The Apostle Paul’s ministry calling may described as an ‘insider’ reaching ‘outsiders.’ Philippians 3 reminds us he was Jewish to the core – “…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee..”
In Ephesians 3, he begins to unpack his ministry suitability, in God’s plan, with insights into his experience of the grace of God.
“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles–“
What’s Paul doing in prison? Why are so many gospel proclaimers around our world today suffering behind walls of incarceration? Paul describes himself, not as a prisoner of Rome, not as a felon of Felix, or criminal of Caesar, but as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.
It takes eyes of faith to see beyond our immediate suffering to the Sovereign control of our Lord and Saviour. It was for Jesus’ sake Paul was suffering. Hadn’t Jesus declared in the Sermon the Mount, “Blessed are you when people insult you; persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they perseuted the prophets who were before you?”
What did the Ephesians know about Paul? How well do you know the pastoral leaders God has raised up to give oversight to the flock you have committed to as one of God’s sheep?
“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 men 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.”
A few reflections
1) God grants ‘serving’ grace to leaders for the sake of others. I Peter 4:10-11 is my favourite text on spiritual gifts. There Peter says each one should use ‘whatever’ gift….faithfully administering God’s grace. Leaders and followers must wisely use what God has entrusted to them.
2) God’s ‘mysteries’ are truths that have been kept hidden through time until God opted to reveal them by His Spirit. The ‘mystery’ of Christ is a gospel-centered truth that Gentiles and Jews were to be joined as members together into one body. There was to be no ‘two-tier’ membership but full access for all who by grace had responded to the gospel message.
3) The apostles and prophets–those Scripture-writing foundation layers (as I understand the offices) were the recipients of Spirit-originated revelation. They did not ‘discover’ new truth and any ‘teacher’ or ‘preacher’ today who ‘discovers’ new ‘truth’ today, that does not bear the marks of being Christ-centred and Scripturaly sound, should be called out as a false teacher. This does not mean that if we find anyone who disagrees with us, we should pronounce them ‘heretics.’ We must carefully listen and assess their teaching–praying for understanding and ‘testing’ (like the Bereans of Acts 17) each claim by means of the ‘whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27)
4) Insight and understanding should not lead to pride. The inexhaustible wealth of Scripture in the ‘mines’ of Scripture will take us years to dig out. A cousin, by marriage, has on occasion unpacked a little of the work of ‘prospecting’ – something that he has engaged in for years. Careful observation and exploratory digging (with the right tools) reveal mineral wealth that is completely missed by the untrained eye! “Staking one’s claim” must be done precisely and promptly. Spiritually speaking the transferrable lessons seem obvious. It takes time, prayerful study, and Spirit-guided reflection to ‘stake one’s claim’ to the undertanding of a text.