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.


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


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 power.

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 present.

But there is a third point in this compass of salvation.


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!”


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 do!”

“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 rich!


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.

2 ———, Sons and Daughters of God, 123.

Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.