In the late summer of 2018, I was riding in an Uber from Lekki to Lagos Island. I had the privilege to converse with Peter, the driver of the Uber who I got to know a bit during the 2½ hour commute. Our conversation led to us talking about the meaning of the gospel. At one point I mentioned that God has not promised material wealth to Christians as a result of believing in Jesus Christ. He expressed surprise to hear me making such a statement and then he asked me what the Bible meant when it says, “Jesus became poor so that we would become rich”. Peter was referring to 2 Corinthians 8:9 which reads,
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.”
At that time Peter’s understanding of this text was that Jesus Christ became materially poor so that everyone who believes in him might become materially wealthy. But is this what is meant in this text?
In order to answer this question, we must ask some other questions. The first is: what is the gospel? The apostle Paul tells us what the gospel is in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 where we read,
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel which I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
The gospel is believing that we are sinners and that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, that he was buried, and that He arose from the dead according to what the Bible tells us. Romans 10:9 further says, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” We must have faith in Jesus Christ and trust in him for our life here on earth and for the future and we must obey him as our Lord. This is the gospel. Jesus saves us from our sins in His death, burial, and resurrection, and we must believe this in order to be a Christian. If you do not believe this, you are not a Christian.
So, we have seen what the gospel is, now let us look back on the 2 Corinthians 8:9 passage that we looked at earlier. What does it mean that by Jesus’ poverty we would become rich? Philippians 2:5-8 will help us understand what it means that Jesus became poor. We read in those verses about Jesus, “…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This text is speaking about Jesus Christ humbling himself. This key passage dealing with Christ becoming “poor” means that Jesus set aside the glory he enjoyed in heaven with God the Father in eternity and became a man who was obedient to the point of death, even the cursed death of dying on the cross. A part of his humiliation was becoming materially poor, but the Philippians passage says so much more than that. We see that Christ becoming “poor” means first and foremost that he, as God, humbled himself by setting aside his heavenly glory in taking upon himself a true human nature and by dying on the cross for the sins of his people.
What then are the rewards of the gospel for those who have faith in Jesus? What does it mean that we would become rich? Jesus gives us insight into the blessings of the gospel when he tells us, in Matthew 6:19-20, that our treasure should not be here on earth where earthly things are destroyed or stolen, but rather, “…lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Christians are to lay up spiritual treasure in heaven, not to focus on storing up treasure here on earth. Furthermore, Jesus says something profound in verse 21 of Matthew 6, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We must be faithful to the people and things God gives us here on earth and be good stewards of them, but our longing and chief joy must be in heaven, because that is where God is, and the Christian’s chief desire is to be with him. He must be our greatest delight.
In fact, Jesus says, in Matthew 6:24, that we cannot serve two masters because our love will only be for one of them, not both. At the end of this verse, Jesus makes a statement that must be considered here. He said, “You cannot serve God and money.” Material wealth is not the type of “prosperity” that Christianity leads to in this life. Those who are striving to gain material wealth in this life on earth, especially in the name of Christianity, are not serving God as they ought to, and likely not at all.
The Importance of Context
Another question which we must ask is the question of context- In what circumstance or event was this written? What issue was it addressing at the time? Whenever we read a passage in the Bible, we must remember the context of a passage. The context of 2 Corinthians 8:9 is that Paul is encouraging the Christians in the Corinthian church to continue with their plan of giving to the needy Christians in Judea. Thus, this passage is not encouraging Christians with respect to receiving riches, but rather giving of what they have to fellow believers who were struggling with poverty.
It is interesting to note that earlier in the chapter Paul uses another group of Christians, those in Macedonia, as an example of generous giving to encourage the Corinthians. Paul said of the Macedonian Christians that out of their “extreme poverty” overflowed great generosity in that they gave of their means for the Judean Christians (2 Corinthians 8:1–3). These Macedonian Christians were themselves very poor. Does Paul suggest that their poverty is due to their lack of faith? Not at all, in fact, he commends them and uses them as an example for the Corinthian Christians to follow. The 2 Corinthians 8:9 passage is ultimately about giving, not receiving riches.
The True Riches of the Gospel
But what are the riches that Paul says that Christians gain by Christ becoming poor? The riches that the Corinthian Christians were given are recorded by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:7 where we read, “…as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you – see that you excel in this act of grace also.” There is no mention of money being a gift they have received by trusting in Christ, but rather the “riches” of faith, knowledge, love, etc., all of which are spiritual. These are riches that they have received as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ and belief in the gospel and it is because of these spiritual riches that they are to give of what material wealth they have to bless the needy Judean Christians.
This spiritual prosperity, as a result of the gift of faith in Christ, is further seen in Ephesians 1:3-14. I am not going to record the totality of these wonderful and encouraging verses here, but I will give a summary of their contents. We read in these verses that we, as Christians, have been chosen by God the Father in Jesus Christ and that we should be holy and blameless. We are adopted as sons. We have redemption through the blood of Christ, the forgiveness of our sins by his grace. We have been reconciled to God in Christ Jesus. Christians also have an inheritance, which is eternal life, that is guaranteed to all who place their trust in him. This guarantee is none other than the Holy Spirit, who is also the gift of God to those who believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit applies all of these wonderful, spiritual gifts to Christians which is his primary work in the church.
We see that the riches that Paul speaks about in 2 Corinthians 8:9 are not material riches at all, but spiritual riches which Christians are given by God the Father through Jesus Christ and which are then applied to them by the Holy Spirit. The pinnacle of these spiritual riches is eternal life with God himself. What a wonderful future Christians can look forward to!
What compares with such majestic and gracious salvation and blessing as this? The idea of earthly treasure pales in comparison with such eternal blessings that God has prepared for all who love him. Expecting wealth and health in this life is like a person who is digging in the dirt to try to find treasure all the while ignoring the most wonderful treasure which is offered to them by God himself!
The Mercy of God
The gospel is not about material wealth in this life. Yet, God is a God of great mercy and love to his people. To those who are struggling in poverty and other trials, look to the Lord for relief. Work hard in the calling that God has placed you in, be a good steward over the things that God has given you, and delight yourself in the things of the Lord by worshiping him, reading his word, sitting under sound preaching and teaching in a Bible-centered church, and place your trust in God with the results of your labor. With respect to clothing, food, and drink, Jesus said, “Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat? Or ‘what shall we drink?’ or ‘what shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31– 33). These words of Christ are a great encouragement to those who suffer.
One of the means by which the Lord helps his people, particularly the poor who are dear to him, is the church. In Acts 6, the office of deacon was instituted to help provide relief for the poor. Today, the church has deacons that help members of the church who have material and physical needs that they cannot meet on their own. This is one reason to give tithes and offerings; so that the members of the church are helped in times of need. For those who have financial means, it is their duty to God and their fellow Christians to give to the church so that the church can properly minister to brothers and sisters who have need. While the gospel is not about earthly riches, God is a merciful God and he will provide means to help his people in need.
On the Lekki-Epe Expressway in 2018 Peter, who was my Uber driver on that occasion, believed that it is through Christ that we gain money and financial wealth. We have seen that this is not the case. The context of the 2 Corinthians 8:9 passage is the Corinthian church giving, not receiving, material riches. Rather, their riches were deep and eternally valuable spiritual gifts which will last forever, gifts which God will not withhold to those who ask him.
 Scripture Quotations Are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a Publishing Ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by Permission. All Rights Reserved.