Funny how there are verses we’ve heard often in a standalone sense that change dramatically in their impact when considered in context. I guess this speaks to the issue of topical vs expositional preaching, but that isn’t where I’m going today.
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 ESV)
Does this verse sound familiar? If it does, what does it mean?
Well, I guess I would say it is familiar to me, but I wouldn’t say that I have it categorized anywhere specific except maybe under the tab of Christ’s humility. But wow, does it ever change in its import and application when I read it in the context of Paul’s letter to the repentant church in Corinth. If we are Christians, children of God, followers and imitators of Jesus Christ, then this passage is of great significance to us today also. If we are disciples of Jesus Christ then we would desire to imitate Christ as this verse describes, “…that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor”.
So what do I see in this verse ‘in context’?
Well, first I see an example put on display for all who are reading this letter… the Macedonian church. Their giving is described here, but more than that, the grace of God is identified as the source of what is going on in the hearts of the church in Macedonia. They are poor, very poor… extreme poverty (and the Bible doesn’t exaggerate). And from that reality, their abundance of joy moves them to give to the need of their brothers and sisters who are struggling in Jerusalem; not a place they live next to or see on the evening news, but a place they are hearing about through the church. This would seem much like the word we receive from our missionaries (network) located around the world. They tell us of great needs…for a reason.
Next, Paul confirms and affirms this example. They gave what they could and then they gave what they couldn’t without significant cost to themselves. Two encouraged patterns of giving are demonstrated here for our instruction and encouragement as we follow Christ. Giving of what we have…according to our means; and giving of what we don’t have… beyond our means…sacrificial, faith-building, joy-expressing, costly, wealth of generosity. And then this crazy point that Paul includes… not only was there no arm-twisting sermon given to bring about their giving, but they had to beg for the favor of participating in the relief of the saints they didn’t even know. Kingdom work… they were becoming poor (more poor?) so that others might become rich. They desired so much that others might know the grace of God…the provision of God, that their giving is described as a severe test of affliction – it cost them dearly.
Why? Why did they do this? It wasn’t commanded. They had to plead for the opportunity. What was in their hearts that might be missing or lacking in ours?
But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. (2 Corinthians 8:7 ESV)
We might be excelling in many areas of our lives as we are following Jesus Christ… in our faith, in how we speak with others about our faith, in our knowledge of God and His word, in our zeal and love for God and one another. Does it include the grace of generous joyful giving? Does it extend to sacrificial generosity?
Are we becoming poor, so that we… and others… might become rich? The way of the Cross is a path of self-denial. Jesus Christ leads the way for us. Are we following hard after our Lord and Savior?