The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
‘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’, 2 Cor. 8. 9.
We note Paul’s opening words, ‘For you know’. In verse 1 of the chapter, Paul had spoken of something which he wanted the church at Corinth to ‘know’. Namely, the example of openhanded giving sent by the churches of Macedonia (by such churches as those at Philippi and Thessalonica), who out of their rock-bottom destitution (out of ‘the abyss of their poverty’ lit.) gave liberally and unstintingly (gave ‘beyond their power’ lit.) to help meet the needs of their even poorer brothers and sisters in Christ at Jerusalem. But our text tells us that Paul is confident that they do not need to be told – that they already ‘know’ – about the supreme example of generosity and sacrificial giving, that of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And whereas, in the case of the Macedonians, Paul speaks of ‘the grace’ shown towards them, v. 1, in the case of the Lord Jesus, he speaks of ‘the grace’ shown by Him.1
That is, they received grace, but He demonstrated grace. And the human benchmark of love and sacrifice set by the Macedonians is wholly overshadowed by the divine benchmark of love and sacrifice set by the Lord Jesus. They, the Macedonians, who were themselves extremely poor, gave some of the little which they had that they might make those who were even poorer than themselves to be less poor. But He, the Lord Jesus, who was immeasurably rich, gave all of His vast wealth that He might make those who were poor to be rich.
And His ‘grace’ (His favour shown to those who do not merit it; His goodwill freely reaching out to help the undeserving) is measured by Paul in terms of what the Lord Jesus was before He came into the world and of what He became when He did. He was, Paul says, ‘rich’. And who can begin to compute the wealth of divine power and possessions, of divine rank and dignity, of divine bliss and blessedness, which were, rightly and eternally, His?
And yet, ‘He became poor’. As I understand it, this refers not only to the fact of His coming into the world, nor only to the lowly circumstances in which He lived when in the world, nor only to the manner in which He died, but to all of these. His becoming poor stretched from the moment the King of heaven divested Himself of the insignia of His majesty (of all His heavenly riches and glory) right on and down to the extreme poverty of the cross – spanning His incarnation, His life, His ministry and His passion. His becoming poor embraced everything from His stoop to Bethlehem’s manger to His death on Calvary’s cross.
Yes, the Lord of the universe (the ‘Possessor of heaven and earth’, Gen. 14. 19, 22) was willing to leave His exalted station and to become poor. And it was, no doubt, to one aspect of this magnificent wealth that He referred to Himself when He spoke, fondly and longingly, to the Father of ‘the glory which I had with you before the world was’, John 17. 5. His, were the untold riches . . . His, the indescribable glory . . . His, the lofty throne . . . His, the royal robe . . . His, the worshipful homage of the seraphim . . . His, every emblem of divine kingship.
But what, we ask, did He do with all of these? Well might we bow in wonder that:
? the One who had all the angels of heaven as His ministers should willingly become dependent upon a small group of women who ministered to Him out of their possessions, Luke 8. 2-3.
? the One of whom it was said that heaven was His dwellingplace, 2 Chron. 6. 30, should gladly accept having nowhere to lay His head, Luke 9. 58.
? the One who claimed all earth’s ‘silver’ and ‘gold’ as His, Hag. 2. 8, should have had occasion to illustrate one of His messages by referring to a coin supplied by His enemies, Mark 12. 15.
? the One who claimed ‘every beast of the forest . . . and the cattle on a thousand hills’ as His, Ps. 50. 10, should need to borrow an ass’s colt on which to ride into Jerusalem, Mark 11. 3.
? the One who shared His Father’s glory in heaven, John 17. 5, should willingly expose Himself to the ridicule of men on earth, Luke 23. 35-39.
? the One who was ‘lifted up’ on His heavenly throne, Isa. 6. 1, should willingly be ‘lifted up’ on a cross, John 12. 32-33.
But, yes, He exchanged His glory for humiliation; His bliss for suffering; His riches for poverty. And what poverty! The word Paul uses here, translated ‘poor’, differs from that which he uses in verse 9 of the following chapter. There the word ‘poor’ points to poverty in a broad sense – to having few possessions.2
Whereas the word ‘poor’ here is closely related to that used by the Lord Jesus in Luke chapter 16 to describe Lazarus, and which is accurately rendered there as the ‘beggar’, vv. 20, 22. That is, Paul is saying, the Lord Jesus became abjectly poor; He became the poorest of the poor.
And we must note that He ‘became’ poor. It was not that He was ‘made’ poor. Although this is the only time this particular verb is found in the New Testament, it occurs several times in the Greek Old Testament – but only to describe those who were impoverished – either by others, e.g., Judg. 6. 6, or as a result of their own sin and folly, e.g., Prov. 23. 21. Only here in the entire Greek Bible is this verb used of poverty which was experienced voluntarily – which was selfinflicted. Paul clearly wants us to grasp that the Lord Jesus chose to renounce His heavenly glory . . . that He chose to surrender and relinquish His inexhaustible riches!
And He did it that we, who were spiritually ‘poor’ and utterly bankrupt before God, might become rich. What a tremendous exchange.3 The Lord Jesus went, so to speak, from riches to rags that we might go from rags to riches.
He made Himself poor that we might be ‘rich’, that is, rich in salvation’s blessings. Confining ourselves only to chapter 5 of this epistle, we read of how we form part of God’s new creation, of how we have been reconciled to God, of the eternal house and dwellingplace in the heavens which is one day to be ours, and of how meantime we have ‘the earnest’ (the down-payment or deposit) of God’s Spirit in our hearts, vv. 1, 5, 17, 18. In short, in God’s sight, we are not only out of debt . . . we have inherited a fortune!
Sometime after writing this letter, the apostle spoke of how the Lord Jesus had once said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’, Acts 20. 35. When Paul reported these words to the Ephesian elders he was fully aware that the Lord Jesus knew far more about the blessedness of giving than any other! For, loving us with an intensity and passion unmatched by any other, He gave all His riches that He might enrich us.
I think of an incident recorded by Solomon in Ecclesiastes chapter 9, ‘There was a little city with few men in it; and a great king came against it, besieged it, and built great snares around it. Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that same poor man’, vv. 14-15. It is of course both bad and sad that the very folk the poor man had delivered should ever forget him. But at least his action on their behalf cost him no more than the exercise of his wisdom.
And are we to forget the Rich One who, at such enormous cost to Himself, was willing to pay for our riches with His own? Perish the thought!
1 ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’ is a formula which concludes many of Paul’s epistles. The word ‘grace’ is one of the key words of 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 – occurring no less than 10 times in 39 verses.
2 This word ‘denotes the one who, having few possessions, must support himself by his industry’, F. Hauck, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, volume VI, page 37.
3 Compare how God made Him to be sin for us that we might become God’s righteousness in Him, 2 Cor. 5. 21.