identity. Or we might say a schizophrenic identity, or more accurately a multiple personality disorder – multiple identities. We (mis)read Romans 7:14-15, 18 where Paul says,

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

Should we read this as our present experience in Christ?

  • Romans 7: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ Our Lord, One New Identity!

Now, without going into a lot of detail, I think a careful reading of Roman’s 7:7-25 in its context reveals that Paul is giving an explanation for why the Mosaic Law could never produce righteousness in anyone because of the flesh (the remaining sinful inclinations that are ours in Adam). And so, what Paul is describing in Romans 7:7-25 is not the normal believer’s experience in Christ, but the believer’s experience trying to do what is good under the Mosaic Law. The whole point is that we have died to our marriage to the Law and have been married to another so that we may bear fruit for God (7:4)! When we read Romans 7 and draw the conclusion that the normal Christian life is one of not being able to do the good we want, we have missed Paul’s whole point. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me for the body of death? [answer:] Thanks be to God though Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

The answer to the question is: not through the law, but through the Lord Jesus Christ, we bear fruit for God!

The off shoot of misreading Romans 7 is that many Christians live with this loser complex: “I am so sinful. I am so sinful. I am so sinful. I will never in this life do the good I want to do – I am not able.” And we live with two conflicting identities: yes we have the status of a saint (holy one, we’ve been declared righteous) and but we also embrace the mantle of a rotten unable sinner. And the outcome of this multiple personality disorder is that we know we are called to fruitfulness and righteousness but we are dead set and certain it will never happen this side of glory.

Brothers and sisters, according to Romans 8:3-4: “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

[Now hear me] Do we still have the flesh (the inclination to sin)? Yes, that principal is still present and will be until glory, BUT that is not who we are, we have been joined to Christ, joined in union with Him, and His Spirit dwells in us and we walk according to His Spirit. We do not have a dual identity. The old man of sin has died. We are called to consider our old self, dead – crucified with Christ. And we consider ourself alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:11). We have one new identity in Christ: Child of God, heir of God, fellows heir with Christ awaiting glorification, the redemption of our bodies. Yes, we drag along the flesh, but we are not of the flesh. We are of the Spirit and so we are able to bear fruit for God.

  • Paul’s Expectations of Fruitfulness
    • Practical Righteousness is Possible

As I was studying and working through this passage, I was struck by how Paul does not speak about practical godliness the way we so often do. We often feel compelled to balance our expectations of potential godliness with the reality of the remaining ‘flesh’ (sinful inclinations). It’s like we want to say, “yes, yes, we are called to holiness and Christlikeness, yes, yes. But of course we will not actually be holy and righteous and Christlike – let’s not get over confident in what is possible here in this age.

But Paul does not even hint at such a balance, resulting in such low expectations.Listen to 2 Corinthians 9:8-11, after Paul says that those who sow bountifully from the heart will also reap bountifully he says,

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

How could Paul have said it with any more strength? God is able to make ALL grace abound to you, so that having ALL sufficiency in ALL things at ALL times, you may ABOUND in EVERY good work. He could not have been more optimistic in his expectation of practical godliness in the lives of believers!

He then quotes Psalm 112:9 and we might be tempted upon a quick reading to think he is describing God, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” But even a moment’s look at Psalm 112 shows us that the Psalmist was talking about the man who fears the Lord:

Psalm 112
1. Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who greatly delights in his commandments!
2. His offspring will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3. Wealth and riches are in his house,
and his righteousness endures forever.
4. Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
5. It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
who conducts his affairs with justice.
6. For the righteous will never be moved;
he will be remembered forever.
7. He is not afraid of bad news;
his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
8. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
9. He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn is exalted in honor.
10. The wicked man sees it and is angry;
he gnashes his teeth and melts away;
the desire of the wicked will perish!

But, some are quick to say, “Ah, yes, here we have a description of godliness that Christ alone perfectly fulfills. Christ is the perfect man, the man who fears the Lord, the triumphant second Adam.” To which I agree. Christ and Christ alone was found worthy and to him belongs all the honor and glory and praise.

Let us shout it out:

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—EVERY ONE—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on HIM the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord oh my soul (Psalm 146)!

But Paul does not apply Psalm 112 to Christ in 2 Corinthians 9:9. He applies it to regular Christians like you and me – those in Christ by faith – joined to him and lead by His Spirit. Paul’s point here in using this citation is to confirm that real practical righteousness is possible for the Christian! The fact is Paul is arguing for exactly what we are inclined to think is impossible, that you and I can abound in being gracious and merciful and righteous and justice and steadfast and generous in this life.

This is not to say that Christ’s righteousness is removed from the equation, as we saw last week, our fruitfulness, our righteousness is through Him – we have been joined to Another. He is the foundation of all of our positional righteousness and but He is also the source and fountainhead of our practical righteousness. Which is why Paul can say, as he continues his argument in verse 10,

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

God is now able, because of Christ, to multiply righteousness in your life today which will produce a harvest of thanksgiving to God.

Again, there is no hint of qualifying this with a dose of so-called realism. Because of Christ, because of what Christ has accomplished, because of our union with Him, the treasure trove of God’s grace has been swung wide open for those in Christ. God is now able to be perfectly righteous while supplying and multiplying our seed for sowing and able to increase (cause to grow larger and larger) the harvest of our practical righteousness – God’s glory. We will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way! And all to the praise of God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Paul believes that abounding practical righteousness is possible in this age.

  • Augustine’s Description: Able Not to Sin

So, Let’s get our bearings about where we find ourselves in God’s great work to redeem a people for His own possession. Where are we in this drama? I believe it was bishop Augustine of Hippo (354-430) who described what he saw in Scripture as the four categories of human ability that correspond to the four conditions of Man’s nature. The first condition of Mankind that we find described in the Scriptures is in Genesis and it is the original condition given at creation. We see that God created all things very good. He created Adam and Eve innocent and righteous and without sin before God in the Garden. But what we also find is that in this original condition Man was able to sin and we see that born out in the fact that they actually did sin by eating the forbidden fruit.

The second condition of Man that we see described in so much of the rest of the Scriptures is the condition that resulted from Adam’s first sin. Mankind fell from original righteousness, became guilty and sinful. So that Genesis 6:5 could say that every intention of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually.

And the ability of Man in this condition is described in very bleak terms throughout the Scriptures. For example 1 Corinthians 2:14,

The natural person [natural man in fallen Adam] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Those words ‘not able’ are of extreme importance. The condition of man after the fall is one of total inability to embrace the things of God – not able. So Augustine described this condition as being not able not to sin.

This does mean that mankind is as practically sinful as they could possibly be, but that there is a pervasive sinfulness such that the natural man is cut off from the life of God and so, is sinful in every part of his being – his mind and will and affections are all in sin and darkness. And so there is an inability: he is not able not to sin.

But the third condition is the condition of a new creation, with Christ as the first fruits and fountainhead. In this condition, Augustine describes mankind as able not to sin. And doesn’t this sound very much like what Paul has described here in 2 Corinthians? If you are in Christ you are able not to sin! You are able to do righteously! We have been born again with new spiritual life and able not to sin.

The fourth condition Augustine describes as not able to sin. This final condition the Scriptures often describe as glorification, which is yet future. There is coming a time when we will not only be able to do righteously but where we will no longer have the ability to stumble and fall. Listen for example to 1 John 3:2-3,

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Our future hope is not only that we will be able to do righteousness, but that we be confirmed in righteousness and like God because we shall see Him as He is.

So let’s be clear about Paul’s expectation for practical godliness in this life: God is able to make ALL grace abound to you, so that having ALL sufficiency in ALL things at ALL times, you may ABOUND in EVERY good work.

The point this morning is Don’t cop out! You are able not to sin. You are able to abound in righteousness! To say otherwise is to deny the Scriptures and the power of God through Christ as Paul clearly explains in these verses. It is to act in faithlessness and to diminish and disregard what we already have in Christ.

What are your expectations for the harvest of righteousness in your life? Are they biblical expectations?

  • Paul to Titus

We see Paul’s expectations born out in his words to Titus. What is Paul’s expectation for the harvest of righteousness when talking to Titus? Surely Paul will moderate his language when speaking personally to his friend and disciple, Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

There is a consistent exception in the New Testament that believers in Jesus Christ can live lives of godliness in this present age. In fact, it is the evidence that you are in Christ – joined to Another. It is the grace of God that brings salvation and that trains us to live those lives. Don’t make faithless excuses and resign yourself to famine and dry ground, believing that an abundant harvest of God’s glory coming from practical righteousness and godliness in this age is for some other super-saint. No, it is the birthright of every believer in Jesus Christ. God is able to make ALL grace abound to you so that having ALL sufficiency in ALL things at ALL times, you may ABOUND in EVERY good work.

In this study, we considered the biblical expectation for the harvest of righteousness.
In the weeks ahead we will consider the substance of this righteousness, the goal of this righteousness, and finally the means by which this harvest of righteousness will be increased in our lives.