2 Corinthians 9:1-15
A Harvest of Righteousness:
the expectation, substance, goal, and means
of practical godliness
Part 4: the Means
Paul is writing to the Corinthian church and in this portion of the letter Paul is encouraging them to contribute to the needs of the saints in Jerusalem as they has promised to do. Paul wants to see a harvest of righteousness abound in the church.
Four weeks ago we considered
- the biblical expectation of the harvest of righteousness in our lives now from 2 Corinthians 9. Should we really expect to live righteous lives that result in glory to God in this age? Paul says yes!
2 Corinthians 9:8 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.
Three weeks ago we considered
- the substance of this harvest of righteousness as described by Paul. In other words what godliness is and what it is not. Q:What does godliness consist of? A: A heart full of zeal and eagerness and joy and submission and love for God and His will flowing out in practical good works.
Two weeks ago we considered
- 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 answer was God’s glory. His glory is reaped when we sow much of righteousness, because it is all from Him and through Him and too Him.
This week we will consider
- the means by which this harvest of righteousness is increased. How do we think about what it takes to grow in godliness and as a result see the harvest of our righteousness, which is glory to God, increase and abound?
Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 9:10-15
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!
The Farming Picture
Last time we were in this text together we focused on the controlling picture of this section: the Harvest of Righteousness. And we spent time trying to understand the different pieces of that controlling picture.
The three components we saw were 1. Seed, 2. Sowing the Seed, 3. Reaping the Harvest.
- We saw that seed is that which is God given. 9:10 “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing.”
- We also saw that the seed that God gives are things like joy (8:1) and earnest care (8:16) and sufficiency for every good work (9:8). The thing that God supplies to believers for sowing is a heart willing and ready, excited and enthusiastic, cheerful and joyful, and freely submitted to God and to His will – that is what God gives and without this heart there is no genuine godliness.
- We also saw that this kind of heart, this kind of seed, comes from our confession of the gospel of Christ. We will come back to this idea in just a moment.
2. Planting the Seed
- And in the analogy we are to sow that seed in practical acts of righteousness.
- This is when a joyful heart overflows in acts of abundant generosity, for example.
3. The Harvest
- And finally, the harvest is when God receives all the glory in the church for our practical acts of righteousness.
- What is reaped is thanksgiving to God.
So that is the picture.No Secrets or Magic Potions
As I said, I want to come back and focus on where this heart of joy and freedom and zeal comes from – where does the seed for sowing come from? It’s is clear that God gives it, but how does God give it to us?
There are many wrong ideas about were this heart of joy and freedom and zeal comes from. For example:
- Some think freedom will be attained by performing sacred religious rituals. They read their bibles and attend church and take communion, for example, because they are convinced that simply going through the rituals or motions of religion will secure freedom from guilt and gain God’s smiles.
- Others think there is some secret knowledge hidden beneath the plain reading of the text of the Bible that only the ultra wise can discover. They are always in search of that secret knowledge everywhere except in the plain reading of the Word of God. They are looking for the “deep” meaning.
- Many people are tempted to think that a joyful and free and zealous Christian life is attained by finding God’s secret will for their individual life. They are consumed with things like finding the right school to attend, discovering the exact profession God wants them to purse, finding that right person God wants them to marry, or discovering the right calling God wants them to fulfill – they are not at peace until they are convinced they know God’s secret will.
- Others believe compiling tips and tactics for mastering parenting or marriage or interacting in the workplace, will do the trick and bring joy. ‘If only I could learn the skills in dealing with my spouse or children or boss or friends then I would be at peace.’ Oh, how the Christian book stores are full of tips and tactics!
- There are those who think that getting involved in ministry tasks and staying busy in the church life will bring them fulfillment and joy. Since God has fashioned each one in the body of Christ with unique gifts then it followed, they are convinced, that until you are busily doing what God has designed you for you will be unfulfilled. And so engagement in serve is the key to joy they think.
- Many others are convinced that the joyful Christian life springs from relationships with other believers. The missing component and the reason so many are dry and without passion for the Lord, they think, is because they do not have the proper relational priority. For these, the essential means of increasing joy and zeal for the things of the Lord is found in healthy friendships and time with other believers.
Let me be clear: none of the things I just mentioned are able, none of them have the power in themselves, to be the means by which we will grow in joy and freedom and zeal for the things of the Lord. True growth in godliness has a very specific source and it is not rituals, its not hidden or secret, it doesn’t come from skillful living, it doesn’t come from what we do or accomplish, nor even does it spring from other believers, as important as those relationships are – they cannot be the source.The Fountainhead of All Godliness
In verse 13 Paul states simply what he unpacks so fully elsewhere, that our submission (submission being a summary of that heart posture toward God, which is the essence of godliness: a heart full of zeal and eagerness and joy and love for God and His will) comes from our confession of the gospel of Christ. Do you see it?
Vs 13 – they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ,
So, hear this: it is our confession – our acknowledging and embracing and consenting and entrusting ourselves to the gospel, that glorious announcement about Jesus Christ’s victory over sin and death and His rule and reign, that produces heart’s of joy in the Lord and freedom in Christ and zeal for the things of God. That is the source.
Oh, how important this is! Oh, it is so important that we see that the wellspring of our spiritual vitality is our grasp of the glorious Person and work of Jesus.
This is consistent with what Paul said in chapter 3 of second Corinthians. In verse 18 he said that it is as we are beholding His glory – the glory, the excellencies, the wonders of the Lord Jesus that we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another.
Growth in zeal and joy and freedom and submission as a Christian happens only as we more and more comprehend the glory of Jesus the Christ. This is where God transforms our hearts: at the foot of the cross. And this is how God transforms our hearts: by granting us to see ever more clearly and to savor ever more sweetly the glories of Jesus. Our godliness is found in knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. Here is the great foundational pursuit of all the Christian life: to know Christ. To know His power, wisdom and love…
Now, perhaps you are not convinced. You think, there must be something more. I mean, does this mean we do not need to attend church or serve in the church or look for God’s will or desire to live wisely or pursue relationships and help the needy?
In just a moment we will tackle those questions, but first I want to make sure we are convinced from Scripture that the fountainhead of all godliness is our seeing and savoring of Christ Jesus.
Walking By Faith
Allow me to remind you of Paul’s teaching to the Colossians church, where he laid the same critical foundation that he laid in 2 Corinthians.
Consider Colossians 2:6-7,
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Here Paul reminds the Colossians believers of what they were taught because they were being tempted to abandon the source and follow after vain, empty philosophies and human traditions.
So, Paul lays the foundation again for them: as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.
The Christian walk, or way of life is not something detached or disconnected to conversation. As you received Christ, so walk in Him, rooted (that is: having your roots sunk deep) and built up in Him (that is: finding your strength in Him) and established in the faith (that is: having your trust fixed immovably upon Christ). And Paul sees this kind of Christian walk, which is simply the continuation of how we received Christ, he see this as the source of thanksgiving – abundant thanksgiving.
You want to grow to abound in thanksgiving? Sink your roots deeply into Christ and be nourished by His glory that He has displayed in the gospel. Be strengthened by His perfect work. Entrust yourself to His powerful, wise, and gracious hands. Exchange all the treasures of the world and fix your hope on Him. That’s how you walk as a Christian. That’s Colossians 2.
Consider Colossians 3:2-3 where Paul continues describing the source and fountainhead of our godliness,
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
So, in this instruction Paul directs us to seek and to set our minds on things above. Now we might be tempted to think, ‘well, that’s kind of vague… set our minds on streets of gold and fruit trees and angelic beings?’ No.
Listen to what Paul says. He says, don’t set your mind on things that are on the earth but on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. In other words, where Christ is ruling and reigning as victor over sin and death, as the triumphant second Adam, as the long promised Victorious King descended from David, as the Faithful High Priest over the house of God interceding for us, as the One who has left His Word and Spirit with us, as the One who is gathering people out of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. Set your mind on those things, because you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Oh, set your heart upon these things! Yes, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly!
And in the rest of Colossians 3 Paul speaks about the expected result: a putting off of sin and a putting on of godliness. The source and fountainhead of that genuine godliness is our seeing and savoring of Jesus Christ.
The Christ of Christianity
Oh, brothers and sisters, there is an ocean of what Michael Horton calls ‘Christless Christianity.’ The trappings of the Christian religion without Christ as the throbbing heart and source – is all around us. I wonder if it is true of your own experience of the Christian life.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:6-9)
Too often we reduce the gospel message to the fact that Jesus and His work are the way to going to heaven. And so He becomes the means to some other treasure. But He is the treasure. He is the means and His is the treasure. Do we believe that all things are worth exchanging to know Him?
How do we grow? Learn of Christ. Set your hope upon Christ. Rejoice in Christ. Sink your roots deep and drink deeply of Him. Behold His glory on display in the Drama of Redemption. Abide in Him. That is how we bear much fruit.
Means of Grace
So allow me to circle back and address that practical question about what this means in our practice. Does this mean we don’t need the church? Or communion? Or to serve? Don’t need other Christians?
But unless we understand that Christ is the center, the Sun around which all the plants revolve, the source of life and joy and peace then all these other things have a tendency to ascend to a place they were never designed to be.
We need to examine the ways we often ignore Christ as we pursue godliness and get Him back in the center. Because all kinds of good things, good in there place, can slip into being what Paul Tripp calls our “Functional Savior.” We get our eyes and hearts off of Christ and, it happens with great subtlety, our hearts start clinging to that which was never intended to be the source of our joy and hope and zeal – and those good things become idols and false gospels and we do not grow.
- Take for example, bible reading, attendance at the Sunday gathering, and participation in communion. We all know these are good things, but why? – There is a way you can do these things without a thought for Christ. And there is a way do these things thinking that by doing them you are gaining God’s favor: so, you know reading your bible is what Christian are supposed to do so you do it to quiet your conscience. So, instead of reading your bible to behold the glory of Christ you dutifully and miserably read the bible thinking to gain what you already have in Christ, namely God’s approval. – Should we read the bible? YES! Because we need to behold Christ and to let His word dwell in us richly! We don’t read the Bible and go to church and participate in communion to get God on our side – we do those things to remind us that in Christ He is on our side! We do these things to behold the glories of Jesus – and be stirred in our affections again and again and the result is… spiritual growth and strength: joy, zeal, freedom.
- Take another example: for those who think that there is some secret knowledge hidden beneath the plain reading of the text of the Bible that only the ultra wise can discover, and that that deep knowledge is the key to the really triumphant Christian life – the tragic error here is that they are failing to see that in the plain reading of the Word of God Christ is held forth – it is His story from beginning to end. Those who turn from the plain reading of the Scriptures, don’t know it, but they are looking for Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
- What about those who are consumed with discovering God’s secret councils? I am convinced that this fixation on discovering the secret will of God for school or spouse or calling, at its root, is a fear that we might, by failing to discern things that God has not revealed in Word, lose out on some good thing. The fear is that we will ruin the good God had planned. But is this not a failure to see Christ as the treasure worth trading all to have? In Christ no good thing will be lost. Houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, lands… Seek first His kingdom, His rule and reign and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33). No good thing will be lost – fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).
- Consider also the Christian book stores packed with self-helps books. These books are full of tips and tactics but typically contain only a passing, obligatory mention of the Christ. Does this not betray a missed placed priority upon what we can accomplish apart from Christ? Why aren’t our bookshelves packed with books about the glory of Christ?
- And as for ministry involvement, yes, the Lord has gifted each one for serves in His body, but your labor for the kingdom is not the source of your life and joy and godliness your labor flows from the source, it is not the source. Christ is. No amount of service will satisfy the longings of your soul and unless your soul is satisfied in Christ your service will become a burden and return to you empty. And oh, how prone we are to define ourselves by what we do, rather than who we are in Christ.
- Finally, if we are looking to people, to horizontal relationships to secure increasing joy and freedom in our hearts, again we have failed to see the sufficiency of Christ as the wellspring and we will be disappointed again and again. People will fail you, but Christ will not. Yes, out of our hearts should flow love for one another, but again this must flow from the source. It is only as we sink our roots deeply into Christ that the result will be love for one another, love that bears with and suffers long, just as He has loved us. If you are not grounded in Christ you cannot love as He loved.
Beholding and embracing the glory of Christ is the source of our joy and zeal and satisfaction and from that flows love to each other and passionate labors for His kingdom. You get that wrong and you will dry up. Oh, that we His people would see Him as our great boast – He is all our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption! That we might treasure Him and understand that our joy truly is to know Him. Oh, that we might count all other things rubbish compared to knowing Him!
Nothing I’ve just said means we should not read our Bibles or gather together or celebrate the Lord’s table or serve His body or love His people – all of these are commanded. Its just that we need to understand clearly that the source of the Christian life and growth is Christ Himself in all His glory – and our spiritual capacities will only grow as we abide in Him.
Sow Much of Righteousness and so help others see Him
Allow me to draw you back to 2 Corinthians chapter 9. I want us to see that God has designed means to help us abide in Christ. Nothing said this morning means that we give up on body life or the kingdom mission, it simply means we need to see who is the great source and aim of body life and kingdom mission. All that goes on in the church is from Him, through Him, and to Him. And what we do here in the church is designed to help us abide in Him.
And this is exactly how God has designed our way of life to be.
I want to point you to just a few things described in this text that we all need to be about in the body of Christ, not so that we can gain God’s favor or so that we can find our hope in them, but so that we can help one another abide in Christ and set our minds on Him and entrust our souls to His strong hands.
What are the things that we should be doing so that Christ will be exalted in the hearts of each one here? The broad answer is this: sow bountifully of seed that you have been give.
Take that zeal and joy and freedom and submission you already have, produced by your love be faith in Christ, and sow it bountifully in deeds of righteousness. Show your brothers and sisters the power of the gospel at work in your heart.
What does that mean practically? Well, in 2 Corinthians we see that it meant being incredible generosity even in the midst of poverty.
Why would this help the church abide in Christ? Because the explanation for such extravagant and selfless love is that Christ is all we need. I can let the things of this world go because Christ is my treasure. And when that is displayed in tangible acts of righteousness Christ is exalted, Christ is put on display and His people are therefore strengthened.
There are ten-thousands ways we can and should sow bountifully the seeds of righteousness as our hearts are freed in Christ and the result will be a strengthening of Christ’s People when Christ receives the glory.
In this passage we see them sow the seed God gave through Christ by praying for one another, caring for one another, serving one another generously, encouraging one another with words of exhortation and reminder.
So let us fix our gaze upon Jesus and learn of Him and sink our roots deeply and be nourished by Him and then sow the seeds of the joy we have in Christ bountifully so that He might receive the glory and as a result His people might be strengthened.
Do we understand where growth comes from in the Christian life?
Is Christ the blazing center of our lives?