How was Jesus poor and why did he become poor? Why would God come into the world as a man in poverty? Paul the apostle provides an answer.
“But just as you excel in everything—in faith and in speaking and in knowledge and with all diligence and in the love from us that is in you—so may you excel in this grace [of giving generously] also. I am not saying this as a command, but proving the genuineness of your love by means of the diligence of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although he was rich, for your sake he became poor, in order that you, by his poverty, may become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:6–9 LEB).
In making the case for living graciously and generously, Paul pulls in the example of Jesus. He states that Jesus became poor for the sake of the world. The implications of this for our lives cannot be overstated.
The first level of Jesus’ poverty came in his decision to become a human (see Philippians 2:5–11). When Jesus decided to become human he moved from being crowned in glory in heaven to being mortal. He went from being able to move like a spirit to being stuck in flesh. But Jesus took it on gladly, for our sake.
Jesus took on poverty for our sake. He even became poor in a very ordinary way: He grew up in poor Nazareth and was a traveling preacher, who was basically homeless (see Luke 9:57–58).
If Jesus had not chosen to become human, he would not have been able to save us. If Jesus had not become physically poor, he likely would not have been as effective as a minister. Even in his poor appearance, Jesus was an attractive teacher—a stark contrast to the rich teachers of his day (compare Isaiah 53:1).
Jesus understood that it was through enduring poverty that he was able to reach and save humanity. On his way to dying for the world—on the cross—Jesus became a poor man. Those of us with much must realize how incredibly far we actually are from the state Jesus lived in. We must also keep in mind that our poor neighbors understand many things about Jesus that we do not.
This is why Jesus says things like, “Blessed are the poor, because yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20 LEB). The Macedonians, who Paul talks about just before the above passage in 2 Corinthians, gave out of their poverty because they understood what it meant to be in need (see 2 Corinthians 8:1–5). The wealthy Corinthians had a harder time seeing the perspective of the kingdom of God and hence Paul's not so subtle rebuke.
If Paul was alive today, he would probably remind us of the exact same thing he brought up to the Corinthians: be gracious in your giving and your lifestyle, for Jesus was incredibly gracious to us. Do what you can for those in need. And spread the good news of Jesus at all cost (compare James 1:27).
How does Paul’s perspective on Jesus, giving, and poverty change your perspective? Drop me a comment, I would love to hear from you.*
Want to go deeper into this subject? Check out my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live Jesus' economy, the currency of love.
*This article is adapted in part from my earlier article, "What Saint Paul Wants You to Understand about Jesus and Poverty."