Paul writes in 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 by his poverty might become rich.
Here’s the point: Sometimes, helping the poor requires taking part of their burden on ourselves, and suffering deprivation as a result.
That is the inescapable reality we see in the incarnation. It is embodied by the Lord himself. In fact, he did not even just take some of our burden on himself; he took it all — even to the point of death (Philippians 2:4-11).
As followers of Christ, then, shouldn’t we do the same? How can we say we are his followers if we do not follow in the path he took?
I know this can be abused. “So, Jesus became poor, therefore, all Christians should buy beat-up houses that they hate. Buy a car that doesn’t work or, better, don’t even own a car. If you truly want to be spiritual, make your life miserable.” That would certainly be an abuse of this teaching.
At the same time, there really, truly are instances in our lives when we are called upon to sacrifice for the sake of serving others. Yet, what I often see in American Christianity is that when people do this, lots of well-meaning Christians (who, being Christians, should know better!) often respond by saying “oh, you must be doing something wrong.”
This is the prosperity gospel in disguise. It is based in the assumption that if God is really with you, everything will always be “working” for you. That’s simply not true — as the example of Jesus himself shows. He “became poor.” Things aren’t working so well for you when you’re poor. Yet Jesus became poor.
Not out of some notion of super-spirituality, to be sure, but because the need required it. “For our sake” he became poor. He did it because it was the only way to address our real problem, and do away with it for good. And, interestingly — further dispelling once for all the myth that poverty in itself is extra spiritual — Jesus’ aim for us was that we would “become rich.” That doesn’t mean health and wealth in this life, but riches in the fullest sense of eternal life and becoming like Christ.
Yet, let’s not miss the point. The path to bringing others to true riches, and even the path to addressing the concrete reality of economic poverty in the church and in the world, requires sacrifice. This takes the ability to discern one’s calling and know when the need lies in your path of opportunity and gifts, and it is different for everyone. But it is simply not possible to meet the needs of the world, live the life Christ calls us to, and follow in Christ’s steps without sacrifice — which means enduring some seasons when things just aren’t quite working so well.
When that happens, you aren’t necessarily off track. From the looks of 2 Corinthians 8:9, it may precisely mean that you are on track.
This is a hard teaching — no question. But perhaps we need to take this a bit more seriously as a church. “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).