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 through his poverty might become rich.
(2 Corinthians 8:9, NIV)
This verse is often used to explain why as a Christian you can never or should never be poor. The argument is: If Jesus became poor so you will be rich then why and how can you, as a Christian, ever be poor? It may surprise you to learn that what the Apostle Paul was teaching was actually very different from this and, perhaps, even contrary to it. This is a classic example of how we fall into error when we pick a verse in isolation (i.e. without the context). So what’s Paul teaching us?
Paul starts in verse 1 by saying: And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. What was this grace? He elaborates from verses 2 through 5, In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
Having told the Corinthians of the grace of giving that the Macedonian churches had, he goes on to express his desire to see the Corinthians also walk in this grace. So in verses 6 and 7, he says, So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
Then verse 8-9, he says, I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 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 through his poverty might become rich.
So here it is. Paul tells the Corinthians that the Macedonians had a grace of giving. This grace of giving was such that they gave, even beyond their ability, to help other Christians who were in need. He tells the Corinthians to walk in this grace also. Finally, he cites the ultimate example of this grace – the Lord Jesus Christ who gave up his riches for us to become rich. The lesson is, therefore, that, as Christians, we should be willing to give (become a little poorer) so that others who are poor can become a little richer through our becoming a little poorer. This is what happens when ‘he who has two coats gives to him who has none’. (Luke 3:11) Quite a far cry from how the scripture is used. Isn’t it? Pray that God will help you follow the example of Jesus in laying down your life for others.