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)
Paul was in the middle of encouraging the Corinthian church to be generous when he drew their attention to the generosity of Christ. It’s an amazing statement, full of beautiful Christmastime truth. Today, let’s consider three things: the wealth Jesus abandoned, the poverty Jesus embraced, and the reason he made that choice.
The Wealth He Abandoned
First, let’s consider the wealth Christ abandoned. Paul said, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich…” (2 Cor. 8:9). Though he was rich. What riches did Christ possess? How was he rich?
In a word, Christ had glory. Before he went to the cross, he prayed to God, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). Even the wealthiest people in the world should not be permitted to call their situation glory. Glory is a position reserved for God alone—the glory of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Glory is divine. Before Jesus came, as Paul said, “He was in the form of God” (Phil. 2:6). Glory.
In his glory, Christ had incredible and incomprehensible wealth. He had wealth of position—no one was more supreme than him. The Bible calls him “the firstborn over all creation,” meaning there is nothing in any galaxy that is his equal (Col. 1:15). He had wealth of possession—no one owned more than Jesus. The Bible says “all things were created through him and for him,” meaning every single thing belongs to him (Col. 1:16). He also had wealth of power—no one is as powerful as Jesus. The Bible says everything was made “through him “ and that “in him all things hold together,” meaning we would not even exist without the creative and sustaining power of Christ (Col. 1:16-17). And he had wealth of peace—none of us could comprehend the total love, joy, gladness, and peace found within the Triune God.
Position. Possessions. Power. And peace. All of them belonged to Jesus to an infinite and unmeasurable degree. You could combine all the wealth of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates, and it would pale in comparison to the wealth that belonged to Jesus. All the possessions and power and peace found among us are not even a fraction of what Jesus had because he had all of it in infinite quantity. This is what Paul meant when he said Jesus was rich.
The Poverty He Embraced
Second, let’s consider the poverty Christ embraced. Paul said, “yet for your sake he became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9). The word Paul chose could signify abject poverty; Christ embraced a beggarly existence on that first Christmas.
When we consider the poverty of Christ, it is easy to fixate on the impoverished nature of his birth, life, and death. He was not born like the wealthy of his age. And he certainly wasn’t born into the luxury of ours. Instead, he was born among stabled animals in an overcrowded Bethlehem. His first cradle was a borrowed feeding trough. He was wrapped, not in premium linen or a custom Esty sleep sack, but strips of cloth.
And then Jesus’ early years were spent as a refugee in Egypt. Warned by an angelic dream, Joseph likely used the gold, frankincense, and myrrh from the worshipping kings to evade the murderous desires of Herod. Fleeing by night, they remained on the run until Herod’s death.
And then Jesus’ private adult life was one of poverty. He lived in a rocky hillside town called Nazareth. Population? Maybe two hundred, and certainly less than five hundred. It seems he learned Joseph’s trade and became the town carpenter—hardly a wealthy existence.
And when Jesus’ public ministry life began, it leaned heavily on the generosity of others. He said, “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but I have nowhere to lay my head” (Mat. 8:20). Poor.
But none of these elements of poverty are Paul’s point. He’s not focused on how poor Jesus was as a human. What he’s focused on is that Jesus became a man. So while we might think he had hardly anything and lived in such poverty, heaven’s vantage point is different. The great sacrifice wasn’t in becoming the poorest of men but in becoming a man in the first place! As Paul said, “He emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”(Phil 2:7).
The very being who was there at the beginning of all things with Father God, God himself, the One who made all things and in whom life is found, the light of the world, he became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-4, 14). All the way to the point of death. The ultimate poverty.
And all of this was by choice. Paul said, “He became poor.” This indicates choice. He decided to take up humanity. And when he did, he became poor.
Becoming poor—going from wealth to poverty—is harder than knowing only poverty because your past wealth is a constant memory nagging at your current situation. But the most difficult of all is living in poverty while still being abundantly wealthy, choosing not to access the vastness of your riches so you can embrace the pain. No one does that. But Jesus did.
The Reason For His Choice
Lastly, let’s consider the reason for his choice. Why did he decide to do what he did? Paul said, “So that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
Why did Christ do what he did? Why did he abandon his wealth and embrace our poverty? It was all for us so that through his poverty, we might become wealthy.
Paul is alluding to the reason Christ came—his substitutionary death for us. Baby Jesus’ life was on a straight line to the cross. And that death, followed by his resurrection, would unlock a world of blessings for all who trust in him. By believing in Jesus, we become rich.
What wealth becomes ours in Christ? It’s the same wealth he abandoned when he came to us in the first place. Remember that wealth? Position. Possessions. Power. Peace. What do I mean?
We gain the wealth of position—God becomes our Father. He becomes our loving provider and guide and protector and friend. We are placed into Christ, and we become coheirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). The Father sees us as he sees his only begotten Son.
We gain the wealth of possessions—in Christ, we have access to every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). And since this world belongs to him, we will one day inherit it when he returns. And, even now, since all things are through him and for him, he has given us all things to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17).
We gain the wealth of power—in the sense that every principality and power was defeated at the cross of Christ, so now we have the resources we need to enter into victory over habits and tendencies that drag us down (Col. 3:13-15). He holds us together and gives us strength. We can overcome.
And we gain the wealth of peace—because of Jesus, we have the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). These elements—the peace of Christ—can rule our hearts today (Col. 3:15).
All these elements—and many more—became ours when Christ came into our lives. And 2 Corinthians 8:9 tells us that Jesus abandoned his wealth and embraced our poverty all so we could become rich. He placed us first. He loved us (John 3:16).
Last year, actor William Shatner of Star Trek fame briefly went into space in Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space shuttle, becoming the oldest living person to ever travel to space. In his book, he recounted the experience, stating that he was overcome with incredible sadness when confronted with the vastness and darkness of space and the warmth and smallness of earth.1 They call it the “overview effect,” and apparently, it has happened to many astronauts over the years. On earth, we are confined within our borders and can easily dismiss the hardships in other nations or continents, but from space’s vantage point, war, hunger, and poverty become overwhelming.
And if that overview effect can be felt by finite beings, what must it be like for God? He can peer into every human heart. He has witnessed every act of evil. He has seen every abuse and heard every cry.
So what did he do? He denied himself the privileges of divinity, embraced the poverty of humanity, and, through his cross, made the way for us to become rich with him. On the cross, his human body consumed every act of evil, every abuse, and every cry. He became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). And as wrath was unleashed on him, he performed the greatest of rescue missions, becoming the poorest so that we might become the richest.