Though He was Rich, Yet for Your Sake He Became Poor

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.

 

Godliness with Contentment is Great Gain

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.
(1 Timothy 6:7-8, NIV)

A friend who had the opportunity to work in a global company outside the country for a few months shared with me how he declined the lush house that the company offered, took his housing allowance and found accommodation that was significantly cheaper. He did that so that he will have more money when he returned to Ghana. By being content with less while there, he had more once he returned.

The situation of the Christian on earth is similar to that of my friend while he lived and worked outside since we are pilgrims and sojourners (See 1 Peter 2:11). Like my friend, every resource we have can be spent on improving our present living conditions or investing in our future existence. When we learn to be content with little, we free up our resources to invest in our eternal future and thereby gain greatly.

The issue is great gain not just gain. My friend would still have had some gain if he had used up all his housing allowance since he was paid a salary in addition to the allowance. By learning to be content with less while he lived there, though, he increased his gain. Godliness with contentment is great gain! Whatever your gain, you can always increase it by learning to be content.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

(1 Timothy 6:17-19, NIV)

“It is what we give up, not what we lay up that adds to our lasting store.

(Hosea Ballus)

 

Our Weddings and Discipleships

‘To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciple’ – John 8:31

We live in a culture that is obsessed with weddings. It would seem that people even give more thought to their weddings than the actual marriages. At the wedding, the couple profess love for one another. It is a good and beautiful thing. However, what is even more important is that the couple actually love one another in their marriage. The profession of love marks the beginning of marital love not the entirety of it. The case is not closed when the man promises “for better for worse”; it has only began. What use is it if the man promises “for better for worse” and yet does not care for his wife at home. Yet, we celebrate weddings as though it were the end of the matter. As we make much of weddings and little of the actual marriages so, it seems, we make much of calling Jesus Lord and little of actually obeying Him as Lord. We will scour the earth to get people to declare Jesus as Lord but we have no energy to teach them to obey all things whatsoever He has commanded.

A disciple is not merely one who declares with his mouth that Jesus is Lord but one who obeys His teachings. ‘ To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”’ . In Matthew 7:21, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  Again, Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  If you think that you are a disciple of Christ only because you have confessed Jesus as Lord, think again. True, Paul said in Romans 10:9-10, ‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ (NIV) However, Paul clearly means “unfeigned faith” – not one that confesses that Jesus is Lord and yet does not obey Him as Lord.

If you are living in disobedience to Christ, you are headed to hell regardless of your so-called confession of faith. As Paul taught everywhere he went, “repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance ” (See Acts 26:20). You can recognize and proclaim Jesus as Lord but without obeying Him as Lord, your confession is fake and useless. Take heed of Paul’s warning to the Corinthians who were living in disobedience to Christ. “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NIV).

Just as professing love to your spouse during a wedding is meaningful only if you actually love your wife in your marriage, confessing the Lordship of Christ with your mouth is only meaningful if you obey Him as Lord. If you are not obeying Jesus as Lord, you are not truly His disciple even if you used your mouth to say He is Lord just like if you beat your wife you don’t really love your wife even though you said with your mouth at the altar, “for better for worse”. Faith unfeigned! (See 1 Timothy 1:5)

The Sinfulness of Cinderella Thinking

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”
(Ezekiel 16:49, NIV)

Finish school, get a well-paying job, marry and have kids, take care of my family and live happily ever after!
The ‘Cinderella’ Mindset

Is the ‘Cinderella’ Mindset the mindset you have? Is this how you think – more or less? Is this your ambition in life – more or less? Well, you should re-consider if pleasing God is something you care about. It’s good to aim to provide a good life for yourself and family but this is not the extent of your responsibility as far as God is concerned.

Consider the following statement God made in Ezekiel 16:49 (NIV): “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned”; they did not help the poor and needy. When we think about the sin of Sodom we think about homosexuality. Yes, that is certainly a sin that existed in Sodom but over here we see God saying that their sin was that there were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned. God judged them for being unconcerned about the poor! Sin is not just the bad that you do but the good that you do not do. ‘Not strengthening the hand of the poor and needy’ is considered sin by God just like arrogance and homosexuality.

Taking care of your family is a fine aspiration indeed but find somewhere in your life’s aspiration to include ‘strengthening the hand of the poor and needy’ otherwise you will be living a sinful life. In the same way that you work hard for a good future for yourself and your family, you should work hard to also help the poor. The world doesn’t judge people for not helping the poor. If you steal, you will be arrested but if you are unconcerned about the poor, no one will arrest you. It is not against human laws to be unconcerned about the poor. However, it is against God’s laws. Don’t plan your life the way that the world does. Don’t think only about yourself and your family. Make room in your life for helping the poor!

Don’t Just Preach!

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” – Matthew 15:32 (NIV)

 

Some christians think they are more spiritual than Jesus! When you talk to them about helping the poor materially, they tell you things like it is the soul that matters! Such people are always eager to go out and preach to the lost but have no interest whatsoever when it comes to providing practical assistance to the needy in society. Jesus spent days teaching the people the word of God. He was concerned about their soul but he was also concerned about whether they had food to eat. That is true compassion. That’s the example Jesus set for us. We must be concerned not just about the spiritual state of people but their material state as well! You are not more spiritual than Jesus! If Jesus cared about whether or not people had eaten, so should you!

When I think of such people, I remember the priest and levite who saw the man who had been beaten by robbers and passed by on the other side. (See Luke 10:25-37) Such people readily preach or sing in church they will readily provide practical help to a needy person! Such people are not following the example of Jesus Christ! Jesus gave practical help to the people in addition to preaching to them.

Another important point is this. We can only reach so many with words and Bible quotes. We must demonstrate the Spirit through whom we are preaching! The fruit of the Spirit is love. How can we expect people to believe a gospel in which our Lord laid down his life for humanity when we – the advocates – will not lay down anything for humanity. God is good, caring and compassionate: we must not just tell it; we must show it! As Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 (NIV): “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Sister, they must not just hear your preaching, they must see your good deeds! Brother, it is not just about quoting scriptures, let them see your good deeds! Pray that God will give you true compassion that cares not only about the soul of people but about their material well-being and practically helps them out.

You are the Salt of the Earth

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” – Matthew 5:13 (NIV)

Jesus’s reference to His disciples as the salt of the earth reveals some very important truths about making change in this world. First, who we are and what we do matters. It is not inevitable that the world must be tasteless. We can make a difference! We can make the world better! We may not be able to make it perfect; but we can certainly make it better. We affect the world just as salt affects whatever it’s put into. If the world is too tasteless then it is because too many of us have lost our saltiness.

Secondly, it shows us that a small group with enough people can make a difference. ‘Small’ and ‘enough’ may appear as contradictory descriptions but on further contemplation, the meaning becomes clear. A tablespoon of salt cannot affect a barrel of soup much. At the same time, one does not need a barrel of salt to affect a barrel of soup. To make change, we need what I call a critical mass. This is a very encouraging thought. We don’t need everyone to care deeply about making the world better; we need only enough people. Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Thirdly, that Jesus refers to Christians as the salt of the earth, begs what kind of christians most of us are. If being christian is being salt of the earth, how is it that there are billions of people who claim to be christians and yet there are children in the world without food to eat? If there are truly more than 1 billion “salt” in a world with about 7 billion people, shouldn’t the world be more tasteful than it is? Pray that God will help you to be truly salt of the earth!

Free Yourself of Human Praise

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.
(John 12:42-43, NIV)

How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
(John 5:44, NIV)

He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.
(Luke 16:15, NIV)

“These people really disgraced themselves”. “Is wedding by force?” “If you can’t afford it,don’t do it”. “What a shame?” “No, no, it was bad!” “It was not nice at all”. These are quotes from a conversation two people had after attending a wedding ceremony. Apparently, they had not been impressed at all by the wedding ceremony. “It was too cheap”, they said. Most people will not want their weddings to be spoken of this way. They will prefer people spoke well of their weddings. As a result, they will be careful to organize the wedding in such a manner as to attract the praises rather than the scorn of others. This illustrates well how human praises normally influence what people do. It is not just what people will say about our weddings but what they will say about our cars or lack of cars, what they will say about what we wear, where we live, which school we go to, where we work and so on. Consciously or unconsciously, we make many life choices based on attracting human praises and avoiding derision.

This would be alright if people praised what God praised and scorned what God scorned. If that were the case, being influenced by human praises will lead to one doing what God wants since people will only praise you for doing what God wants. Alas, that is not the case! People praise things God doesn’t care about. For instance, the “classiness” of your wedding or car or whatever means squat to God even though it attracts a lot of praises from people. Sometimes, people even praise things God scorns. As Luke 16:15 says “what people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” As a result, human praises often direct us away from the will of God. Those who concern themselves with human praises end up in the opposite direction of where God will have them. They end up outside the will of God. God’s will was for the people to believe but they could not because “they loved human praise more than praise from God”.

Pray that God will deliver you from the penchant of human praises. This is important because as long as you are concerned about the praises of people, you will not use your resources in the most optimum way possible to serve the Lord and the poor since you will spend inordinate amounts of your resources doing things that will attract human praises even if they do not matter.

Modesty Is A Christian Virtue

“You are cheap” is a derogatory remark that one may attract if, in the opinion of an accuser, the person does not spend freely. You face the brunt of the ‘cheapness’ police if you buy clothes and accessories that are ‘too cheap’ or a car that is ‘too cheap’ or organize an event at a place that is ‘too cheap’ or buy food that is ‘too cheap’. In a world where how well a person has done is based on how well they have done for themselves, this may be acceptable. But that is not the Christian world.

I Timothy 2:9-10 says, “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” 1 Peter 3:3 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.”

Following are two definitions of modesty from the Oxford Dictionary. The first is “the quality of being relatively moderate, limited, or small in amount, rate, or level”. The second is “Behavior, manner or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or decency”. It is clear that Paul means both when he urges women to dress modestly in 1 Timothy 2:9-10. It is interesting how some Christians conveniently ignore the first meaning while being vociferous advocates of the latter. Paul is not simply teaching the women to be decent but to be moderate as well.

Then in 1 Peter 3:3, Peter also teaches the women that their beauty should not come from elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. In a Christian world view, therefore, wearing expensive clothes and jewelry, in the very least, means nothing! In the world, it may add something to you but from a Christian view point, it adds nothing. If it adds nothing, then are our resources best spent dressing expensively?

It is good Christian behavior to spend less on oneself so you can help others. And this applies not just to clothing. Romans 15:1 says, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” Luke 3:11 says, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Although a Christian can afford to have two shirts, he may just keep one and give the other away. Of course, to the world, a man who wears only one shirt is cheap. However, from a Christian view point, he is just being Christian.

The world should not teach us or pressurize us to “not be cheap” as they put it. They don’t know better. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) We are called to reform the world not to be like it.