For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. —2 Corinthians 8:9
Today I’m preaching on money. I apologize – not for preaching on money, but for preaching on money so rarely. Jesus preached about money a lot. So I apologize for neglecting a topic that was highly important to him.
It’s a good time to preach about money, because Immanuel Church is not in financial trouble. We have no denominational safety net under us. We depend on the giving of our own members. But we are not in crisis. As we wind up 2011, we do have a goal. Our goal is to raise $22,500 in extra giving, above and beyond our usual giving, to finance Sean Brown as our first church planter-in-residence. We are an Acts 29 church. That means we’re a gospel-centered church planting more gospel-centered churches for revival in the South. That’s our mission. And Sean will be launching South City Church here in Nashville in 2012. The church planter-in-residence program will help Sean ramp up for his launch. We’re raising $22,500 to support Sean as our church-planter in residence, and I’m sure every one of us will want to help. Any time in the month of December, you can put your check in the offering, with “Church Planter-in-Residence” on the memo line.
As I preach about money today, you might be expecting me to say that we Christians should tithe. And yes, we should tithe – that is, give ten percent of our gross income. Why do I say that? Because Jesus said it. He said to the Pharisees, “You are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law – justice, mercy and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things” (Matthew 23:23, NLT). To Jesus, tithing isn’t a radical commitment; it’s basic. It’s Christianity 101. And then we go from there.
How does the gospel motivate us to obey what Jesus said? Look at our passage. Paul is raising money. How does he move people to get involved? Does he tell sob stories about human need? Does he lay a guilt trip on them about how much they have? No. He displays the gospel: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2 Corinthians 8:9 is one of the Bible’s best verses on the grace of God. If you want a clear definition of grace, it’s here. What is grace? Grace is self-giving for the sake of others. The Son of God gave of himself for our sake. That is his grace. But why? Why did the Son of God empty himself to enrich us? It is a clear indicator that his grace is getting into our hearts when we find ourselves saying, “He loves me. He really does. And I don’t know why.” That’s when grace is moving from a mere concept to a living power. The grace of God changes us. Some people talk a lot about grace, but they use it as an excuse not to change. But the whole point of this verse is that the grace of God makes us gracious. The generosity of God makes us generous. The sacrifices of God make us sacrificial. Looking at this verse, we start getting the hang of how God Almighty in heaven thinks. He thinks, “How can I be gracious? How can I give myself away? It will cost me. But that’s what makes it beautiful. So, how can I display generosity?” Ultimate reality out there is like that. And who God is changes who we are. How God thinks changes how we think. So, how are you and I going to be like God as we wind up 2011 and recalibrate our lives for 2012? Let’s each one of us think about that and decide. Our city needs to see who God really is, how kind he really is. God in heaven above looked down on us and said, “This is going to be expensive. And I’m all in.” That’s what our money is for. Money is for displaying the generosity of Jesus Christ. Look at what this verse says:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
Paul is asking this church in Greece for money toward disaster relief back in Judea. The Christians there were in desperate times, and Paul was collecting money for them. What Paul understands is that God’s grace above creates a culture of grace here below. Paul even calls Christian giving “the grace of God” in verses 1, 4, 6 and 7. It’s a new way to see our giving. We might feel that we are being heroic in giving. And it is a noble thing to do. But the gospel teaches us to see our giving as a grace, a privilege. God is giving us the privilege of displaying the grace of Jesus in a tightfisted world.
The gospel is a different way to thinking about money and budgeting and giving. The fact is, our budgets are telling Christ how we feel about him. We’re saying one of two things. Either “Me first. I take for myself first, and then I give to Christ from what’s left over,” or “Christ first. I give him my first and my best, and I live on what’s left over.” If your budget says “Me first,” do you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? He didn’t say “Me first.” What if he had? Now he wants to make us generous, like him. How do we get there and grow there” We go back to the gospel:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
Paul is not begging. He is not twisting arms. He is not telling a tear-jerker story. No gimmicks. Just the gospel: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He is appealing to what we ourselves already know, both in concept and in experience. What do we know about the grace of Christ?
though he was rich
What is Paul talking about? He’s talking about Christmas. He’s talking about the eternal God coming down and entering time. He’s talking about God the Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, being born to Mary in Bethlehem as her little baby. He’s talking about the richest person in the universe becoming poor by becoming one of us.
How was the Son of God rich? Throughout eternity past, for ages upon ages, the Son lived with the Father in all the glory of full deity. It was Christ through whom God created the universe (Colossians 1:16). Jesus prayed here on earth, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). In his personal wealth as God the Son, he never knew suffering, nor would he ever have to, because nuclear powered joy was his by right. He was rich in every way, he was entitled to his wealth, and there was no one who could take it away from him or diminish it or blame him for holding onto it. He who created all things owned all things. Our ownership of our very few things is a legal fiction, a cultural construct, and very temporary. Our ownership of our things is valid. God said, “You shall not steal,” authorizing human ownership. But it is more deeply true that whatever we own he owns. When he gives us things, he doesn’t give them away. He loans them to us for his purposes. And in eternity past, he could look around and see written on every star above, every fleck of gold in the earth beneath, every beam of light around, not “Made in China” but “Made in my heart, for the display of my glory.” In his infinite wealth, he could and did receive the homage of the mighty angels. We can only imagine the holy celebrations in his court as ranks of angels would come to bow before him and love him and serve him and bring him their tribute and pass in review before his throne. And experiencing all this, deep in his heart and mind would be the happy thought, “I am the only Son of the Father, and he is well pleased with me.” He was rich. When he was born in Bethlehem, it was not because he needed anything – certainly not from us.
yet for your sake he became poor
The King chose to become a beggar. The Lord of hosts chose to become a grunt private in his own army, fighting with the same standard-issue equipment as all the other guys. That is the grace at heart of this universe we live in. That grace is what history is all about. That’s surprising enough. We would have thought the deepest truth about this world was dark and cynical. But the deepest story, deeper than every other, is the grace of God coming down for our sake. In this phrase Paul is emphasizing the words “for your sake.” When God became man 2000 years ago, he did it for us. He was thinking of us. He gave up his privileged life for us. Do not think that God pursues his own glory in a way that disregards you; God pursues his own glory by emphasizing you.
But how did he become poor? In what sense did he become poor? He impoverished himself by coming down to our level. Planet Earth is the skid row of the universe. And the Son of God did not stand off at a distance and say, “It’s not my problem.” He said, “It is their fault, but I’m taking it on as my responsibility.” So he came down and lived at the level of our poverty, born as a baby, as a mortal man. He had the choice to be rich or poor. We wonder which way our lives are going to go. But he had a choice. And he chose to become poor. God is a downwardly mobile person – for our sake. That is what we celebrate at Christmas.
Here is a question for every one of us. If our King chose to become poor for us, then, for us, when is enough enough? At what point do you and I say, “I don’t need more. As I increase from this point on, I will give the rest away”? People are spending billions of dollars to get us asking other questions, like “How can I pad my life still further? How can I get more and more and more?” It gets beaten into our heads every day that there should be no end, no simplicity, no self-limitation. But the gospel of grace gets us thinking in a new way: “I have enough. I’m not poor, like him. He has given me so much, I’m drawing the line here, and all additional income I will give back to him.” Is it Christian to embellish our lifestyles endlessly? People who do not know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ have no incentive to stop. This life is all they have, and then they go to hell. But we have the grace of Jesus forever. We have a reason to say, “If he, though rich, became poor, why do I need to get richer and richer?”
It seems that we American Christians are not asking this question. In 1933, at the depth of the Great Depression, per capita giving in our country was around 3%. By 2004, our incomes were over 550 percent higher after taxes and inflation, but Protestant giving was around 2.5%. And the striking thing to me about that 1933 statistic is this. Not only was it the Great Depression, it was also the Great Exile. It was during those hard times that Bible-denying Liberalism was hijacking the churches and denominations and seminaries that had been sacrificially built up during the nineteenth century, and the Bible-believing Christians were getting shoved out. It was during those Depression years that Christians in this country had to start over, building new churches and seminaries and so forth. And they did it, because they knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Can’t we advance the cause of Christ today, in these economic hard times too?
so that you by his poverty might become rich
A recent issue of TIME magazine had this cover story: “Does God want you to be rich? Yes, say some churches. Others call it heresy. The debate over the new gospel of wealth.” There are churches out there preaching that God rewards faith with money and health and ease. So, what about this question on the cover of TIME magazine? “Does God want you to be rich?” We see the answer here in our verse. Yes, God wants to you to be rich. God wants everybody to get rich. But with money? God in heaven looks down on us and asks, “Don’t you Americans understand real wealth? Don’t you know what a hassle money is? My dear children to whom I give lots of money, wealthy Christians – don’t you know what a burden that is? Everybody’s reaching into their pockets. They have to wonder who to trust. They get sued. Is that what you want? I have blessed you with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places. I know wealth, and that’s wealth. And it cost me to give it to you.” True wealth is having Jesus, being like Jesus, and serving Jesus. God wants to make us rich like that.
True wealth is owning his love in our hearts forever. Think of it this way. Suppose someone marries you for your money – not for you but for your money. And the moment they find out they can’t get their hands on the money, they cool off toward you. Wouldn’t you feel used and betrayed? Wouldn’t you say, “This person has no idea the love I was offering”? But isn’t that exactly what the so-called Prosperity Gospel would get us doing with God? God throws in some fringe benefits, but what he rejoices to give is himself, and on terms of grace. That is wealth. And that’s the wealth we can spread by spreading the gospel here in this skid row world of broken dreams.
Here at Immanuel Church, we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. So let’s look at him and ask ourselves, “Do I need to change how I use my money and things? Do I need to budget for the display of his grace?” You can begin today to put him first. And how do you know how much to give? Start your giving at 10%. Beyond that, how far should you go? Here’s one way to look at it, and it’s very personal. As you do the math, keep going up until you start to feel happy. Jesus said it’s happier to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). We all know the joy of giving big. There’s something about it that’s thrilling. The Bible says God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). The word translated “cheerful” comes over into English as the word “hilarious.” You know you’re starting to give with gospel grace when you start to smile and even giggle as you’re writing out the check and you’re thinking, “This is fun. What a thrill to give this much away for the sake of Christ!” Then you know that you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. You’re experiencing the joy of Christ himself.
If you don’t know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, you can see here in this verse that he is not asking you to sacrifice for him. He already sacrificed for you at the cross. Hear and receive the word of the Lord:
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? —Isaiah 55:1-2