When God revealed the mystery of his plan of salvation to include the Gentiles, the news must be told to those who had not heard it. The good news either spreaded naturally from people who had heard it (Acts 2:5), or spreaded through the scattering of disciples due to persecution (Acts 8:1-4). Througout history, God also called people who dedicated their lives for the ministry of the gospel. Paul was one of them, and so were The Apostles and many evangelists throughout history.
Today there are still many missionaries going from cities to cities, villages to villages, houses to houses, telling the gospel of Jesus. Even if we are not full-time workers or missionaries, we could still be involved in prayers, in teaching, in financial supports, in serving in local Churches, in helping or caring for others. We ought to live our lives for the advancement of the kingdom of God.
While describing his prayer for the Ephesians (or the recipients of his circular letter), Paul also explains his calling to spread the gospel (good news), and this record provides a great lesson for us today. Below are some characters of this person who is commissioned and greatly used by God:
- A person who prays (v. 1, 14-16).1
- A person who labors for God (v. 1). He was put into prison because of the work of the gospel.
- A person who understands God’s grace (vv. 2, 7, 8). He considers serving God a grace from God!
- A person who understands God’s revelation (vv. 3-6).2
- A person who serves God (v. 7). He became a servant of the gospel.
- A person with humility (v. 8). He considers himself “the least of all the Lord’s people.” This has to do with his persecution of the Church before he came to the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 15:9; 1 Tim 1:12-16). Of course this does not necessarily mean that he is truly the least, only that he humbly considers himself so.
- A person who preaches Christ (v. 8). He considers it receiving grace to preach “the boundless riches of Christ.”
- A person who explains the gospels to others (v. 9), his calling is “to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery.”
- A person who encourages (v. 13). In his suffering, he urges others not to be discouraged by his suffering.
F.F. Bruce (1910-1990), a distinguished biblical scholar, wrote that “no single event, apart from the Christ-event itself, has proved so determinant for the course of Christian history as the conversion and commissioning of Paul.”3 Plenty of biblical scholars agree with that statement. Yet this Paul, who has been so greatly used by God, calls himself “the least of all the Lord’s people” and considers it a grace to serve God with his life.
Surely there are a lot we can / should learn from Apostle Paul!
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles– Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. (Ephesians 3:1-13 TNIV)
- He started the description of his prayer in v. 1 but went on to describe his calling in vv. 2-13 (often called parenthetical section grammatically). Note that v. 14 has a same starting phrase as v. 1. ↩
- As explained in previous article, mystery does not have to be mysterious in today’s sense. Mystery in the Bible means something that was not revealed before but is now made known. However, as an apostle, Paul did received special revelation from God. We should not seek special revelation but should seek to understand God’s revealed words. ↩
- F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 75. ↩