The Proclamation of the Mystery
We’re in Ephesians 3:1-14 – a study we’ve entitled “The Mystery (the Gospel of Jesus Christ) Revealed”. We’ve looked at the prisoner of the mystery, Paul, in verses 1-4, showing Paul’s divine perspective on his part in transmitting this mystery of the gospel. Verses 5-6 revealed the plan of the mystery – the unity that exists among true believers in Christ. Now, today we want to look at the proclamation, or preaching of this Gospel.
This is for all of us. Paul is dead and gone from this earth. The holding and proclamation of this precious message of the gospel is now committed to us and we need to get it right. John MacArthur relates: I remember a pastor’s saying to me one day after the morning service, “Do you see that man over there? He is one of my converts.” He went on to explain, “Not the Lord’s, but mine.” MacArthur rightly commented, “The man had become a disciple of the pastor but not a disciple of Christ.” It’s not about us – it’s about Him. The Gospel points to Him – Jesus Christ.
A Rabbi and a New England Minister were getting to know one another. Proudly, the minister exclaimed, "One of my ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence." "I understand your pride," responded the rabbi. "One of my ancestors signed the Ten Commandments." Paul would never have put himself forward like that. As Paul took great care regarding himself and the content of the message, he becomes a model for us all – not just pastors, but all believers – all of whom are ministers of the gospel as we shall see in chapter 4.
The Proclamation of the Mystery
Verse 7-9 give us a wonderful, brief insight into the kind of attitude the Lord would like to see in us as we represent His message on earth.
I. With a Sense of Humility
The first thing we note is that Paul had a profound sense of humility regarding the honor of representing the gospel. Look at verse 8: To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. We might be tempted to suppose that when Paul speaks of being the least of all saints, he is speaking in hyperbole -- exaggerated language. But I assure you that he is not. Paul was genuinely aware that his background as a persecutor of the Church and murderer of early believers hardly qualified him to be not only a minister of the gospel. His sense of being the least of the saints represented his true feelings.
When Paul says that he is the very least of all saints, it is a very striking expression. He takes the superlative (“least” or “smallest”) and does what is impossible linguistically; he turns it into a comparative ( ‘leaster’ or ‘less than the least’). Perhaps he was deliberately playing on the meaning of his name as well. For his Roman surname ‘Paulus’ is Latin for ‘little’ or ‘small’, and tradition says he was a little man. ‘I am little,’ he is saying, ‘little by name, little in stature, and morally and spiritually littler than the littlest of all Christians.’ In affirming this he is neither indulging in hypocrisy nor groveling in self-depreciation. He means it.
It is actually interesting to trace some of Paul’s statements about himself, for like many believers, as he matured, his sense of his own unworthiness increased. In one of his early epistles, Paul said “I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles” (2 Co 11:5; 12:11) – words necessitated by the attacks being made on his character in Corinth. Later he writes as we have in Ephesians, I “am less than the least of all saints” (Eph 3:8); while at the end of his life he says, “I am the chief of sinners!” (1 Ti 1:15).
Does it strike you that this sense of personal unworthiness is missing in many of our preachers and many of us as ministers today? Is it not possible that we have lost something? Humility is not, unfortunately, something that we prize these days. It has come to be seen as weakness. But I assure you it is prized by God for it encourages complete reliance on him.
We are enamored of what we bring to the service of Jesus Christ. I was in the top 10% of my class. I was a first team football player. I had the lead in every play that I ever tried out for. I may not have brains, but I have beauty. I may not have classic beauty, but I have a rare, exotic kind of attractiveness. Think what God can do with my intelligence, my personality, my artistic ability, my creativity.
But remember, Paul could rattle off a lengthy and impressive list of physical advantages himself as he did in Philippians 3 -- and yet say, I count them useless as opposed to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. When gazing at the beauty and perfection of Christ, Paul found it easy to get a proper perspective on himself, and so can we.
But perhaps the most important thing to see here is this. Though Paul honestly saw himself as the lesser of the least saint – as morally unworthy, as a gifted, but flawed and imperfect instrument, he didn’t just throw in the towel. He could have. He could have said, “Well, okay. So count me out. I see that I am not worthy of my Lord, nor the gifts he has given me, nor the task he has put before me. I get it -- so count me out.” But, folks, that was not Paul at all. As our example, that’s not where he went.
Look at verse 8 8) To me, though ( don’t you like the little “though”?) though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. Paul could have put a period after the word saint, and shut it down. I’m the least of the least, unworthy, battered past, blunt instrument. Let me put a period there and asta la vista, baby (that’s language you learn if you are from CA)! Man – thank God he didn’t do that. Do you realize we wouldn’t have half the NT had he done that? Paul didn’t put a period there, he put a comma and went on to tell how God called him to preach even though he was the least of the least. Look at verse 7: 7) Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.
Listen to me now. Here’s what this passage is teaching. It is teaching us that a sense of humility is an asset; it cannot be allowed to be an excuse, but it can be an asset, something God looks for, covets and promotes in his ministers. Paul knew he wasn’t worthy and he was right! No human person who has ever lived is worthy, outside of Christ. But he also knew he was qualified, chosen and under an imperative. Almost a paradox, isn’t it? And Paul humbly and willingly went about his work of preaching the gospel of Christ.
I suspect that if there is any one thing that has kept people from God more than any other it is the self-righteous, prideful attitudes of supposedly Christian people. In his wonderful little book, The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller says this in commenting on the self-righteous elder son in the Prodigal son story of Luke 15, “There are many people today who have abandoned any kind of religious faith because they see clearly that the major religions are simply full of elder brothers. They have come to the conclusion that religion is one of the greatest sources of misery and strife in the world. And guess what? Jesus says through this parable – they are right. The anger and superiority of elder brothers, all growing out of insecurity, fear, and inner emptiness, can create a huge body of guilt-ridden, fear-ridden, spiritual blind people, which is one of the great sources of social injustice, war and violence. It is typical for people who have turned their backs on religion to believe that Christianity is no different. They have been in churches brimming with elder-brother types. They say, “Christianity is just another religion.” But Jesus says, no, that is not true. Everybody knows that the Christian gospel calls us away from the licentiousness of younger brotherness, but few realize that it also condemns moralistic elder brotherness.” Listen, if we are “in Christ” today, it is through no merit of our own but because God sought us out and brought us to faith in Christ. Our representation of his gospel to a lost world must be from a profound sense of humility – always point to Christ, not ourselves.
On Thursday, February 1, 2008, David Tyree was in the same restaurant as Dan Patrick, a former sportscaster and now columnist for Sports Illustrated. While in the restaurant, Patrick overheard a man introduce David Tyree as a wide receiver of the New York Giants who would be playing in the Super Bowl XLII the following Sunday. Tyree, however, quickly corrected the man who introduced him saying that he was just a special teams guy. Indeed, he had caught exactly 4 passes in 18 games that year for no touchdowns and a total 35 yards. The longest was 24 yards. Given this information, it was only natural that when Tom Coughlin, the coach of the New York Giants, asked Tyree to go onto the field the next Sunday in other than a special teams situation, Tyree said, “No, Sir, Coach Coughlin. I can’t do that. I am the leastest of your least receivers. I cannot go out there now.” Is that what happen? No it is not, is it. Here is what happened:
First, David Tyree went out onto that football field. Then he caught a five yard touchdown pass to put the Giants ahead 10-7 late in the game. Of course, Tom Brady drove the Patriots the length of the field to put them up 14-10 with just a couple of minutes left. Things looked bleak for the Giants. And they got bleaker when with 1:15 left and the Giants having 3rd and 5 from their own 44 yard line Eli Manning went back to pass. He was aggressively pursued by the Patriot defense and at one point was surrounded in manner where escape seemed impossible, but somehow, some way he did escape long enough to heave the football far down field in desperation. And at the other end of that pass – at the other end of that pass was David Tyree, who jumped up as high as his 30 inch leap (low for a pro) could take him, grabbed the ball, lost it, but somehow pinned it with one hand to his helmet – yes his helmet -- for a 32 yard gain and the key play in the drive. That play has now been dubbed by many the greatest catch in Super Bowl history. That’s what David Tyree, leastest of the least, did.
Humility doesn’t mean quit, it just means to maintain a proper perspective. Humility in the spiritual realm simply means I see myself correctly as a sinner saved by grace, but equipped by God for great things – great in the sense that anything done in the power of the Holy Spirit is great. That was Paul; operating with a sense of humility and yet with a sense of entitlement in a wonderful balance that produced eternal results.
II. With a Servant’s Attitude
So, first we see that Paul proclaimed the mystery with an attitude of humility. Second we see that he preached the gospel with an attitude of servanthood. Look at verse 7: Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. Minister is the Greek word διακονος, the basic meaning of which is “servant”, used originally of serving tables. In Paul’s mind he had been made a servant the moment he was given the gift of God’s grace to share the gospel. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? Paul asks in Roman 10:14. “And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching (and that includes not just church preaching but the witness of any and all Christians)?” Paul was not serving tables, but he was serving something infinitely better – the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that would result in eternal life to all who would believe. He desired nothing more than to serve faithfully. “What then is Apollos?” Paul asked the fragmented Corinthians. “And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one” (1 Cor. 3:5).
Paul emphasizes the fact that he did not make himself a minister but that he was made a minister (cf. Col. 1:23, 25). The calling, the message, the work, and the empowering were all God’s. When he was first saved on the Damascus Road, and while he was still blinded from the great light, Paul was given his commission by Jesus. “Arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness” (Acts 26:16). It was not Paul’s education, natural abilities, experience, power, personality, influence, or any other such thing that qualified him to be a minister of Jesus Christ. He was made an apostle, a preacher, and a servant by the will and power of His Lord. He did not want accolades but prayers, lest he fail in this calling.
Beloved, we all have that same wonderful call to be servants – to serve first of all our Lord and secondly those who need our Lord until they see Him just as we do. But it can be a humbling thing. It’s tough to be a servant. I read of a lady who got a real wake-up call one time. In her younger days she played small parts at a local repertory theater. Once, when the director asked if she would take part in a production, he explained that he was going to have an older woman in the riding fashion of 100 years ago and a younger one in modern dress walking with a horse. The moment of truth has come, she thought. Do they see me as a smart young girl or a middle-aged woman? When she asked which of those parts she was to take, the director replied, “Oh, neither. I need you to be the back legs of the horse.” That would be tough, wouldn’t it? Who wants to be the back legs of the horse? But I must tell you, Beloved, the people that God can most use are those who see everything they do, glamour or not, in front of 1000’s or one person, to the praise of multitudes or the attention of no one – they see everything from the perspective of service.
The Navigators are well known for their emphasis on having an attitude of servanthood. A businessman once asked Lorne Sanny, then president of the Navigators, how he could know when he had a servant-like attitude. The answer was, “By how you act when you are treated like one.” So how do we measure up against that test?
III. In the Power of God
So the proclamation of the Gospel must be with an attitude of humility, an attitude of servanthood, and thirdly, it must be in the power of God. See verse 7 again, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.” We must never, ever, ever think that it is our intelligence, or our charm, or our personality, or our skills of persuasion that are the issue. They are not. Now, here’s the paradox, we must use absolutely every ability God gives us for His glory. That’s our stewardship responsibility. But at the same time, we must never depend on those.
In 1715, Louis XIV of France died. Louis, who called himself “the Great,” was the monarch who made the infamous statement “I am the State.” His court was the most magnificent in Europe, and his funeral was spectacular. His body lay in a golden coffin. To dramatize the deceased king’s greatness, orders had been given that the cathedral should be very dimly lighted, with only one special candle set above his coffin. Thousands waited in hushed silence. Then Bishop Massilon began to speak. Slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle, saying, “Only God is great.” “Only God is great.”
That is how Paul looked at his commission to declare the gospel message that God had given him. He was wonderfully privileged, as are all of us who are believers and have been consequently gifted by the grace of God for a specific ministry. But ever before him was a sense of his own unworthiness versus the worthiness of God, just as we are ultimately unworthy of whatever call God has put on our life. Yet, that never stopped him from giving everything he had in God’s service; it only kept him on his knees in dependence upon God for the results, and so it should us. The message of our life should be, “Only God is great; but He is so great that it makes up for my own deficiency.”
IV. With a Message of Reconciliation
So, we have seen that the proclamation or preaching of the mystery is done with a sense of humility, an attitude of servanthood, in the power of God, and now we see that it is a message of reconciliation. In the latter half of verse 8 and verse 9 Paul really gives us a reiteration of the message of the whole book of Ephesians. It is all about the reconciliation, the reunification of all things in Christ, and it contains both a vertical and a horizontal component. Look with me beginning in the middle of verse 8 where Paul notes that he was commissioned “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9) and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.” So, he had a twofold commission – to preach Christ (the vertical reconciliation), and to enlighten everyone concerning the mystery, which involved Jews and Gentiles together, reconciled in one body (the horizontal reconciliation).
Let’s look first at the vertical component. Paul was to preach the “unsearchable” riches of Christ to the Gentiles. The word “unsearchable” literally means, “not capable of being traced by footprints”. Paul is suggesting that while we may know something of the wonder of Christ and the riches of his grace, we can never comprehend it all. What riches is he talking about? There are so many in Scripture. Let me give you just one example.
This will test our desire to experience the unsearchable riches of Christ. Think for a moment of all the treasures that belonged in ancient Egypt. Take all the gold, all the artwork, all the jewels, all the beautiful clothing, all the animals, all the spectacular privileges that attached to those living royally in that ancient society and pile them all together. It would have taken years to even account for all of it, right? Got the picture? Now listen to his from Hebrews 11:26: “ He (Moses) considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Take all of those beautiful, wonderful treasure, and Moses considered the reproach of Christ, or being humiliated for Christ’s sake, of greater value than all that wealth. Wow, and you thought Moses was a pretty level-headed guy up until now, huh? And, of course, for Moses, this wasn’t a purely academic question. He actually chose the position of being ostracized, laughed at, considered a fool when he gave up his amazing position as Pharoah’s adoptive son. How many of us would truly have done that? Would we have rationalized – “Surely I can do more for those poor folks here in the palace than I can by joining forces with them?” Don’t think that didn’t go through Moses’ mind. But Moses got it! He got it! He saw the riches of being reproached for Christ – do we?
One step further. There’s the little secret in Colossians 2:2. Turn there, “2) that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” What’s the secret? Why the secret is that ultimately the riches are Christ Himself. The rest – His gifts, are wonderful, but we don’t want to stop short and miss the ultimate riches which is knowing Him.
Listen, when your loved one gave you a very treasured gift – a ring, let’s say, you didn’t say, “Oh, thank you for this ring. It means everything to me. It’s been nice knowing you. Have a nice life.” Did you say that? Of course not. The ring, the new car, the beautiful clothes, the lovely book – whatever it was, was only meaningful as it represented the ultimate treasure of the relationship with that person, right? You see, Christianity is not a religion – it’s a person, and you either know Him or you don’t.
Arturo Toscanini. Arturo Toscanini – of Italian descent and recognized as one of the brilliant orchestral conductors of the world prior to his death in 1957. One evening he brilliantly conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The audience went mad; people clapped, whistled, and stomped their feet. Toscanini bowed and bowed and bowed. He signaled to the orchestra, and its members stood to acknowledge the wild applause. Eventually the applause began to subside. With the quieting applause in the background, Toscanini turned and looked intently at his musicians, and almost uncontrollably exclaimed, "Gentlemen! Gentlemen!" The orchestra leaned forward to listen. Why was the maestro so disturbed? Was he angry? Had somebody missed a cue? Had the orchestra flawed the performance? No. Toscanini was not angry. Toscanini was stirred to the very depths of his being by the sheer magnificent of Beethoven’s music. Scarcely able to talk, he whispered fiercely, "Gentlemen, I am nothing." That was an extraordinary admission since Toscanini was blessed with an enormous ego. "Gentlemen," he added, "You are nothing." That was not news. The members of the orchestra had often heard the same message in rehearsal. "But Beethoven is everything, everything!" That is just what Paul is saying here about Jesus Christ. He said in Philippians 1:21 “ For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He preached it – and he lived it. Jesus Christ, the vertical component of the message.
Then in verse 9 we have the horizontal component of his message. “ and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” You see, there is something we must understand here. Paul wanted to “bring to light” or “to enlighten” his readers about the “plan of the mystery” – that which we’ve already seen in chapter 2 and in 3:5-6 – Jews and Gentiles – and by extension, any and all people who are believers, living together in peace and harmony and love, and thus becoming an example to the world of the redemptive, reconciling, peace-bringing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We’re out of time to develop that further today, but we’ve seen this emphasis previously in Ephesians and do you see, that if we get the first points right – minister our gifts in humility, with the attitude of servant and in the power of God, this one will take care of itself!
We will get out of the darkness of long or even shortly held grudges, overcome the hits to ego, disagreements on processes and strategies, personality conflicts, or any other supposed slights and make peace to demonstrate to a lost world the healing power of the blood of Christ. Let us live enlightened lives, Beloved. Let us reach out in good faith, or accept the olive branch that has been extended to us in good faith, understanding that in so doing we proclaim the gospel of reconciliation as surely as if we had been on-stage with Billy Graham. To our world, let us, with Paul, preach the riches of Christ in humility, in servanthood, and in His power showing love for one another, thus illuminating God’s great plan of reconciliation.