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
There are three approaches to living the Christian life. One is legalism, another is license, and the third way is the gospel. Legalism says, “Do the right thing, because it makes you better than others.” That’s pride, and it works. License says, “Doing the right thing doesn’t matter so much any more. Grace has come. That means no demands. Do what’s comfortable for you.” That’s license. But it denies God’s authority. The gospel says, “Here is Christ. Look at him. Would you like to have him as your own forever? You can, and on terms of grace. What you’ll get out of it is Christ, and what you’ll become is Christlike.” That includes our money. God wants to make us Christlike with our money by the power of the gospel.
In 2 Corinthians 8-9 Paul is raising money. He uses neither legalism nor license to motivate the people to give. He uses the gospel: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Bible is all about the motivating power of grace, even when it comes to money. Ministry is expensive. Immanuel Church is going to be expensive. And why not? Christ looked at us and said, “This is going to be expensive,” and he paid the price. Now it’s our turn to embrace the cost and spread the gospel to others. Wouldn’t it be great this next year for us to call a youth pastor for middle school and high school young people? We have a fantastic ministry to children. But our ministry to youth needs to be developed further. Parents often choose their church on the basis of its youth ministry. And that gives us an opportunity to influence young people for Christ during the defining years of their whole lives. Where are the mature Christian leaders we’ll so desperately need thirty and forty years from now going to come from? People like that don’t just happen. They are raised for Christian greatness in homes and churches where the adults lay down their lives for tomorrow’s Christian leaders. For that, we need a strong youth pastor. And it’s expensive, but worth it. There are other bold steps we can take this next year, like buying this property, and every gospel-advancing step we take will be expensive. So money has to be in Immanuel’s playbook. What is money for? Money is for displaying the generosity of Jesus Christ. It’s right here in the Bible:
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.
What is this passage about? 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. How does he motivate the prospective donors? He doesn’t manipulate them. He says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace makes us gracious. Paul even calls Christian giving “the grace of God” in verses 1, 4, 6 and 7. He sees giving as something opposite to what our culture tells us. Our world tells us to see ourselves as heroic for our giving. The gospel teaches us to see our generous giving as a grace, a privilege God is giving to us. We are being given the privilege of getting involved in the spreading of the grace of Jesus Christ into this world through our giving to our church.
Before we look at the verse, let’s think for a moment about the difference between man’s way of giving and God’s way of giving:
The world’s way Pride handing money down
The gospel’s way Humility offering money up
The world’s way I am a benefactor with what’s mine
The gospel’s way I am a steward of what’s His
The world’s way Giving is a two-way transaction
The gospel’s way Giving is one-way love
The world’s way I sacrifice X% and hoard the rest
The gospel’s way I surrender 100%
The world’s way I want to be admired and needed
The gospel’s way I want to be “rich toward God”
The world’s way My generosity impresses me
The gospel’s way His generosity impresses me
The world’s way My church is a human charity
The gospel’s way My church is a sacred cause
The world’s way I am motivated by present rewards
The gospel’s way I am moved by lasting rewards
The world’s way Tight fists opening reluctantly
The gospel’s way Glad hearts giving eagerly
The world’s way How much can I keep?
The gospel’s way How much can I give?
The world’s way Hair-splitting calculations
The gospel’s way Always rounding the figure up
The world’s way Always looking for loopholes
The gospel’s way Always looking for opportunities
The gospel is a different way to thinking about money and budgeting and giving. The fact is, your budget is telling Christ how you feel about him. You’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, before taxes, and I live on what’s left over.” If your budget says “Me first,” it explains why your heart is not thrilling to the treasure that Christ is, because where your money goes your heart goes (Matthew 6:21). Here’s what you may need to do for the sake of your heart. James Montgomery Boice challenged us all:
From my own observation of the various patterns of Christian giving today I believe… one of the best things that could happen to many believers would be for them to be led to give away, all at one time, a substantial part of their savings. That is, they should give a substantial part of their capital. Why? Because there is something about giving away a sizable percentage of one’s money – and of course the amount would vary entirely from one individual to another – that is spiritual invigorating. And there is seldom a case in which a large gift does not throw the Christian back on the Lord and increase the feeling that He is all-wonderful and that He is more than able to care for the one who trusts Him. I have seen this happen in many instances. And I have never known a true Christian to be sorry for even the most sacrificial giving afterward.
God wants to make every one of us generous, glad-hearted givers, the way he is. Here’s how we get there and grow there:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Paul is challenging the Corinthians to match the giving of the Macedonians, and even out-give them, but he is not commanding the amount. He is not begging. He is not twisting arms. He is not telling a tearjerker story. No gimmicks. No manipulation. Just the gospel: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What is it that we know about his grace?
“…though he was rich…”
Throughout eternity past, 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). It was Christ whom the angels in heaven worshiped with “Holy, holy, holy” in Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6:3; John 12:41). 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). He never knew suffering, nor would he ever have to. He was rich in every way, he was entitled to it, and there was no one who could take it away from him or diminish it at all or blame him for holding onto it.
“…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 the army, fighting with the same standard-issue equipment as all the other guys. That’s surprising enough. But in this phrase Paul is putting his emphasis on the words “for your sake.” When God became man 2000 years ago, he did it personally for us. He was thinking of you and me. He gave up his privileged life for us.
But how did he become poor? In what sense did he become poor? He became poor by becoming one of us. 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 problem.” So he came down and lived at the level of our poverty 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.
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. I will now give the rest away”? People are spending billions of dollars to get us asking other questions – questions like “How can I pad my life still further? How can I get more stuff?” It gets beaten into our heads every day. But the gospel of grace gets us thinking another way: “I have enough. I am content. I’m drawing the line here, and all additional income I will give to Christ.” Is it Christian to live like the world and embellish our lifestyles endlessly? When is enough enough? 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 heaven forever – and on terms of grace. We cannot be unthinking people who absorb more and more and more. At what point do we say, “If he, though rich, became poor, why do I need to get richer?”
It seems that we American Christians are not asking this question. In 1933, 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%. Has the American church just drifted in the flow of our culture? If no one is asking us to explain the hope that is in us, could it be that our hope is the same as their hope – the American Dream? 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 had to start over, building new churches and seminaries and so forth. Westminster Seminary, for example. And they did it, because they knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and he made them gracious givers.
“…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 megachurches. Others call it heresy. The debate over the new gospel of wealth.” There are churches out there preaching that God rewards faith with money. So, what about this question on the cover of TIME magazine? “Does God want you to be rich?” We see the answer right here in our verse. Yes, God wants to you to be rich. The gospel is God’s get-rich-quick scheme. God wants everybody to get rich. But with money? God in heaven looks down on us and asks, “Don’t you understand real wealth? Don’t you know what a hassle money is? My dear children to whom I give lots of money – don’t you know what a burden that is? Everybody’s reaching in 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 (Ephesians 1:3). I know wealth, and that’s wealth, and it cost me to give it to you.” True wealth is Jesus – having Jesus, becoming like Jesus.
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? But isn’t that exactly what the so-called Prosperity Gospel would get us doing? Which do we love – God or his fringe benefits?
Money is a blessing from God, a sacred trust and stewardship. But God’s blessing can become a curse, if we desire the gift above the Giver. How we feel about money, not just how much we have but how much we want to have, can curse us. The Bible says, “Those who desire to be rich – not those who are rich but those who desire to be rich – fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). But the Bible also says, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot bring take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
Jani and I have so much more than food and clothing. We are rich. When we got married, we paid $53 a month for an efficiency apartment in Dallas – one room with a small kitchen on one side and a bathroom on the other, complete with a view of the back parking lot of the Bellsouth building and the best cockroaches in town. Our building had been condemned fifteen years before, but the termites were holding hands so it was still standing. Half a block away was the red light district and a row of cheap bars. Jani taught second grade in the inner city. I loaded freight trucks at night. That spring we volunteered for a medical experiment at Parkland Hospital for $250 apiece. The experiment failed, but we got paid. And now I look at what we have, and I’m amazed. God has been gracious to us. And the way for us to keep his blessing from morphing into our curse is to remember the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and be generous.
Here at Immanuel Church, our leaders will never beg. That would demean the ministry of this church. What God wants us all to do is look at his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Look at him and ask yourself, “How do I need to change my life and my budget?” You can begin today to put him first in your money. Start your giving at 10% of your gross income. If you have discretionary giving beyond that, how far beyond 10% should you go? The answer is simple. As you do the math, keep going up until you start to get happy. Jesus said it’s happier to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). We all know the thrill of giving big. There’s something about it that’s freeing and 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 generosity when you start to giggle as you’re writing out the check and you’re thinking, “It is such a privilege to give this much money away for the sake of Christ. What a thrill!” Then you know you’re in the zone of grace. Then you’re starting to feel the joy of Christ himself.