The Poverty That Made Us Rich
(2 Corinthians 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 through His poverty might become rich. (8:9)
The story is told of a Persian monarch who reigned in opulence and splendor, living amid the wealth and comfort of the royal palace. Yet his concern for the common people frequently drove him to dress as a poor man, leave the palace, and mingle with the lowliest of his subjects.
One day he visited a fireman, whose job was to heat the water in the bathhouse. Dressed in tattered clothes, the shah descended a long flight of steps down to the tiny cellar where the fireman sat on a pile of ashes, tending the fire. The ruler sat beside him, and the two men began to talk. At lunchtime, the fireman shared his humble meal of coarse bread and water with his guest. Eventually, the shah left, but he returned again and again, his heart filled with sympathy for the lonely man. The fireman opened his heart to his kind, compassionate friend, who gave him wise counsel.
Finally, the shah could not bear to keep up the pretense any longer and decided to reveal his true identity to his friend. He then asked the poor fireman to name a gift he could give him. To his surprise, the man said nothing, but merely sat looking at him with love and wonder. Thinking he had not understood him, the shah offered to make the fireman rich, elevate him to the nobility, or make him ruler over a city. But he replied, “Yes, my lord, I understood you. But leaving your palace to sit here with me, partake of my humble food, and listen to the troubles of my heart—even you could give me no more precious gift than that. You may have given rich gifts to others, but to me you gave yourself. I only ask that you never withdraw your friendship from me.”
That parable illustrates the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, heaven’s King who left His glorious throne to become the friend of sinners. As the writer of the hymn, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne,” eloquently expressed it,
Thou didst leave Thy throne
And Thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home
Was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
Heaven’s arches rang
When the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth
Didst Thou come to earth,
And in greatest humility.
Tucked away in this very practical, pragmatic section of the discussion of giving is a profound doctrinal treasure. Like 5:21, this verse is a Christological gem of incalculable value, a many-faceted diamond that far outshines all the other jewels around it. The wonder of this verse is captivating. Its vast scope, profundity, and impact transcend the simplicity of the twenty-one Greek words that comprise it. Its truth is not couched in technical theological language; its words are not complex or confusing. And though its message may be grasped in one reading, the truth it contains may not be fully comprehended throughout eternity. It describes Christ’s descent from riches to poverty so that believers might ascend from poverty to riches.
As noted in the previous chapter of this volume, the theme of chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians is Christian giving. In this section, Paul discussed the offering he was collecting for the poor saints in Jerusalem. To stimulate the Corinthians’ giving, he pointed out the example of the Macedonians, who gave generously and sacrificially despite their deep poverty (8:1–8).
But as the apostle thought about the reality that love manifests itself in sacrificial giving, his mind was irresistibly drawn to the greatest example of such love and sacrifice the world has ever known—the Lord Jesus Christ. Unlike the rich of this world, who rarely if ever impoverish themselves by their giving, He, the worthy One, became poor to make unworthy ones rich.
For links this verse to verse 8, where Paul wrote, “I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.” The apostle did not need to command the Corinthians to give because they knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. They may have been unaware of the Macedonians’ giving, but they knew that Christ came down from heaven and gave His life as a sacrifice for sinners. That magnanimous gift eclipses all others as the example for all Christians to follow.
The apostle used the term grace to refer to Christ’s giving because His self-giving was motivated by unmerited, spontaneous kindness to undeserving sinners stemming from pure and uninfluenced love. That act of the Savior defines grace giving at its purest level.
Paul refers to Him using the full name of the Incarnate God, the Lord Jesus Christ. That rich title encompasses the fullness of His person and work. Lord is the name above every name that was given Him by the Father because He accomplished the work of redemption (Phil. 2:9); Jesus depicts Him as the Savior of His people (Matt. 1:21); Christ describes Him as the anointed Messiah and King (Matt. 27:11; John 18:37).
The many facets of truth contained in this verse may be categorized under three headings: the riches of Christ, the poverty of Christ, and the gift of Christ.
The Riches of Christ
that though He was rich, (8:9a)
Though as God Jesus owns everything in heaven and on earth (Ex. 19:5; Deut. 10:14; Job 41:11; Pss. 24:1; 50:12; 1 Cor. 10:26), His riches do not consist primarily of what is material. The riches in view here are those of Christ’s supernatural glory, His position as God the Son, and His eternal attributes. The eternity of Jesus Christ is the most crucial truth in all of Christology, and therefore the most crucial truth of the gospel as well. If He is not eternal, He must have had a beginning, and would therefore be a created being. The eternality of Christ offers clear, powerful, and irrefutable proof of His deity, for it is an attribute only God possesses.
Despite the false claims of heretics throughout history, the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is not merely preexistent to human history, but eternal. He does not depend on anything outside of Himself for His existence, nor was there ever a time when the second person of the Trinity came into being. Jesus is not an emanation, demigod, Michael the archangel, a spirit created by God, or an exalted man; He is the Creator (John 1:3, 10; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), not a creature.
In a prophecy predicting His birthplace, Micah 5:2 says of Him, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” Isaiah 9:6 describes Jesus as the “Eternal Father” of His people. John’s gospel opens with the truth that “in the beginning [of creation; cf. Gen. 1:1] was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus Christ existed from all eternity, because when the universe was created and time began, He already existed. In John 8:58 Jesus declared His eternal existence to the unbelieving Jews: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Had He merely been claiming to have preexisted, He would have said, “I was,” instead of, “I am.” In John 17:5 He prayed, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”
As the eternal second person of the Trinity, Jesus is as rich as God the Father. To the Colossians Paul wrote, “For in Him [Jesus] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9), and “[Jesus] is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb. 1:3). Arguments for Christeternity and deity are inseparable. Since the Scriptures reveal Him to be eternal, and only God can be eternal, Jesus must be God. Therefore, He owns the universe and everything in it, possesses all power and authority (Matt. 28:18), and is to be glorified and honored (John 5:23; Phil. 2:9–11). The eminent nineteenth-century theologian Charles Hodge wrote,
All divine names and titles are applied to Him. He is called God, the mighty God, the great God, God over all; Jehovah; Lord; the Lord of lords and the King of kings. All divine attributes are ascribed to Him. He is declared to be omnipresent, omniscient, almighty, and immutable, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. He is set forth as the creator and upholder and ruler of the universe. All things were created by Him and for Him; and by Him all things consist. He is the object of worship to all intelligent creatures, even the highest; all the angels (i.e., all creatures between man and God) are commanded to prostrate themselves before Him. He is the object of all the religious sentiments; of reverence, love, faith, and devotion. To Him men and angels are responsible for their character and conduct. He required that men should honour Him as they honoured the Father; that they should exercise the same faith in Him that they do in God. He declares that He and the Father are one; that those who had seen Him had seen the Father also. He calls all men unto Him; promises to forgive their sins; to send them the Holy Spirit; to give them rest and peace; to raise them up at the last day; and to give them eternal life. God is not more, and cannot promise more, or do more than Christ is said to be, to promise, and to do. He has, therefore, been the Christian’s God from the beginning, in all ages and in all places. (Systematic Theology, [Reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979], 2:382)
The Poverty of Christ
yet for your sake He became poor, (8:9b)
Though Jesus possessed all the riches of God from all eternity, yet for believers’ sake He became poor. Some have understood that statement as a reference to Christ’s financial poverty during His earthly life. Augustine challenged his readers to imitate Christ’s virtues, including poverty, citing this verse as proof of Christ’s poverty (Of Holy Virginity, para. 28). In his sermon, On the Words of the Gospel, Luke 14:16, “A Certain Man Made a Great Supper,” Etc. Augustine said, “Let the beggars come, for He inviteth them, ‘who, though He was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we beggars through His poverty might be enriched’ ” (para. 8). John Calvin, commenting on this verse, wrote
We see what destitution and lack of all things awaited Him right from His mother’s womb and we hear what He Himself says, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). Thus He sanctified poverty in His own person, so that believers should no longer shrink from it, and by His poverty He has enriched us so that we should not find it hard to take from our abundance what we may expend on behalf of our brethren. (The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians and the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], 111)
Many connect this alleged reference to Jesus’ poverty with the gospel, as if eliciting sympathy for Jesus’ poverty has some redemptive value.
But this verse is not a commentary on Jesus’ economic status or the material circumstances of His life. Fred B. Craddock notes, “The gospel can no more be equated with the financial poverty of Jesus than it can be equated with the pain he endured on the cross” (“The Poverty of Christ,” Interpretation 22 [Apr. 1968], 162). The Lord’s true impoverishment did not consist in the lowly circumstances in which He lived but in the reality that “although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6–7).
In reality, Jesus did not live His life in abject poverty:
As far as Jesus’ experience is concerned, it is true that Luke highlights the lowly circumstances of his birth, but this is not an indication of the poverty of the holy family, but rather of the overcrowded conditions in Bethlehem at the time of the census (Lk. 2:7). The offering that Mary made for her purification was that permitted to those who could not afford a lamb (Lk. 2:24; cf. Lv. 12:6–8), and this indicates the family were not well off. Jesus was known as “the carpenter, the son of Mary” (Mk. 6:3), and as a craftsman he would not be numbered among the abject poor. During his Galilean ministry he did remind a would-be disciple that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk. 9:58). However, this must not be taken to mean that as an itinerant preacher Jesus was continually in dire economic circumstances. The indications are that the costs of Jesus’ itinerant ministry and the support for his followers were provided by a number of well-off sympathizers who had been the recipients of his healing ministry (Lk. 8:1–3). In addition it was a custom among the Jews to provide hospitality for travelling preachers (cf. Mt. 10:9–13) and Jesus enjoyed such hospitality at a number of homes, and especially at that of Mary and Martha (Lk. 10:38–42; Jn. 12:1–3.). On the evidence, then, Jesus was no poorer than most first-century Palestinian Jews, and better off than some (e.g., those reduced to beggary). Indeed Jesus and his band of disciples had sufficient money to be able to provide help for those worse off than themselves (cf. Jn. 12:3–6; 13:27–29). (Colin Kruse, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995], 154)
The Lord did not make believers spiritually rich by becoming economically poor. Paul used the terms “rich” and “poor” in this verse in a spiritual sense, as he did when he described himself as “poor yet making many rich” (2 Cor. 6:10).
The Lord Jesus Christ became poor in His incarnation, when He was “born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4); “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3); “a descendant of David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3); and “made … for a little while lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:7, 9). He left heaven’s glory (John 17:5) and laid aside the free use of His divine prerogatives. In the most profound theological description of the Incarnation in Scripture Paul wrote that,
although [Jesus] existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:6–11)
Though He existed eternally “in the form of God,” possessing all the riches of deity, Jesus “emptied Himself,” becoming poor by “taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” He suffered human weaknesses and limitations, becoming hungry (Matt. 4:2; 21:18), thirsty (John 4:7; 19:28), and tired (Mark 4:38; John 4:6). In addition, He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). So completely did Jesus identify with His people as their faithful high priest that “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.”
Ephesians 4:8–10 gives another view of Christ’ impoverishing Himself in the Incarnation:
Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)
Paul’s quote from Psalm 68:18, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men,” describes Christ’s triumphant return to heaven after His victory over the forces of hell on Calvary. Through His sacrificial death, He freed sinners who had been captives to sin and Satan. After His ascension, He dispensed the spoils won by His death and resurrection and “gave gifts to men.” But Christ’s triumph on Calvary was only possible because He had first “descended into the lower parts of the earth.” He left the glory of heaven and entered a world of suffering and death. Jesus’ descent reached its deepest point when He went between His death and resurrection to the prison where the most wicked of the fallen angels are incarcerated. There he proclaimed to them His triumph over the forces of hell (cf. Col. 2:15; 1 Peter 3:18–19).
In the incarnation of Christ, the eternal God became poor by taking on human flesh and humbling Himself even to the point of death on the cross. By doing so, He defeated the powers of hell, accomplished the work of redemption God assigned Him, and gave His people the priceless riches of salvation.
The Gift of Christ
so that you through His poverty might become rich. (8:9c)
The purpose of Christ’s condescension was that through His poverty poor sinners might become rich. He did not make them materially rich but gave them all the blessings of salvation—forgiveness, joy, peace, eternal life, light, and glory. Peter described those riches as “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for [believers]” (1 Peter 1:4).
Sinners desperately need the riches of Christ because they are spiritually destitute. They are the “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), beggars with nothing to commend themselves. But through salvation, believers are made “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17), sharing His riches because they are made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). The ultimate goal of their salvation is to be made like Him (1 John 3:2), to reflect His glory in heaven, “so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).
This was not the first time Paul described their riches in Christ to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 1:4–5 he wrote, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him,” while in 3:22 he added, “Whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you.”
The glorious truth that Christians have been “blessed … with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3) through His self-emptying, self-sacrificial love should elicit gratitude from them. More than that, however, it should also motivate them to give freely, sacrificially, and generously to others. They must follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, who became poor to make others rich. How can Christians receive all the riches Christ impoverished Himself to give them, yet be unwilling to meet the needs of others? James wrote, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (James 2:15–16). The apostle John added, “Whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
Some may view Paul’s inclusion of this verse, with its profound theological truth, in the context of giving as incongruous. But that loses sight of the fact that theological truth does not exist in isolation from everyday life, as Fred B. Craddock notes:
There is nothing mundane and outside the concern and responsibility of the Christian. There are not two worlds; there is but one. Money for the relief of the poor is as “spiritual” as prayer.… The offering for the saints in Judea was for Paul a definite implication of the Incarnation. It is no surprise that the discussion of the one should bring to mind the other. The offering, in fact, provided an occasion for teaching the meaning of Christology, and Christology informed and elicited the offering. (“The Poverty of Christ,” Interpretation 22 [Apr. 1968] 169)
The seemingly mundane issue of the offering was in reality connected to the central truth of Christianity, namely, that Christ’s voluntary poverty makes the spiritually destitute rich.
9 In encouraging the Corinthians to bring their contribution to a satisfactory completion (v. 6), Paul has thus far appealed to the example of the Macedonians (vv. 1–5), to the Corinthians’ own promising beginning (v. 6), to their desire for spiritual excellence (v. 7), and again to the eagerness of the Macedonians (v. 8). Now he turns to the supreme example of Christ. The transition from v. 8 to v. 9 (denoted by gar, “for”) is illuminating because it suggests that Paul saw in Christ the finest example of one who showed eagerness and generosity in giving as a demonstration of his love. If the sacrificial giving of the Macedonians did not stimulate emulation, the example of Christ’s selflessness certainly would. Such doctrinal buttressing of ethical injunctions is typical of Paul (e.g., Ro 15:2–3; Eph 5:2; Col 3:9–10).
Christ “became poor” (eptōcheusen [GK 4776], an ingressive aorist) by the act of incarnation that followed his preincarnate renunciation of heavenly glory (cf. Php 2:6–8)—from wealth to “poverty”! Here Paul depicts the glory of heavenly existence as wealth, in comparison with which the lowliness of earthly existence amounts to “poverty.” Thus it is not possible, from this verse alone, to deduce that Christ’s life on earth was one of indigence. In the context the stress is on his voluntary surrender of glory contrasted with the spiritual wealth derived by others (Eph 1:3) through his gracious act of giving. Unlike the Macedonians, who gave when they were extremely poor (2 Co 8:2), Christ gave when he was incalculably rich. In their present circumstances the Corinthians fit somewhere between these extremes. Like the Macedonians (v. 5), Christ gave himself. The Corinthians would do well to emulate these examples.
8:9 / Paul supplies the christological reason (For, gar) the Corinthians should excel in the grace of giving to the collection for Jerusalem. The illustration turns on the word grace (charis), in the sense of self-sacrificial giving. The Corinthians are to abound in the grace of self-sacrificial giving to the Jerusalem saints, because Christ gave himself. As often elsewhere, Paul’s admonition is based on the example of Christ (e.g., Phil. 2:5–11; 1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Thess. 1:6). Like the Macedonians who gave themselves (2 Cor. 8:5), Christ gave himself for the sake of others. Thus the Corinthians have both the Macedonians and Christ as examples of self-sacrificial giving.
Yet what does it mean that Christ became poor? Does it mean simply that he became a human being? That might be the meaning if we compare Philippians 2:5–11. More to the point is Galatians 3:13–14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, … so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” On the analogy of this text, that Christ “became poor” means that he came under the curse of the law on behalf of others so that, through his sacrifice, others might know the riches of the Spirit.
8:9. Paul supported his call for demonstrating sincere love by reminding his readers of the sacrificial love of Christ. The Corinthians knew that Christ was rich in his preincarnate state. As the second person of the Trinity, Christ was exalted over all before the humiliation of his incarnation (cf. Phil. 2:5–8). Despite his eternal riches, Christ became poor when he came into the world so believers through his poverty might become rich. Christ’s humiliation culminated in his death on the cross, and through his death came the riches of salvation.
Believers do not become rich through the sacrifice of Christ in the sense that they receive physical wealth in this life. According to Paul, our true wealth is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He is the “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14). Yet, as Paul told the Corinthians, in Christ all believers will inherit all the riches of the new world when Christ returns in glory.
The Corinthians were to be motivated by the example of Christ’s love and generosity to give unselfishly to the poor in Jerusalem. Their response to this opportunity tested the sincerity of their love and appreciation for Christ.
Main Idea Review: When believers repent of waywardness, they find positive motivations for further obedience to Christ. Love and gratitude motivate them to express loyalty to Christ.
9. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich he became poor on account of you, so that you might become rich through his poverty.
Note the following points:
- Knowledge. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The first word, “for,” links this verse to the preceding text and provides a clarification. Paul points his readers not to the churches in Macedonia but to Jesus Christ. He does so by saying, “you know,” which means that they had personally experienced and had come to know the grace that Jesus grants. Indeed, they were able to talk from experience and testify to that knowledge. They belonged to Jesus Christ and received from him untold spiritual and material blessings.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is a liturgical formula that concludes many of Paul’s epistles. Here the focus is on the word grace, which encompasses the full implication of our salvation (see 6:1) proclaimed in the Good News. Grace includes the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christ’s atoning work, peace with God, remission of sin, and the Lord’s abiding presence (Matt. 28:20). Grace means that we can fully rely on Jesus Christ as our redeemer, brother, friend, and intercessor.
As the Corinthians receive divine grace, so they ought to demonstrate grace to others. They must be a channel through which God’s grace reaches others. They do so with respect to the grace of giving from their material resources to help the needy.
With the possessive personal pronoun our, Paul indicates that he and the readers are one in the Lord. Together they acknowledge him as their Lord and master in all areas of life. The divine names in the liturgical formula point, first, to Jesus’ earthly ministry and, next, to Christ’s title and office in his redemptive task of prophet, priest, and king. The Lord Jesus Christ freely grants his grace to all his people, and he expects them to reflect his grace in their daily lives.
- Cause. “That though he was rich he became poor on account of you.” Paul gives an explanation of the grace that the Lord Jesus Christ grants to his people. He presents this explanation as a creedal statement that belonged to the liturgy in a worship service. It also echoes Paul’s wording of an early Christian hymn on the status and work of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
With other New Testament writers, Paul teaches the pre-existence of Jesus Christ with the statement though he was rich. The riches of Christ point not to his earthly existence but to his pre-existent state: God’s Son radiates divine glory, for he is the exact representation of God himself (Heb. 1:3). In his high-priestly prayer, Jesus asked his Father to glorify him with the glory he had before the creation of the world (John 17:5). Even in human form Jesus revealed his glory as the unique Son of God (John 1:14, 18).
Jesus Christ became poor because of you, writes Paul to the Corinthians. But what is the meaning of the expression he became poor? Did he identify with those who are economically deprived? Yes, he did with his statement, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). But during his earthly ministry Jesus did not shun the rich. He dined in their homes, counseled the rich young ruler, and was “with the rich in his death” (Isa. 53:9). Did he relate only to the poor in spirit, the meek who are called the blessed ones? No, because his disciples John and James, whom he called “sons of thunder,” were far from meek and lowly (Luke 9:54). They wanted to sit at his left and right in the kingdom (Matt. 20:21).
Paul contrasts the riches of Christ before Jesus’ birth with the poverty of human existence during his earthly life. It is the dissimilarity of leaving the holiness and glory of heaven to enter the profanity and poverty of earth. It is God’s indescribable gift (9:15) to send his Son to be born, suffer, and die for sinners.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews teaches that Jesus Christ partook of our humanity to destroy the devil and to deliver his people who were held in the bondage by the fear of death (2:14–15). Paul applies this same teaching directly to the Corinthians and states that Jesus became poor for them. Because of their sins and ours, Jesus voluntarily laid aside his heavenly glory. He became a human being while remaining divine (Rom. 1:3–4). He became materially poor while he remained spiritually rich. He became a debtor to God by being our sinbearer (5:21; Isa. 53:6), yet he himself remained sinless. He assumed our humanity to conquer death for us, and by his resurrection he promises us that we, too, will rise from the dead (1 Cor. 15:21–22).
- Result. “So that you might become rich through his poverty.” Paul’s teaching is not meant to induce Christians to try to emulate Christ by giving up material possessions to gain spiritual riches. The redemptive work of Christ can never be duplicated, for if this were possible, Jesus would no longer be our Lord and Savior (Luke 2:11). Through his suffering, death, and resurrection, we are heirs and co-heirs with him (Rom. 8:17). We are children of the light, filled with joy and happiness, and partakers of his glory. Through Christ’s death on the cross, we have “become the righteousness of God” (5:21). We already are spiritually rich in this life and rich beyond comparison in the world to come.
If, then, the Corinthians are rich in Christ, they should express their love and thankfulness to him by helping the needy saints in Judea. Paul’s theological message should inspire all believers everywhere to be generous in their giving to alleviate the needs of the poor.
8:9 It is at this point that the Apostle Paul introduces one of the greatest verses in this grand letter. Against a background of the petty circumstances of life in Macedonia and in Corinth he paints a lovely portrait of the most generous Person who ever lived.
The word grace is used in a variety of ways in the NT, but here the meaning is unmistakably that of generosity. How generous was the Lord Jesus? He was so generous that He gave all He had for our sakes that we through His poverty might become eternally rich.
He was rich in possessions, power, homage, fellowship, happiness. He became poor in station, circumstances, in His relations with men. We are urged to give a little money, clothing, food. He gave Himself.
This verse teaches the pre-existence of the Lord Jesus. When was He rich? Certainly not when He came into the world as the Babe of Bethlehem! And certainly not during His thirty-three years of wandering “as a homeless stranger in the world His hands had made.” He was rich in a bygone eternity, dwelling with the Father in the courts of heaven. But He became poor. This refers not only to Bethlehem but to Nazareth, Gethsemane, Gabbatha, and Golgotha. And it was all for our sakes, that we through His poverty might become rich.
If this is true, and it certainly is, then it should be our greatest joy to give all that we are and have to Him. No argument could be more forceful than this in the midst of Paul’s discussion of Christian giving.
8:9 The Corinthians did not need a command (v. 8), because the example of Christ taught them about sacrificial giving. He was rich: See John 17:5; Col. 1:16. He became poor: See Phil. 2:7, 8 for an eloquent description of all that Jesus gave up to come to this earth. You … might become rich refers to the spiritual riches that Jesus gives to all who place their trust in Him: He offers forgiveness, justification, regeneration, eternal life, and glorification. Jesus purchases us from slavery to sin and makes us children of God. He gives us the right and privilege to approach God with requests and praise.
8:9 — For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
In heaven, Jesus was rich through the love He shared with the Father and the Spirit. On earth, we were poor in our estrangement from God. Jesus emptied Himself on earth so that we might be full in heaven.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2003). 2 Corinthians (pp. 287–295). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 Harris, M. J. (2008). 2 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 499–500). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Scott, J. M. (2011). 2 Corinthians (p. 179). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, pp. 391–392). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 19, pp. 281–283). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1851). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1505). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (2 Co 8:9). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.