Paul’s Task

Ephesians 3:7-13

One of the things I enjoy doing is learning about people’s work. Most people take their jobs seriously, because they have to, if not because they want to. They show up on time, work hard enough to keep the boss of their backs, put in a full day, and often stay within reach even when they are officially “off duty.” Modern communication technology makes this very easy.

These days, job insecurity is one of the greatest fears. A lot of people are looking for work and those who have a job are afraid they might lose it. We need jobs to provide for the basic necessities of life for ourselves and our families. Work is important to most people. For some, it is because it is meaningful. They get personal satisfaction from it. For others, work is important because it is the how they put a roof over their head and bread on their table.

Work is also important to God. As Christians we know that God has specific intentions for us in terms of things He wants us to do. But I think it’s a good idea to ask ourselves how seriously we take our “spiritual jobs?” Do we work as hard at pleasing God as we do at pleasing our employers?  In the verses from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we’ll look at today, we’ll see that he was very aware of the job God had given him. 

Ephesians 3:7 “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. 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, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.”

According to verse 7, we see that Paul identifies himself as “a minister of the gospel.” This was a job which came as a result of God’s gift of grace in his life. This kind of special attention from God might make one proud, but Paul genuinely considered himself to be unworthy of such a labour and is quick to restate that it was only through God’s grace that he had been given the task of preaching the gospel to the gentiles.

In these few verses, Paul reveals that, while he had an appropriately humble view of himself, he had a very high view of a number of other things related to his ministry. We’ll look at them individually. Firstly, he had a high view of his message. We know this because of what he calls it. He could have called “the gospel,” which he does in other places and that would have been perfectly adequate. However, here he refers to his message as “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” For myself, as a Christian who has the privilege of sharing Christ with others, I am challenged by Paul’s great respect for the message God has given to us. It is easy to become so familiar with it that it ceases to amaze us, ceases to strike us as unsearchable, and instead of “riches” seems like just another option we are offering to people. Not so. Our message is one of life and hope and glory – the mystery of Christ.

Secondly, Paul didn’t just see his calling as a job to work at for eight hours a day so that he could spend the rest of his time doing what he really wanted to do. He had a high view of his work. This is demonstrated by the term he uses for that “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God.” Paul saw his God-given task as that of enlightening the minds of people from whom a great treasure had been hidden. Now, after ages of walking in darkness, the gentiles could know God through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ which broke down barriers between them and God and between them and God’s people.

It is easy when we are involved in ministry to lose sight of the big picture. For me, that can mean, I see writing radio scripts as just something I have to do. I also have to set up the studio and record. I have to be in touch with others involved in FBH International to ensure that things are going as they should be. I have to write letters and update the website. It can all be rather ordinary when I look at things that way. Paul could have done the same. He had to make travel arrangements, find places to stay, make sure all was well with his colleagues, write letters, prepare and preach sermons – not all that different from what many pastors and preachers face nowadays. But Paul didn’t see his work as limited to these individual tasks. He had a high view of the scope of God’s purpose. He wasn’t just working to benefit his hearers. He worked so that “the wisdom of God would be made known to spiritual authorities.” He knew that angels and demons were also witnesses to his life and the way God was working through him.

Following on from that, we observe that Paul also had a high view of God, Himself. It was God who through Paul’s faith in the Lord Jesus, gave him boldness in his ministry and access to God with confidence. Paul recognized that without God he could do nothing, but as he wrote in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He knew he was serving the Most High God and that only God was worthy of any credit that might come from his labour of love in ministry.

Consequently, he did not want his Christian friends in Ephesus to be discouraged by his imprisonment. If we knew a dear friend had a very big goal that meant a great deal to him and that for several reasons things started to work out badly for him and he found himself arrested and thrown into prison unfairly, we would be greatly perturbed. We might write letters of protest to officials that we know. We might go to the media. We might try to visit him and make sure he had the best legal counsel money could buy. We’d talk to our friends about him. We’d worry. We’d pray. We’d feel badly for him.

This was the last thing Paul wanted from his friends at Ephesus when they heard he was in prison in Rome. Paul knew that God had called him to a great work and that at that particular time, that work involved what we might call “prison ministry.” God was not surprised by Paul’s arrest. He had people in the prison ready to be influenced by Paul there. So rather than asking his friends to mount a campaign to try to get him out of his difficult circumstances, he tells them not to worry or be upset. In verse 13, he writes: “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.”

Imagine having such confidence in God that even when it seems that the whole world is against you and you are locked up in prison that you find yourself at perfect peace with God and encourage your friends to calm down and wait for the glory which is sure to come from your suffering in these difficult circumstances.

At this point, I have to ask myself how does my attitude compare with that of the apostle Paul? When obstacles arise, when disappointments come along in my life, how do I respond? By feeling a lot of self pity and hoping my friends will rally around to comfort me, or maybe rescue me? Or do I joyfully look forward to what God is going to do, knowing that the more difficult my circumstances, the more glory He will bring to Himself and the greater blessing He’ll bring to me when the moment of triumph occurs?

Let me ask you this: What would change if we really grasped that God’s purpose in us was to reveal Himself to higher spiritual beings? We are so earth bound that we seldom give a thought to the fact that our lives are witnessed by angels and demons as well as other humans. What’s more, it is likely that those spiritual beings can observe us even when other people cannot. That’s rather sobering, isn’t it.

Listen to these words from the pen of the apostle Peter. We find them in 1 Peter 1:10, where we read: “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven — things which angels desire to look into. Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Peter has a grasp of this. The angels want to understand the salvation that we enjoy. God’s work on behalf of humanity is so amazing that they want to look into it and understand it. How about you? Are you fascinated by the salvation God offers us through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross? Do you have an appropriately high view of that? Peter finishes this little passage by telling us to “gird up the loins of your mind.” That’s an expression common in his day which simply means that we should free ourselves of entanglements and be ready for action. Then he tells to “get serious!” – to be prudent and self-controlled, not ruled by whims or passions. Finally, he tells us to rest your hope fully upon the grace (that is the joy, pleasure and delight) that is to be brought to us when Jesus returns. Don’t be overwhelmed with things as they are in the world. Look to Jesus – He’s the One who makes sense out of the most difficult circumstances of life.