“Unto me, the least deserving of all saints, is this unmerited privilege bestowed: to preach among the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ. I am called to make clear the meaning of this secret, which has been kept hidden from the time of creation until now. God has now revealed to the angelic powers the awesome wisdom of His plan. His eternal purpose was perfectly accomplished through Christ. Through faith in Him, we can confidently approach God. Therefore, I implore you not to be discouraged by my afflictions for your sake, for this will bring honor to you.” (Ephesians 3:8-13, paraphrased)
One who esteems God highly tends to have a low estimate of himself. Paul views himself as “less than the least” (elachistotero) of all Believers. It is one of numerous phrases Paul coins in his epistles. He considers himself unworthy to be listed among the saints because he had formerly persecuted the Church (I Cor. 15:9). His given name was “Saul,” but inexplicably changes to “Paul” in Acts 13:9. The name means “small.” Perhaps this is because he sees himself as the “chief of sinners” (I Tim. 1:15).
Paul’s remarks about himself do not stem from false humility but bespeaks an attitude of appreciation for God’s favor. This “grace that is bestowed” includes his personal salvation as well as the ministry with which he is entrusted. He compares the honor of proclaiming the Gospel with his own unworthiness. Despite his previous opposition to the Church, the Lord blessed him with the privilege of preaching to the Gentile world. Only a few days before His ascension, Jesus gave brief but explicit instructions regarding international evangelism. The apostles were the first of millions of agents sent to “teach all nations” after being empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so (Mt. 28:19 & Lk. 24:49).
The term “unsearchable” (anexichniaston) refers to that which is incomprehensible or undiscoverable by human means or methods. Christ Himself is anexichniaston, for His awesome characteristics and limitless resources are beyond calculation. His riches include compassion, mercy, peace, grace, sanctification, and redemption.
“To make all men see” is a phrase meaning to illuminate, bring to light, or clarify. The goal of preaching is to enlighten the minds of the hearers. In the Old Testament era, Gentiles are allowed to partake of Jehovah’s blessings only by becoming Jewish proselytes. But the Gospel was never intended to be restricted to Palestine. The arrival of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost proves God’s grace is not exclusively for Jews but globally inclusive. From eternity, God purposed that Jews and Gentiles would eventually enjoy equal status (Isa. 9:2).
The process or “managing or dispensing” (oikonomia) this mystery to the Gentiles is first entrusted to Paul. This former mystery (musteriou) continues to be explained and communicated through Spirit-filled men and women around the globe.
Although this mystery was hidden prior to Calvary, it was not an after-thought. The crucifixion of Jesus did not prompt the Father to modify His plan. His Son’s atonement for sin was in His mind “from the beginning.” Since the creation of the universe, God planned to magnify His magnificence through Jesus Christ.
The word “intention” bespeaks premeditated purposes and goals. God’s wisdom is demonstrated by unfolding His plan at the perfect time. Even His angelic hosts did not understand the mystery of redemption until it was revealed. Angels may have been somewhat perplexed concerning why would God create human beings and then need to save them. This helps to explain why men, rather than angels, were selected to proclaim the Gospel. It is a sad fact that, while every angel seeks to understand redemption, not every human does.
In Scripture, angels are never portrayed as being naturally inquisitive. However, they are said to be curious about events concerning the salvation of man. Peter mentions their desire to fathom the mind of God regarding redemption (I Pet. 1:12). The Body of Christ serves as a “college” for the angels in which each Believer is an instructor. The progress of the Church throughout two millennia is an object lesson for the hosts of heaven.
Though Israel had failed to receive their Messiah as a nation, God created a new society: His Church (I Pet. 2:10). His great wisdom is “diversified” (polupoikilos) and perfectly illustrated in connection with the Redeemer and those He has redeemed. Polupoikilos means “multi-faceted and of infinite variety.” The term is often used regarding the intricate beauty and brilliant colors of an embroidered pattern. The success of His plan of salvation continuously offers men and angels an unfolding panorama of His true character.
Christ’s incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and ascension are all facets of God’s eternal purpose. Because His plan was conceived prior to the beginning of time, it is necessarily eternal in scope. For this He is perpetually worshipped by millions who have accepted His Son as Savior. The gates of pearl are open to all who repent.
Leaving these universal concepts Paul now draws attention to the personal privileges of Believers. He does so by the use of three powerful Greek terms:
1. “Boldness” (parrhesian) or “freedom of speech” is a privilege Christians enjoy when they come to God in prayer. Parrhesian is a term used to describe the absence of fear. We are encouraged to “boldly (parresia) draw near to the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16).
2. “Access” (prosagogen) is “the liberty to approach” and we may do so without hesitation. Our faith in God’s pardon of our sins allows unrestricted access to Him. Our freedom to be with Him is the very heart of His plan of salvation.
3. “Confidence” (pepoithesei) is not presumption. Pepoithesei refers to the trust and assurance we have by faith in Christ. We know by His Spirit He desires our company and delights to answer our petitions.
Paul’s incarceration in Rome is a direct result of sharing the Gospel among the Gentiles in Ephesus. His zealous ministry arouses the hatred of the Jewish hierarchy, resulting in his current status as a prisoner. Ephesian Believers are naturally concerned for him, knowing his sufferings are endured on their behalf. His prolonged confinement might cause some to be disheartened. Others might wonder how the Gospel can advance unless Paul is freed. He encourages them lest they to lose their hope in Christ.
Paul assures his readers the things that have befallen him will ultimately benefit them. He trusts they will consider the end result rather than the process. When he writes the Philippians, he wants them to know “what has happened to me has served to promote the Gospel” (Phil. 1:12). Paul is confident this period of confinement will eventually yield even greater results than his freedom. If God allows His apostle to suffer so much for Gentiles, what a tremendous value He must place upon their souls.
Points to Ponder:
1. Referencing Acts 8:1-3 and 9:1-2, describe Paul’s attitude before his conversion.
2. According to Hebrews 1:2, who was directly involved in the creation of the universe?
3. What conclusions may be drawn concerning angels from Colossians 1:16?
4. To whom do angels announce the arrival of the Redeemer (Mt. 1:20 & 28 & Lk. 2:9-16)?
5. How does Jesus say angels react when a man or woman is redeemed (Luke 15:10)?
5. To whom specifically do angels minister (Heb. 1:14)?
7. Paraphrase Ephesians 3:8 and Romans 11:33. Compare these verses and state the similarities.
8. What are Believers allowed to do with the utmost confidence (Heb. 4:15-16)?