From Riches to Rags (2 Corinthians 8:9)
My Papaw Lee played the lottery regularly. I’ve known a few folks who played the lottery when the jackpot got large, but not Papaw—he played at least weekly and he often played every day. Before Kentucky had a lottery, he had family in Ohio buy tickets and send them to him.
Honestly, Papaw played the lottery religiously—he asked us three boys to pray for him to win the big drawing. I was more than happy to pray for Papaw to win the lottery, for he promised to share his winnings for us. I had a long list of things I was going to buy: A really nice train set, a big TV for my room (I had a 13-inch color set back in the day), a trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and so much more. Papaw never won the lottery, so things never worked out for me—but I had a plan. I knew what I was going to do with the windfall that never came.
Honestly, you’ve thought about what you’d do if you won the lottery or Publisher’s Clearing House, haven’t you? Maybe you’ve dreamt of paying off your bills and living debt free. Maybe you’ve dreamt of quitting your job and traveling the world. Maybe you’ve dreamt of helping some family and friends who are struggling. Maybe you’ve dreamt of making a large contribution to the work of the church. Maybe you’ve dreamt of a bigger fishing boat or some sparkling jewelry or a new mink coat or whatever.
Can you imagine, therefore, someone who voluntarily gave up wealth and riches to become poor? Yeah, there are programs like Undercover Boss where someone wealthy—often a multimillionaire—takes on poverty for a short period of time.
But would those folks give up their luxurious lives altogether? Jesus did that. He had all the glories of heaven.
- He had glory with the Father before creation (Jn 17:5).
- He was in the very form of God (Phil 2:6).
Jesus had glory: the praise of the angels, no worry of hunger or exhaustion, no worry of homelessness, no worry of illness or death, and no worry of bearing all the sins of the world. However, he gave it all up to become poor by being born a lowly man: He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8).
In this morning’s passage, Paul wrote about why Jesus gave up the glories of heaven to become a man: “Jesus gave up everything so that you could gain everything.” Our passage this morning is only one verse, but it’s an important verse that teaches us much.
Scripture (2 Corinthians 8:9)
“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Corinthians knew Jesus’s demonstration of grace. His pre-existence, his humility in the Incarnation, and the mercy he showed wasn’t a secret. You know why it wasn’t a secret to the Corinthians? Because it’s the basis of the gospel!
Paul mentioned the “grace” of the Lord Jesus. Jesus, in other words, came to this earth to save those who could not save themselves. It’s not possible for man to save himself; therefore, man needed the generous gift of God for salvation.
“Though he was rich.”
Jesus had all the glory of Deity in heaven; he dwelt in that place where there is not a tear, not a death, not a pain, and not a sin.
“Yet for your sake he became poor.”
Jesus’s Incarnation was for the sake of the Corinthians, and it was for your sake. Throughout the Scriptures, you’re reminded that Jesus died for you. For example:
- Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal 1:4).
- “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2).
In order to offer himself for our sins, Jesus had to become “poor.” The Greek term for “poor” refers to “abject poverty;” the idea is that he was literally and extremely poor.
- The Creator of the Universe was born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough.
- Jesus himself said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9:58).
Jesus gave up everything to serve man. He left the glory of heaven with all his divine prerogatives to come to this earth and be spat upon and be rejected and be tempted and be crucified.
“You by his poverty might become rich.”
Through Jesus you have become rich. You have the forgiveness of all your sins. You have inner peace. You have the promise of victory over death. You have the promise of an eternity in heaven with the Father.
“Jesus gave up everything so that you could gain everything.” How does that truth impact your day to day life?
You need to understand your riches.
In other words, you need to take stock of just how rich Jesus has made you. God has given you all things in 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” (2 Cor 9:8).
- “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3).
- “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).
This week I want you to take time to contemplate very seriously the spiritual blessings you have in Christ. Paul provided a list of those blessings in Ephesians 1:3-14.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Eph 1:3-14).
Take a very careful look at that list. Ask yourself some questions about those blessings:
- How does being holy and blameless before God change the way you live?
- How does God’s love impact the way you love?
- How does God’s forgiveness give you hope to face tomorrow?
- How does your inheritance give you courage in the face of illness?
- How does the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in you help you live properly?
Oh, the riches you have in Jesus! Take time to look at the riches you have in Jesus Christ.
You need to understand how you can use your riches for others.
In the context of 2 Corinthians 8, Paul was urging the Corinthians to help needy saints facing a famine in Jerusalem, and the apostle used Jesus as an example of One who used his riches to benefit others. Notice the immediate context: The Macedonians “gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (2 Cor 8:3-4). Here’s the point Paul was making in this context: Jesus gave up his riches for you, and you need to give up your riches for your brethren.
God has always expected his people to use what they have to help others:
- Through Isaiah, God asked his people this about proper service to him: “Is [the service I want] not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Is 58:7).
- Jesus: “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matt 5:42).
- Paul: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).
This congregation helps those in need so well: You bring items for the pantry and for Arms of Hope, you show up at the Wheelhouse, you participate in the pillow ministry, and many of you serve in private ways behind the scenes. Yet, we must always be looking for ways to use the goods with which God has blessed us for the benefit of others.
You need to understand what you can give up for Jesus.
Jesus gave up all the glory of heaven and came to this earth to suffer and die for you—He paid a high price in his poverty.
What are you willing to give up for him? Yes, you’re to give up everything for him: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:33). What you have cannot get in the way of your service to Jesus; things don’t matter—your soul matters.
What do you need to renounce to be a disciple of Jesus?
- Do you need to renounce the movie on Friday night so you can give more to the work of the church?
- Do you need to renounce your favorite restaurant so you can help someone in need?
- Do you need to renounce your TV because what you watch leads you away from Jesus?
- Do you need to renounce your favorite order at Starbucks so you can help support a missionary sharing the message of Jesus?
There’s nothing wrong with the Friday night movie or eating out or TV or Starbucks. What makes them wrong is when they have a hold on your heart and you put them before Jesus. Never put anything in front of Jesus. Make him the center of your universe.
Is Jesus the center of your universe this? Do you need to come this morning and begin serving him?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.