2 Corinthians 9:1-15
The expectation, substance, goal, and means of practical godliness – Part 2: the Substance
- The Outline of Our Study
Last time we considered
- the biblical expectation of this harvest of righteousness in our lives now from 2 Corinthians 9. Should we really expect to live righteous lives in this age? Paul says yes!
this time we continue considering
- the substance of this righteousness that will be harvested as described by Paul. In other words what godliness is and what it is not. What does godliness consist of?
In the studies ahead we will consider…
- the great goal of this harvest of righteousness. Why do we even care to increase the harvest of our own and other’s righteousness?
- 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 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!
So the question before us this morning is this: what are the acts of righteousness that we should expect to abound in the church, which God is able to increase? What is the godliness we are to sow and what isn’t it? I think this is an important line of inquiry because we are prone to set our sights on too low a target. What should we expect to see in this age abounding in the church that Jesus bought with His own blood?
- What Godliness is NOT:
First let’s look at this passage and examine what Paul does not classify as a part of this righteousness and so will not produce the harvest of righteousness. What Godliness is not.
- Godliness is NOT Empty Words and Promises – v. 3-5
2 Corinthians 9:3-5But 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.
It is apparent that the Corinthians had promised to bless their brothers and sisters in need. They had said they would be ready. They had appeared ready and eager and excited to contribute to this need. But Paul does not consider mere exited words and promises to be the harvest of righteousness. Promises without follow-through are empty words – no matter how passionately they are said.
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?”
Repentance and doing the will of God consists in far more than mere words. The harvest of righteousness that Paul fully expects to see an increase and abound in the church is a harvest of far more than passionate words and affirmations and promises.
Illustration: on the wedding day, the bride and groom make many promises and there is great joy and celebration at their union, but if those promises have no connection to their future commitment to one another and faithfulness to one another and labor for one another that wedding celebration is proved to be empty. Promises that are not kept are the only breeze coming out of the mouth and then they totally disappear. It is the followthrough that demonstrates the character of the promiser.
How often do we hear about the needfulness of seeking Christ every day in Scriptures and of constant prayer and of loving one another as Christ loved us, and of boldly reaching the lost, and we say ‘amen!’ to all theses … but we turn around fail to do what we say?
Godliness is NOT empty words and promises.
- Godliness is NOT Unwilling – v. 5
Again consider verse 5. 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.
So, Paul is not only concerned with the money (gift); he is also concerned about the way it is given. It is plain that Paul is not interested in unwilling action. Even as action is required (words and promises without action are empty and useless), but the action itself must be of a certain kind. Paul does not want the Corinthians to keep their word because of external pressure against their will, against their desire – by exaction (by demanding or forcing).
He wants it to be willing.
And this is unpacked by two other descriptions in verse 7:
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion…
Acts of righteousness are not first of all merely words without action, but it is also not unwilling, reluctant, or forced action either. Paul’s aim is not to see the offering plates full by hook or by crook – by any means possible – manipulation, threats, deceit are all out.
We need to recognize that Paul does have an office of authority in the church, authority that he desires to use for building up and not tearing down (10:8 and 13:10). But Paul longs for the Corinthians to act not because of they are forced to against their will or with reluctance.
Illustration: would any wife be pleased and feel loved if her husbands was moved to spend time with her only
- By a sense of duty (I promised, and I am a man of my word, so I will spend time with you.)
- in order to get something in return (here’s the deal wife, I will spend half an hour a day with you if you let me go on that fishing trip)
- in order to avoid punishment (I fear what you will do to me in my sleep if I do not spend time with you) –
None of these are love and no woman would feel cherished or honored.Motivation matters. It matters what moves us.
Godliness is NOT empty words
Godliness is NOT unwilling.
So, if that is what godliness isn’t then what is it that Paul longs to see and that he believes God is able to give in the church?
- Marks of Godliness:
- Willingness, Zeal, Joy, and Submission from the heart v. 2, 5, & 7
First, to state what we have seen positively: Paul desires to see a willingness to do the will of God. Or as he says in verse 2 a readiness to do the good they promised. Or perhaps more clarifying is the other word he uses in verse 2 to describe the same thing: their zeal. That is enthusiasm and excitement to do this good. We should also notice the word in verse 7: cheerfulness. So the righteousness that Paul is expecting in the church is people willing and ready, zealous and cheerful to do the will of God – to do good works pleasing to Him.
And notice that Paul centers this practical righteousness in the heart – motivation matters. Verse 7,
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart…
a heart willing and ready.
a heart excited and enthusiastic.
a heart cheerful and joyful to do the will of God.
If we are unwilling, uninterested, begrudging, or cheerless in the good God would have us do we have missed the mark. This will not produce the harvest of righteousness that Paul longs to see an increase because this is not righteousness.
And remember that Paul expects that hearts of willingness and zeal and cheerfulness will multiply in the church. He is not thinking, like many of us might be tempted to think – “ah, yes, that is the goal, but we will never actually resemble it until glory.” No. As we saw last time, Paul is confident that a multiplying of real, genuine, practical righteousness is possible in the church in this age.
- Submission v.13
There is a way Paul talks about this in verse 13 that I think is important, By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ…
Notice that Paul describes their willing, zealous, cheerful generosity as submission that comes your confession of the gospel of Christ.
We live in a time and culture where submission is seen or heard almost entirely as a negative thing. The air we breathe is the air of personal autonomy, self-governance, personal rights, and freedom and liberation. The idea that one person or a group of people would be in submission to Another strikes us as inherently negative. And yet Paul describes practical righteousness in terms of submission (in Romans he describes us as slaves). Again, not a forced, begrudging, unwilling, cheerless submission, like a dog underfoot, but a willing, joyful, zealous submission to the will of God.
As we saw in chapter 8 what comes first is the giving of ourselves to God and from that came a giving of ourselves for the good of others (8:5).
There is no godliness where there is no free, cheerful, zealous submission to God, a willing and joyful yielding to Him and His will and an enthusiastic engagement in the things He loves.
Godliness requires that…
our good works flow from a heart willing and ready to do the will of God.
our good works flow from a heart excited and enthusiastic to do the will of God.
our good works flow from a heart cheerful and joyful to do the will of God.
our good works flow from a heart freely submitted to God and to His will.
Truly we have here a description of what was required in that great foundational command in the Law: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. True righteousness is to love God with all that we are and then to be zealous in loving what He loves: to love our neighbor as ourself.
If you have been listening, you may be thinking that an awful lot of our actions will be burned away when we stand before the Lord on the great and awesome Day (2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15). But Paul is confident that this need not be the case. Paul is confident that God is able to multiply our practical righteousness in this age.
We can grow to be more willing, more zealous, more joyful, more submitted to God and and His will.
- Godliness only issues from the Gospel of Christ
- Only Two Kinds of People
Now, of course we must admit that apart from a gracious work of God in our hearts none us would ever, could ever meet such a standard. And yet Paul says God is able. Let’s thing through this. We know that the heart of every person, naturally, in Adam, is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9)? As Paul argues in Romans 3:9-12,
Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Because of the Fall of our first parents all mankind is sold under sin. This means that at the root, human beings do not from the heart willingly and readily, zealously, and cheerfully submit to God – indeed natural man cannot according to Romans 8:7-8,
…the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
This is very important. What Paul says here is that there are fundamentally only two kinds of people. Those who do not, indeed by nature cannot, submit to God’s law, those in the flesh who are hostile to God and who do not belong to Christ. And those who do submit joyfully and freely to God, belong to Him, are in His Spirit and have the Spirit dwelling in them. Either you are a purely natural person descended from Adam and you do not have the Spirit and thus your heart condition is not submitted to Christ or you are one who has been in Adam but have been born again of spiritual seed and have the Spirit who is leading you to freely submit to God from the heart.
- A Spiritual Sense of Christ
So, let’s nail down here in our minds where this heart felt, willing, joyful, submission, which Paul is convinced can multiply in the church in this age, comes from. Well, we can certainly say that it comes from God; He is the one who is able to make this multiply in our hearts. But we can say further that it comes from the Spirit of God as we just heard in Romans and as we saw so clearly in 2 Corinthians 3:2 – it is the Spirit who gives life.
But how does He do it. How does he multiply this heart felt, willing, joyful, submission in us?
In this passage Paul again explains, almost in passing, that their submissions comes from their confession of the gospel of Christ. So it is their confession – their acknowledging the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ that produces heart felt submission – godliness.
Certainly, there is such a thing as empty words and promises and empty professions of faith as we have seen. Certainly there is a kind of confession of the gospel which produce nothing because it is not a true confession, it’s breeze and nothing more. – as James says, ‘faith’ without works is dead faith – empty, false, lifeless faith.
But what Paul is describing here is a living faith, a true confession of the gospel, an acknowledgement of the good news which is more than empty words. The kind of confession that produces a willing, zealous, joyful, freely submitted heart.
In other words, it is when someone actually sees, understands, and is thrilled with the glory of God seen in Jesus Christ (it is when some one has that kind of confession/acknowledgement), that the result will be a joyful entrusting of one’s self to Him – godliness.
Recall 2 Corinthians 4:3-6,
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Paul is convinced that God, by the work of His Spirit, has shone in the hearts of the Corinthians to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Their hearts have been illuminated. The eyes of their hearts have been granted to see and adore the glory of God as they behold the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here in lies the true substance of godliness.
What is godliness? What is the righteousness acceptable to God? What does it consist of?
Godliness is to be moved by a love for God, a joy in God, a satisfaction in God, a delight in God, an entrust of ourselves to God so that we live acting in free and willing submission to Him.
And this can only arise in our hearts from a God-given acknowledgement of Christ in the gospel. It does not arise from any other source.
There must be a spiritual sense of Christ. Spiritual tastebuds to taste and spiritual eyes to see that He is good. A sense like 2 Corinthians 2:16 says, Christ is the fragrance from life to life only to those who are being saved – you need the spiritual ability to smell Him as life! Apart from a spiritual sense of the glory (beauty, majesty, holiness, grace, wisdom) of God displayed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ there is no godliness.
Willing, joyful, zealous submission to God requires spiritual eyes to behold the glory of Christ.
1 Timothy 3:16
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
Godliness is intimately connected to (finds its life source in) our apprehension (grasp) of the gospel. Apart from the Person and work of Christ adored in our hearts, there is no godliness to be found.
But Paul is confident, that in the New Covenant people of God at Corinth, the glory of Christ had been seen and He had been acknowledged – Christ was the fragrance from life to life for them. They have beheld the glory of the Lord by the inner working of the Holy Spirit and their hearts have been changed to freely and joyfully and zealously submit to God and His will and so as Paul said to the Romans 6:22
…now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves [I add from 2 Cor 9 – freely, cheerfully, submitted slaves] of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
- Do we Love Christ?
We have seen that really only those actions that flow from a heart joyfully, zealously, willingly submitted to God hit the mark of righteousness. Practical godliness is not empty words. Practical godliness is not just a decision to give money, or to give our time or talent. It is not external rule following. Motivation matters. It is a heart posture toward God. Righteousness requires that we have a certain heart orientation toward God. Godliness is a matter of the heart, which must be illumined by the Spirit to behold the beauty of the risen Lord – a heart moved by a love for Christ’s glory.
- Thomas Vincent, 17th century pastor:
“The life of the Christian consists very much in our love to Christ. Without love to Christ, we are as much without spiritual life as a carcass, when the soul is fled from it, is without natural life. Faith without love to Christ is a dead faith, and a Christian without love to Christ is a dead Christian, dead in sins and trespasses. Without love to Christ we may have the name of Christians, but we are wholly without the nature. We may have the form of godliness, but are wholly without the power… ‘Give Me thy love’ is the language of Christ to all His disciples.”
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834 – 1892, died at the age of 57)
“If you cannot say, Jesus is precious to me, I do not care to what church you belong or what creed you are ready to die for. You do not know the truth of God unless the person of Christ is dear to you.” And,”I had rather be blind and deaf and dumb and lose my taste and smell, than not love Christ. To be unable to appreciate him is the worst of disabilities, the most serious of calamities. It is not the loss of a single spiritual faculty, but it proves [demonstrates] the death of the soul.” “Give us a church that loves Jesus Christ much. You will have mighty prayer meetings; you will have a holy membership; you will have liberal giving to the cause of Christ; you will have hearty praising of his name; you will have careful walking before the world; you will have earnest endeavors for the conversion of sinners. Missions at home and abroad will be set on foot when love is fervent. When the heart is right, everything is likely to be right; but when the heart goes wrong, oh, what a fatal thing it is!”Let us all be examining ourselves if we see the substance of godliness in our own lives.