2 Corinthians 8:9, NEB
I will always remember Monday morning worships at Vanderbilt University. The dean would remove his Hebrew Bible from the folds of his Geneva gown and, preaching from the Psalms, talk about the prodigal God: a God who is wasteful with His mercy. In this verse (2 Cor. 8:9), interjected in a practical discussion on Christian liberality, the apostle Paul, in four trenchant sentences, encompasses the generosity of God’s salvation.
I. THE WEALTH OF CHRIST: “HE WAS
RICH . . .”
This sentence points to the fact that Christian
religion does not start on earth; it starts in
heaven. It does not begin with the stable and
the manger; it begins at the throne of God. In
breathless tones of wonder, the apostle explains
that it is a God who came down to humanity.
Bethlehem and Calvary must be seen against
their proper background. Jesus was rich!
Is this remote theology, irrelevant in a world
of nuclear weapons, inflationary spirals, and
high technologies? No! It is the one faith realistic
enough and down-to-earth enough to make
an impact on the problems we face today. Let
us be clear that what we celebrate in church is
not the life and death of a religious genius who
taught wonderful lessons. What Paul bears witness
to is that Jesus Christ “was rich” but left it
all and sunk Himself into human flesh in order
to make us what He is Himself. So now, behind
our sufferings and tragedies, is the magnificent
availability of infinite grace to help us in times of
need. Live by it! Exult in it! Why? Because “he
[God] has means for the removal of every difficulty.”1
II. THE POVERTY OF CHRIST: “FOR YOUR
SAKE HE BECAME POOR . . .”
Look at the record of that life: born in a stable;
toiling at a carpenter’s bench; authoring no
books; never receiving the applause of listening
senates; knowing the human ache of weariness
and the disenchantment of ingratitude; a victim
of bigotry; buried in a borrowed grave. But at the
back of that humiliation, the splendor and glory
of God! That glory was His true home. There
He rightfully belonged. And now He has been
stripped of every atom of glory, every shred of
And, says Paul, still writing to us, it was
“for your sake.” This is the great principle: you can’t help others unless you get right alongside
them. Caring for others is always linked
to sacrifice. Their burdens, troubles, defeats,
and complications become your own. And it is
here that the Christian revelation breaks in with a
trumpet-toned “How much more God!” To help
this broken world, God came right alongside its
misery and frustration. “He was made sin for
us,” says Paul of Jesus in words that startle and
shock. “He became a curse for us.” Herein is
our hope in our deepest darkness: God is veritably
But there is a third point in this compass
III. OUR POVERTY APART FROM CHRIST:
“SO THAT THROUGH HIS POVERTY YOU
MIGHT BECOME RICH . . .”
This implies that, in ourselves, we are as
poor as beggars. Now, suppose by some unthinkable
calamity, this revelation of God in
Christ were suddenly taken out of your life.
Suppose it was finally demonstrated that Jesus’
teaching and the truth for which He died was
a lie. Could anything in this world compensate
for a loss so terrible? All the riches of human
intelligence, skill, and planning will not rescue
us from chaos unless God first meets man at
the level of his sin. Take away God’s mighty
act in Christ and what is left? Dust and ashes,
emptiness and regret. It was to save us from
this impoverishment that heaven stooped down
to earth at Bethlehem and Nazareth and Calvary
and the empty tomb. You know this grace of
Christ, cries Paul, and know and proved it, and
you know you are bankrupt without it!
“The whole treasury of heaven,” writes Ellen
G. White, “is open to those He seeks to save.
Having collected the riches of the universe, and
laid open the resources of infinite power,” He
says, “all these are for man.”2
Believe it! No
wonder a little girl repeating the twenty-third
psalm said it this way: “The Lord is my Shepherd,
that’s all I want!”
IV. OUR WEALTH IN UNION WITH CHRIST:
“SO THAT THROUGH HIS POVERTY YOU
MIGHT BECOME RICH . . .”
Can we fully grasp it—the fabulous wealth
that Christ holds out to us; the strength, healing,
and confident serenity He can bring to life?
What does it mean to find the Kingdom?
Jesus once drew a picture of it. A poor farm laborer was out plowing a field. His wages were
a mere pittance; the family in the cottage could
never make ends meet. And then one day, suddenly,
out in the field, this man’s plough struck
something—buried treasure! He dashed home
and, babbling almost incoherently, cried, “It has
happened! Our troubles are over; we are rich
beyond our dreams!” Something of that order,
said Jesus, is what it means to find the Kingdom.
Do we really believe it? Mother Teresa once
had only five shillings to build a new orphanage.
She was scoffed at. She responded: “With
five shillings Teresa can do nothing; but with five
shillings and God, there is nothing Teresa cannot
“All things are yours in Christ,” cries Paul.
Forgiveness is yours, hope and peace and
courage are yours, the very power in which
Jesus and the apostles lived is yours. Through
the grace of Jesus, there is no trial you can’t
meet like a conqueror, no overpowering perplexity
you can’t master in the here and now,
no piercing thorns you can’t wear as a kingly
crown. Thank God with all your heart for Him
who, though He was rich, for your sake became
poor, that through His poverty you might become
So Paul’s words have taken us around the
four points of the compass of our faith. In the
plainest terms, he reminds the Corinthians and
us that Christ did this colossal, overwhelmingly
generous thing for humanity. Will you not do a
very minor thing for Him?
It is this practical challenge that matters for
us all. There is something God is asking each
of us to do for Him, some gift we have been
holding back, some sacrifice we are disinclined
to make, some personal interest we will not surrender.
But we know the stupendous generosity
of God, the heights and depths of Christ’s self-sacrificing
grace. And, knowing it, can we hold
back? Shall we not lay our tithes, offerings, and
ourselves at Jesus’ feet?
1 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, 481.
———, Sons and Daughters of God, 123.
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for
religious studies at Griggs University.