Rich or Poor?
If you were to believe the doom and gloom politicians and economists there is no hope left for the UK. Uncertainties caused by the Brexit vote have been accompanied by rising inflation, a squeeze on wages and a slowing housing market. The retail sector of the economy has been complaining about reduced footfall during the post-
Official statistics on poverty in the UK lend themselves to shocking headlines until you realise that poverty is no longer defined in absolute terms. The way things are calculated now on a percentage basis means that however well off the nation becomes some will always be classified as "being in poverty".
A distant analyst relying upon such depressing reports might well draw the conclusion that Britain today is a poor county.
But even these poor are much better off here in the UK than they would be in many other parts of the world, a fact that is confirmed by all those economic migrants desperate to secure a better future for themselves and their families.
The emphasis upon income, wealth and having things is understandable in an advanced economy like our own but we must avoid swallowing the underlying assumption that having money and the things that money can buy is the high road to happiness.
The Bible teaches us different and sobering truths such as "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils" (1Tim.6:10) and "what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?" (Mt.16:26).
In other words the Bible declares to us that there are greater riches to be enjoyed than can be shown of an accountant’s balance sheet.
Jesus’ coming into the world is described in terms of wealth and poverty. Listen again to the words of our text this morning:
2Cor.8:9 "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."
This verse presents us with some contrasts and an exchange. It warrants our closer attention.
The word "grace" is one that is precious to Christians. It is a word that speaks of generosity and undeserved or unmerited kindness. It is a word that undergirds the entire Christian faith.
In Sunday School many of us have learnt what grace means by taking each of the letters that make up the word and letting them each stand for a separate word:
"God’s riches at Christ’s expense"
We get the benefit while another pays the price for us!
Here Paul writing to the Corinthians speaks of the grace of Jesus reminding them of what they already know. In writing about the grace of Jesus Paul means that what Jesus did for us he did being under no obligation to help us. We had no claim upon him but he freely gave everything he had – his very life – that we might enjoy the benefits he thus purchased for us.
I have said that grace is precious to Christians but it is not precious to the world for the world simply doesn’t like to admit that it can’t make its contribution. If we are to properly rejoice in grace then we must realise our absolute need and that is a humbling thing that so many don’t want to do. If salvation costs £100 we naturally want to believe that we have a contribution to make – it doesn’t matter whether the contribution we think we can make is £99 or £1. If we can flatter ourselves for doing "our bit" then we like to think that God will be pleased with us and help us out with the rest after all having done our bit we deserve the rest, don’t we?
Grace you see doesn’t make up the shortfall – it pays the lot! Salvation is all of grace.
When you understand that, humbly realising that you don’t even have 50p to offer, you’ll be thrilled with grace. Indeed you’ll be so thrilled with grace that you’ll keep on coming for it and you won’t mind one little bit that even though it declares loudly to others how needy you are.
The true Christian you see is not desperately trying to convince himself, others and God, just how good he is. No, he has realised that there is no hope in himself and so has gladly responded to the free gift that has been offered to him – and all he needs is bound up in the Lord Jesus Christ!
Jesus: Rich then Poor
Paul went on to remind his readers just what this grace of the Lord Jesus Christ looked like, what acting in grace towards us actually meant for him.
When? It wasn't on earth as He had no riches on this earth.
He had no fixed abode Mt.8:20 "Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
His needs were met by others Mt 27:55 "There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him,"
Never the slightest accusation of financial impropriety – He was simply poor and none attempted to suggest otherwise.
Paul is here confirming the teaching that is found elsewhere in the Bible – the pre-
He certainly knew what it was to have treasure in heaven!
Jn.17:5 "And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed."
We speak of Jesus as we speak of none other – yes, He was born in our world but He came "from heaven" (1Cor.15:47.)
He was abounding in all resources imaginable being abundantly supplied. In fact He was the One who created all things and for whom all things were created "For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities––all things were created through him and for him." (Col 1:16)
He was fully divine – it was no robbery, but He chose not to cling on to what was fully His by right! Phil.2:6 "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,"
Jesus did not cling onto all these spiritual riches but laid them to one side when he came into the world at Bethlehem in the event we know as the incarnation. He who had been rich with the full splendours of divine majesty became poor and the location of his poverty was here in this sin riddled world in which we live:
With His incarnation the Lord Jesus Christ became materially poor. In becoming man He emptied Himself of His riches. See how Paul puts it again in his letter to the Philippians 2:7-
When we say he became poor we mean that he became destitute of wealth, influence, position and honour. Jn.1:11 "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him." They didn't recognize who he was and consequently did not give him what was rightfully His.
This "poverty " was not forced upon Him but voluntarily assumed by Him. We see how this was worked out in His life when, for example, he knew that he could summon legions of angels to his aid (literally the figure referred to in Mt.26:53 would be in the order of 7.200 angels!) but deliberately declined to do so.
The whole of his life on earth was one of poverty climaxing in the poverty of the Cross where, standing in he became a debtor before the Father and met this debt at the cost of His own lifeblood.
Don't fail to notice the extremes to which His poverty went: it was customary for a person to be crucified naked, stripped even of his own clothes on the cross. And let's not forget He was devoid even of fellowship with His Heavenly Father as the Father turned His face away from his sin-
Paul tells us quite simply that the reason why the Lord Jesus Christ underwent such a transformation in his own experience and circumstances was in order that we might undergo a similar change but in entirely the other direction!
He did it all for our sake! His purpose in entering our world and thus in becoming poor was and, remains, to make paupers into princes and kings. He did it that we might be made rich.
Now let’s be clear about this – his intent was to make us spiritually rich. Yes, God is concerned about our health and material well-
These riches are great and the wise will greatly value them. They begin in the here and now and continue into eternity. They include:
Fellowship – with God and other believers
Jesus Assesses Us
So far we have thought briefly about grace. We have thought about the glorious riches that our Lord Jesus Christ was prepared to set aside that he might become poor. And we have thought about his purpose in doing this – to make us rich.
I want you to see what all this implies about you! I want you to realise how Jesus thinks about men and women and boys and girls.
If Jesus was prepared to undergo so much in order to make us "rich" it is because he sees us as being inherently poor. Left to ourselves the crown of God’s creation has crashed into a spiritual poverty that is overwhelming. Outside of Christ there is not a single person in the world who is anything other than spiritually destitute.
The Lord Jesus Christ would not have come into the world if this had not been the case – he came because he saw us in our desperate need and came to do what was necessary to change us.
When he came he was successful. He did all that was necessary. Now who will benefit from what he did?
John in his gospel tells us that:
Jn.1:11 "(Jesus) came to his own, and his own people did not receive him."
And that tells us that as Jesus comes we must receive him. If you think you’re rich already, that all is fine with you, then you won’t receive him and you’ll remain in abject spiritual poverty. How foolish when he comes and offers you all you need! He stooped so low to raise you so high but what will you do with him?
Many of you have received him into your lives already – keep on trusting him and rejoicing in what he has done for you. Don’t allow the thorns of this life choke the life out you but keep your sights set on having your treasure in heaven.
But if you haven’t yet received the Lord Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour then why stay any longer in your spiritual poverty and need? Come to God today and ask him to have you and when he does give thanks to him for his inexpressible gift.
And to God be the Glory!