The Riches of God and the Poverty of Man

Good evening, please turn with me in your bibles to 1 Corinthians. The text to which I would like to turn our attention this evening is 1 Corinthians 1.

We began a few weeks ago studying this wonderful and profound letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the church of God in Corinth. And we will see tonight his emphasis on a sweet theme, a theme upon which I had the blessing of meditating all week: that is, the riches of God and the poverty of man. The riches of God and the poverty of man.

Paul is writing in this short section of verse a portion of thanksgiving, an encouragement, which is common in most of his letters, and in our verse for tonight he mentions the riches of God, which is a topic he mentions in several of his letters. But, unlike any other letters, he mentions being enriched IN Christ. The Corinthian letters are the only places where Paul uses this explicit language, and it is our privilege to meditate on that profound truth: we’ve been enriched in Christ. We’ve been made rich in Christ.

Let’s begin by reading 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, and we’ll be focusing mainly on verse 5.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let’s start with looking at verse 5 again. Paul says “that in every way you were enriched in him.” Let’s break that down and look at it closely.

First, notice of the action itself: God does the enriching. God Does the enriching. “You were enriched” or “you were made rich,” we could translate it. This is a passive action on behalf of the Corinthians. Their enrichment was not the result of their effort, not the result of their pedigree, their doctrinal knowledge, their moral uprightness. They didn’t do it.

Which is exactly consistent with what Paul is doing in this entire paragraph: He’s steadily and deliberately shifting the focus away from the Corinthian believers and back on God.

Look back at verse 1: GOD is the one who called Paul to be an apostle.

Verse 2: To the Church of GOD that is in Corinth.

Verse 3: Grace to you and Peace from GOD

Verse 4: I give thanks to GOD because of the grace of GOD that was given to you.

The Corinthians had all sorts of problems, many of which stemmed from a man-centered view of the world and of salvation. They considered themselves rich in terms of their spiritual gifts. They flaunted them, they emphasized their efforts, their wisdom, their discernment, and their rhetorical flair, their speaking gifts or gifts of utterance.

And in typical Pauline fashion, Paul cuts right to the heart of the matter by reminding them that their riches have been GIVEN to them. Whatever they have is due to the enrichment that God has given.

“None of you were of noble birth,” Paul will later say. None of you were rich. None of you had anything to contribute to the riches that God has given you in Jesus Christ.

In fact, as Paul will make clear later, the message of the cross is a message that makes one poor in the eyes of the world. Man is to be made a fool if he is to preach the message of Jesus Christ crucified. Paul mentions something of this in 2 Corinthians 6:10 when he says that he is treated as poor, and yet makes many rich. He’s viewed by the world as having nothing to contribute, nothing of value, no riches in and of himself, and yet by the proclamation of a glorious gospel about the God of all riches, Paul is preaching a message that makes many rich.

That’s the glorious and upside-down logic of God’s gospel. In coming to Christ you have to admit that you contribute nothing, and yet in recognizing your own spiritual poverty you become the beneficiary of untold spiritual riches. You must go down to be brought up. You must be made low to be elevated. You must become last if you are to become first in the kingdom of God.

The enrichment that the Corinthians received was utterly foreign to them, utterly alien, outside of themselves, and Paul is intentional here in the introduction to this letter to remind them of that. They needed to be reminded of first principles, of foundational truths. He does this throughout his letter: going back to the basics. If there is a problem that arises, consider what do we know to be true.

Have a problem with divisions and tribalism? Paul says, What, is Christ divided? Were you baptized into Paul or Apollos? No. You were baptized into Christ, who is wholly undivided. And therefore your divisions are at root a fundamental misunderstanding of your salvation and union with Christ. See a problem, go back to fundamental principles.

Have a problem with sexual immorality? Paul says, Don’t you know that your bodies are members of Christ? That your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? He corrects ethical problems by reminding them of the fundamental truth of their relation to Christ.

And here the fundamental principle he is highlighting is our enrichment, our being made rich, our having access to the divine riches is fundamentally a passive action, a work by God on our behalf. He is the one who has enriched us. He is the one who has saved us. He has done it of his own sovereign will and free accord. We’ve not been saved because we were special. We were poor. We’re not been granted grace because we were so gifted; we had nothing to contribute.

And this is the entire story of salvation in scripture: man’s poverty, his inability, his impotence to save himself, contrasted and overruled by God’s mighty action to save.

  • Adam was naked and ashamed after he sinned, but God chose to act and cover his nakedness.
  • Noah was surrounded by wickedness and judgment, but God acted and shut him up in the ark.
  • Abraham had no heir and was grieved, but God acted and opened Sarah’s womb.
  • Israel was enslaved in Egypt with no means of rest or rescue, but God delivered them from Pharaoh by his mighty arm.
  • David was faced with a mighty giant, but God guided the rock that dropped the philistine blasphemer.
  • We could go on and on.
  • Paul was a persecutor of the church, and yet God blinded him on the road to Damascus, and through Paul’s blindness, through his poverty, he was given the gift of sight. He could see rightly his own poverty for the first time, and see the riches of divine grace.

And that’s the story of all of us. If we believe, we have that faith because of God’s divine action in our hearts. It is all of grace, from start to finish. It’s not because of our loveliness, not because of our eloquence, not because we were in the right church, or knew the right doctrine, or said the right catechisms, or attended enough services. We were in Egypt, slaves to our own unbelief.

Not only that, we were happy in our unbelief. The bible says that we were enemies of God, at enmity with him. We didn’t want to be saved. We were in Egypt, and we loved pharaoh, our slave driver, and had no interest in leaving him. Man doesn’t seek after God.

It is not as if men get together, realized their own spiritual poverty, set up a committee to decide what we need to do next, and developed a plan of trying to get right with God. That doesn’t happen. We’re by birth pointed away from God. We love the darkness, we love our sin, we love our poverty, and we hate the light.

But praise be to God the Father for the riches of his kindness shown to us. He doesn’t leave us in our darkness and poverty. He sends a savior, he sends a redeemer. He doesn’t send to us a mere Moses, doesn’t save us from a single Passover evening, and he doesn’t just part the red sea. He has sent us the true and greater Moses who goes before us, proclaims God’s law to us, and disarms the ruler of this Age, liberating us from slavery and bondage to sin, and freeing us for a journey to a greater country flowing with milk and honey.

He doesn’t just save us from a single Passover evening; he saves us from an eternity under the judgment of pain and death. And he does this not merely by sacrificing a valuable spotless lamb. He sends his own son to be the forever Passover lamb, who’s blood covers us like the lamb’s blood on the posts and lintels, and who’s purification makes us clean, not merely for a night, but for all of eternity.

And God doesn’t just part the red sea so that we can walk through the waters of judgment once. He sends his son to God through the place of judgment, the grave itself, so that the sting of the grave cannot reach us, and the pain of death cannot keep us. We’ve been made united to his son, who has already beaten death, and in our union with Christ, nothing can stop us. We’ve been raised with Christ and seated in the heavenly places, Paul says, speaking of our future resurrection with such confidence and assurance, that he can speak of it in the past tense: you’ve been “raised with Christ and seated in the heavenly places.”

And all of this, from start to finish, is a work of God. It is divine action and divine initiative. We’re beneficiaries of divine enrichment and blessing to such a scale and to such a degree that it ought to humble us. We ought to be on our knees constantly, praising God for this bestowal of divine grace. But we don’t often act that way. We act like the Corinthians.

We act as if we are the righteous ones. Like we’re pretty good people. Like we’re doing all right, and those people over there, those people who sin differently than I do, THOSE people are the ones that really need the grace of salvation. I’ve got is under control in my life. In fact, if they’d just listen to me, if they would just do it like I do it, if they would just think like I think and read the bible like I read it, THEN they’d get their act together.

We think that we’re the rich ones, and others are the ones that need God’s riches, when in fact we were nothing, we were in spiritual poverty, and if it were not for God’s divine grace right now, we’d still be in poverty. Apart from his constant and ongoing work of grace in our lives, we’d drift back into poverty. Salvation is a gift of divine blessing, divine initiative, divine grace from start to finish.

God does the enriching.

Second, not only do we need to remember the fundamental truth that God does the action, God does the enriching, we need to remember who it is who does this enriching. The identity of the enricher. The identity of the enricher.

We should know who it is that is bestowing the riches. Who is our benefactor? And the answer is the sovereign God of all things. The God who is described in scripture as having untold riches.

Paul speaks of God’s “riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience” in Romans 2:4. The riches of his kindness. The riches of God’s kindness toward us is but the manifestation of his essential goodness to us. God is good in and of himself, and that goodness inclines him to manifest his goodness toward some of his creation. And that manifestation of goodness is received by us as his kindness toward us. We deserve just judgment, and yet God’s rich kindness to us is mercy. We deserve wrath, and his rich kindness toward us is favor.

Similarly, Paul speaks of the riches of his forbearance. That is, the riches of God being long-suffering, willing to withstand being treated sinfully. God’s forbearance is seen in each of our lives from the fact that he didn’t strike us down at the moment we were born. We came from the womb bearing the guilt of sin and bearing the curse. We were inclined from conception toward selfishness and hatred. We didn’t get what we wanted, so we screamed. We fought, we demanded, we fussed, and we sinned. And yet God in his forbearance chose not to strike us with his just judgment, but he forbeared.

But we must also note: God’s forbearance doesn’t last forever. If you are not united to God by faith in Jesus Christ, he will not forbear for long. One day you will be called to account. You will be brought before him for divine judgment, and the divine riches of his justice will be demonstrated on you, unless you repent of your sins and believe in Jesus. Do not presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance. Don’t wait another day. His grace has been shown to you this night by letting you hear of his gospel of grace. Don’t presume upon his patience and ignore his call. Your time is going to come.

Listen again to the splendid message of divine enrichment that Paul lays out in 2 Corinthians 8:9: that though Christ was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. He, who had everything, gave up it all and became nothing, so that by his becoming nothing, you might inherit all things. What kind of a man would do that? No man would. Only a good God would do that. And that’s what Christ is: the God-man. Fully divine, sharing in the goodness of the divine nature with the father, and yet taking on the fullness of human nature.

This god-man came and lived a life of poverty. He was born in a cattle stall, laid in a manger. Born not to a royal family, but to meager lineage. Born not into a palace, but raised by a wood worker. Trained not in the finest schools, but as a simple Hebrew boy. He had everything, and yet became nothing to the eyes of the world, so that by his becoming nothing you might gain everything.

And not only that, his willingness to become poor was seen in how he was treated. He was ridiculed and mocked. He was spat upon and stripped naked, he was whipped and crowned, not with gold but with thorns, and elevated, not like a statue in honor, but raised as a criminal on a cross. His poverty was further displayed by his burial: laid to rest not in a mausoleum like a king. Not in a pyramid like pharaoh. But in a grave that he didn’t even own.

But God received the poverty of his Son and accepted it as the faithful service that it was, and rewarded him with a name above all names, with glory eternal, with the right to become the heir of the kingdom, and the king of an eternal throne. Christ’s poverty has earned him the riches of full inheritance, and those riches can be yours if you would trust in him. His riches become yours, his inheritance becomes yours, his eternal status becomes yours, his father becomes yours, all by trusting in Him, not in your own riches. Not in your own strength. Not in your own merits and strength and influence and ability.

Come to that Jesus again, each of you, and taste of the goodness of Divine riches, remind yourself of the identity of the one who enriches us, and have your heart made full by the fullness of divine grace.

Third, we’ve seen that God does the enriching, we’ve looked at the identity of the enricher, now let’s look at the scope of enrichment. The scope of the enrichment. Paul says in verse 5: “that in every way you were enriched”. In every way you were enriched. What does that mean?

It means, as has been hinted at already, that every part of your life is evidencing divine enrichment. You’ve been made rich in God, and the proof of that is evident in every area of your life, whether or not you take time to notice.

You say, “but how is that possible? I’ve been dealt a life of sickness. How is that an evidence of divine enrichment?” The bible teaches that nothing is given to you, whether pleasant or unpleasant, apart from God’s divine plan and purpose to work for your good. Your sovereign and good father has determined that the best thing for you is to suffer in the body, which is a grace to you, a daily reminder for you to not rely on your flesh and to cast yourself wholly and completely upon your good father for strength.

Further, you’ve been given a daily reminder that your hope lies in a new, resurrected, pain-free body in the new heavens and new earth. If you didn’t have this daily battle with sickness or pain, you might be tempted to rely on your own strength, and not trust in God; so God has given you what you need to work against your sinful inclinations, prepare your heart for glory, and strengthen your trust in him. You’ve been richly blessed with what the all-wise and all-good God knows to be the best thing for YOUR good.

Well, what if you say, “but I am poor. I don’t have enough money, and I am working paycheck to paycheck. How is that evidence of being enriched by God?” I’d say with Paul and rest of scripture that your material poverty is what God has ordained to be your station at the moment, and may be exactly what your heart needs to drive itself from the love of this world to the arms of our good God. God is sufficient, and his love and salvation is sufficient. And if your material needs are great enough, God has provided for you through the provision of his church. You have brothers and sisters in Christ who love you and can share with you the things that you need.

The riches of God lavished upon us does not mean that we will have all of our material wants met in this life. In fact, material riches are often a source of immense temptation and can destroy a man. The riches that God lavishes upon us, the important riches, are those riches that moth and rust cannot destroy.

  • We’ve been enriched with peace of soul and a cleansed conscience; money cannot buy that.
  • We’ve been enriched with confidence in our future, knowing that God is our good and sovereign father, and therefore we need not be anxious about what lies ahead. A big bank account can’t provide that.
  • We’ve been enriched with complete fulfillment of the law, so that we’re righteous in the eyes of God; not self-help plan can give you that.
  • We’ve been given complete forgiveness in Christ, so that nothing of our past could ever come back and condemn us. The most expensive legal team can never provide that.
  • We’ve been adopted into God’s very household, so that we’ve been given complete acceptance, and we’re never alone and never orphaned in this world. No fraternity or club could ever give you that comfort.
  • We’ve been made into the image of Christ, so that means whatever “meaningless” work we do in this world—from changing diapers to praying in a closet—will be done to the glory of God, and therefore given eternal significance and importance, and WILL BE rewarded by our Father in heaven. No customer rewards program can compete with that.

We’ve been enriched by being given exactly what we need, spiritual riches, salvation, which nothing can remove from us. Moth and rust cannot destroy them. Thieves cannot break in and take them. Stumbles cannot make us drop them. We’re assured and upheld by God’s divine hand and will assuredly receive the fullness of these divine riches when we join him together in paradise.

The scope of our enrichment is all things.

Fourth. We’ve seen that God does the enriching, seen the identity of the enricher, and looked at the scope of the enrichment. Now let’s look at the means of enrichment. The means of our enrichment. Paul says in verse 5: “that in every way you were enriched in him.” You were enriched IN HIM.

What is the way to access this divine enrichment? Or we could say, what is the way of salvation? How can I be saved? What must one do to be saved and made right with God? The answer is in HIM.

The Corinthians believed they were really something. That they were really special. That they had reason to boast in themselves and their work and their gifts. But Paul pre-empts his later arguments by focusing again on God, rather than the Corinthians and their gifts. “Remember the giver,” Paul is saying, “and quit focusing so much on the gifts. Remember the way that you’ve been made rich, not the riches themselves.”

You were enriched IN HIM. In Christ. He’s the one that’s done it. Not you. He’s the one that fulfilled the law. Not you. He’s the one who has satisfied all righteousness. Not you. He’s the faithful son of God. Not you. He’s the source of all strength in the church. Not you. He’s the one who will keep this church together. Not you. He’s the alpha and the omega. He’s the faithful and true. He’s the one deserving of all praise. He’s the strong one. He’s the source. He’s the way. He’s the truth. He’s the life.

Apart from him, we are nothing and we can do nothing. Don’t have an inflated view of yourself and your contributions. Don’t think yourself to be such a hot shot. You’re not the reason that things are going well; don’t give yourself that much credit. Christ is the reason. You’re not responsible for the good things in your life; Christ has done it.  You’re not the glue holding your household together; Christ is. You’re not the one in control; Christ is.

Corinth believed they were really something special, which caused all their problems. They forgot who they were before Christ and who they were in Christ. And that’s the cause of most of our problems. We forget who we were before Christ and who we are in Christ. We forget our spiritual poverty. Our weakness. Our sinful hearts, our pride, our lust, our greed, our discontentment, our rage, our bitter tongues.

We forget that we really needed to be saved by someone else, because we could never do it ourselves. And because we forget that, we boast. We have an inflated view of ourselves. We think we’re better than others. That we didn’t really need divine enrichment; we had it under control. We’re not that bad.

And like the Corinthians, when we forget who we were and what we’ve been given in Christ, then all sorts of fleshly behaviors start popping up. We tolerate sexual sin. We pridefully treat others as less important and worth of contempt. We indulge the flesh. Be boast in our strength and our gifts. We speak and act without love.

Praise be to God for his goodness to remind us of our poverty. We need to be reminded that we ARE in need of Grace. Not merely that we WERE in need of Grace. But that we ARE in need of grace. We continue to be. And we will continue to be, until the grave. We need the divine grace of divine enabling. We need the grace of divine illumination to read the pages of scripture and understand. We need the grace of perseverance, to hang on in the Christian life. We need the grace of sanctification to grow in our Christian walk and succeed in putting to death the deeds of the flesh. We need the grace of evangelical humiliation, or gospel humbling, where God shows us our sins so that we can run back to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing. WE. NEED. GRACE.

And all of that is found IN HIM. All these graces of divine riches can’t be found by following a 12-step program. There’s not a book of the bible you need to memorize to get these riches. There’s not a prayer to pray, not a sacrifice to give, not an incantation to recite, not a baptism to do or a Lord’s supper to attend. These things are found IN HIM, and IN HIM alone. In the person of our Christ Jesus. Nothing outside of Christ grants these graces, nothing outside of Christ can bless with divine riches, nothing outside of Christ proffers complete protection and provision. Nothing.

No pope. No king. No president. No pastor. No program. Nothing. It is only in Christ, in union with him by faith, that we can have these things. Don’t look to the world to offer you what only Christ can give. Don’t look to the world to provide freedom from anxiety. Don’t look to the world to provide fulfillment and satisfaction. The world offers, but can never provide these riches. Only Christ can do it.

Come to him, trust in him, meditate on him, believe in him, cherish him, and these riches will be yours, and they will be yours eternally.

Fifth, We’ve seen that God is the one who enriches, seen the identity of the enricher, the scope of the enrichment, and the means of the enrichment. Let’s close by briefly looking at the fruit of enrichment. The fruit of divine enrichment.  What, specifically does Paul say was enriched: “that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge”. In all speech and in all knowledge. Or we could say in all utterance and all understanding.

These two words: speech and knowledge, or logos and gnosis, are big categories that come up later in the book. What Paul is doing is already highlighting the things that are points of contention in the church of Corinth, but is re-orienting the discussion in light of Christ and union with him.

Their speech and knowledge, or their gifts of understanding the gospel and voicing the truth of God, are important. They had gifts, riches, of being able to understand God’s truth and speak it truthfully. He similarly points out in 2 Corinthians 8:7 that the Corinthians excelled in these two areas. And Paul was thanking God for that. But he is here emphasizing again that these gifts come only from union with God in Christ.

Whatever riches they have, whatever spiritual gifts, whatever divine favors they have, have been recieved through Jesus Christ, and ought to be the occasions for humble thanksgiving to God, rather than proud boasting in ourselves.

I think that this is a particular warning to us at Morningview. We rightly pursue doctrinal fidelity and rightly emphasize the priority of proper preaching, which are two examples of the categories Paul addresses here: speech and knowledge. How easy is it for us at Morningview to have right speech and knowledge, the right preaching and the right doctrine, and have them without love. To be the banging gong and the clashing symbol. I know I’ve seen that in my own heart.

And this isn’t merely a corporate issue, though it certainly is that. We can have this pride of heart, pride of doctrine, pride of knowledge, pride of biblical precision, pride of whatever, and use it as an excuse to look down upon others.

What a foolish and backwards situation! Those who understand the doctrines of grace ought to be the most humble. Those with gifts of knowledge and speech, of doctrine and sound preaching, ought to be the least proud, the least pugnacious, the least combative, the least judgmental.

Consider the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was the most doctrinally knowledgeable man to ever live, and the most capable teacher and preacher to ever live. Did he speak proudly? Did he act boastfully? Never. He was willing to talk to anyone, and do so with gentleness and love.

If we understand the truth that has been highlighted by Paul in this text, and we remember the truth of the gospel, that we’ve been saved by divine grace from start to finish, that although we had nothing but poverty, we’ve been made partakers of the divine inheritance, we will continue to be molded more into Christ. Our example will continue to realign more to the standard set forth by Christ.

Let us all continue to exercise our spiritual gifts, especially our gifts of speech and knowledge, with a proper disposition of humility, and with an intentional gratitude for the riches of grace showered upon us in Christ.

To close this point and this sermon, I will go back to an earlier metaphor, back to the Hebrews coming out of Egypt: no Israelite in his right mind would be walking on the dry ground through the red sea, with walls of water being held up by God himself, with his nose high up in the air, boasting of his own ability. That’d be absurd. Why on earth would we think it’s any different with us when we are proud of heart? God has done it all in Christ, we have nothing to boast in except Christ and HIS riches.

We had nothing but poverty. But Christ became poor, so that through His poverty, we might become rich. Praise be to God, for in him, we have been enriched in every way.


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