Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 02/14/1999
Paul speaks of " . . . the Gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace that was given to me according to the working of his power. To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ."
In this great parenthesis on God's unmerited favor, we have seen the Apostle marvel at the Grace which made him a Prisoner of Jesus Christ, which made him a Steward of the Gospel, which revealed to him the Mystery, which made the Gentiles fellow heirs, members, and partakers. Today we come to what may be to Paul the greatest example of God's Grace of all: the fact that "I was made a minister [of the Gospel], according to the gift of God's grace that was given to me according to the working of his power. To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ." What is it that makes the Privilege of Preaching--the Mantle of Ministry--the Serendipity of Service such a moving example of God's favor to us? We will understand it if we rightly consider
Paul can never get over the fact that this Good News was entrusted to "the least of all the saints" (v. 8). Now, no one deserves to be trusted with God's work. To be saved at all is Grace beyond all desert; to then be put into service is Grace beyond all comprehension. Yet God has entrusted the most important assignments to people who are weak, fickle, preoccupied--people like us, in other words. And He never seems to learn from this "mistake." He keeps on doing it again and again.
Paul was acutely aware of his own unworthiness for such a calling. Why does he call himself the least of all the saints, or elsewhere, the chief of sinners? Because he had persecuted the Church, which meant persecuting Christ himself. Now, every one of us has our own unique reasons for feeling exactly the same way. I won't ask you what yours are, but you know them. It is therefore appropriate for each one of us to appropriate these words and to marvel at the fact that to us, the least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach the Gospel. Whether we do it formally from the pulpit or informally as his Witnesses makes no difference. In either case, how could He want people like US to represent Him? Unless you marvel at this as Paul did, you simply do not understand.
The grace that Paul was given was to preach this Gospel of Grace to the Gentiles (v. 9). We have to put ourselves inside Paul's Jewish mind to understand what that must have meant to him. These were people who were unclean, rejected, without the Law--separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the Covenant, completely hopeless (2:12). You see, the Jews had rendered themselves undeserving by rejecting the Messiah, yet salvation was open to them from the beginning because they were the Chosen People. Paul, despite being a member of God's chosen people, had rendered himself utterly and especially undeserving by persecuting the Church--yet Christ had saved him. So he was in a special position to appreciate the wonder of the Gospel's being made available to the Gentiles, who had their own way of being people with no reason to expect God's goodness.. For this Gospel is the Good News that there is good for the undeserving, love for the unlovable, mercy for the inexcusable. So Paul remembers the former exclusion of his audience, not to put them down but because it is one more fact that brings into sharp focus the Grace of God. No wonder he says, "To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ."
And then of course there is the message itself: the unfathomable riches of Christ (v. 8). It was made unfathomable precisely by all the factors already considered. Think of some of the biblical summaries of it: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life" (Jn. 3:16). "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). "If thou shalt confess with they mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Rom. 10:9). "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God ordained beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:8-10). In other words, God sent his Son to die in our place for our sins, and therefore offers forgiveness, acceptance, and eternal life as a free gift to be received simply by faith. Accept Christ as Lord, and God accepts you. You don't have to earn it; you don't have to deserve it; you don't have to be good enough. You just receive it! Now, that has got to be the best News ever. "To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ."
How do we convey this message? By preaching (v. 8). But this is not "preaching" as modern people understand it. It is not the sour, crabbed, self-righteous denunciation of the sins of others, safely removed from our own. It does not have to be long, and it is not supposed to be boring, nor to make up with loudness for what it lacks in logic or with noise for what it lacks in nuance. The word is EUANGELIZOMAI, to proclaim Good News. It is simply the phrase Good News turned into a verb--to "good news" them. These are not the kind of tidings for which one is tempted to shoot the messenger. We get to proclaim release to the captives, pardon for the condemned, light for the blind, deliverance for the lost. And we do this by speaking of course, but also as ministry (DIAKONIA, service, v. 7). We get to love people and then give them good news. As someone has said, "Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words." What kind of privilege is this? "To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ."
Where do we find the ability, the strength? It is "according to the working of His power" (v. 7). To have Responsibility without Ability is the definition of Frustration. And to try to live and out of that living to proclaim the Gospel in our own strength and wisdom is indeed to embody that definition. But this responsibility which is such a frustration when we try to do it ourselves becomes a truly great privilege and a great gift when God works in us. Then, "To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace is given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ."
This is the greatest consideration of all as we think of why the privilege of preaching the Gospel is such a great gift. For our Master does not sit with his feet up on his desk at headquarters and send us out to do the work. Rather, he calls us to work alongside Himself. For in the Great Commission he promised, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." Do you understand this privilege? It is as if an artist were asked to work as an apprentice in Da Vinci's studio, as if an aviator were asked to be Chuck Yeager's copilot, as if an actor was asked to be Shakespeare's understudy. But this goes far beyond even what that would be! For this is the One who, having loved his disciples, he loved them to the end; this is the One who set his face like flint to go to Jerusalem; this is the One who said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?"; who said, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest . . . and he who cometh unto me I will never cast out . . . and I will never leave you nor forsake you." And what he said, he backed up with his death; and his Father backed it up with the Resurrection. Who wouldn't die for the privilege of serving such a master--of bowing at the feet of such a Lord--of worshipping such a God? Well, that is what t means to say, "To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ."
Oh, yes. When we consider the Messenger, the Market, the Message, the Method, the Might, and the Master involved in this service, then we must indeed conclude that this is indeed the height of grace, the peak of favor, the summum bonum of all existence: "To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ."
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams