“The Least of All the Saints”
August 20, 2017
We’ve been on the road with Paul! For a while now, we’ve been with him on the first of his “Missionary Journeys.” So far, he’s been in Macedonia, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth, and a number of other smaller towns along the way.
Well, the next stop is the city of Ephesus. And like last week, I’m not going to focus on the story of Paul in that city. Instead, I want to have us look at part of the letter he wrote to the church there later on. So today we’re going to be looking at Ephesians chapter 3.
However, I do encourage you to read that story. It’s found in Acts chapter 19. Some amazing things happened while Paul was in Ephesus! Luke tells us in verse 11, that “God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul” in that city! He healed many people there. And it got to the point where they were taking handkerchiefs and articles of clothing from Paul, and bringing them to those who were sick and possessed by demons, and they were healed!
Go back and read that sometime. (Not now, of course!) It’s amazing what God was doing there! And by the way, I think it’s been interesting reading the stories of Paul’s visits to these towns and then reading the letters he wrote to those churches later on. It kind of makes both come alive a little more, I think!
So then, in our passage for today, from his letter to the Ephesians, Paul begins by telling them about what he calls “the mystery of Christ.” Paul thought it a great mystery, a great revelation, that God’s amazing plan of grace included the Gentiles, too! Again, this is one of the things we already know. But to Paul, it was a revelation! It was a “new thing” God was doing.
Actually, as you’ve heard me say before, it was really not new! The Jewish people were called by God to be the “light to the nations.” They were not chosen to be the exclusive recipients of God’s love, but rather the group chosen to show the world God’s love. The problem is that they didn’t. So “the mystery” is only a mystery to those who had become exclusive in their faith, and had “excluded” the Gentiles – like Paul!
So, at the very least, then, this was a “mystery.” It was a realization for Paul. It was, as he says here, “not made known to the sons of men in other generations.” Yeah! That’s because it was not taught to them – by leaders like Paul! The only part they taught – for a long time – was the “God’s chosen people” part!
So Paul tells them about the “mystery,” and then he leads from that to verse 7 where he tells how he was made part of that plan. “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me by the working of his power.” “And that grace was given,” he says, “to preach to the Gentiles” what he calls “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” He was called to make known the “mystery” that God’s grace is for all. As usual, Paul says it much more flamboyantly than that! But that is essentially what he said! God is “now” including the Gentiles – he’s including all people – and I’m charged with telling people that.
Well, let me focus in on one part of this. Because I left a phrase out a moment ago. And it’s the one that jumped out at me this week. It isn’t “To me this grace was given to preach the unsearchable riches…” It is, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to preach…” I left that part out a moment ago so you can see the context in which he says that about himself, that he as “the least of all the saints.” It was in the context of the grace, mystery, and unsearchable riches, it was about God’s calling to preach the Gospel. But it was in the middle of all that that he described himself that way.
Paul was an amazing guy! He was driven to preach that gospel, just as he was driven to stamp out the Church, not all that long before! And I think, at the very least, that past persecution of the church humbled him. It may even have haunted him. But it’s at the heart of why he felt himself to be the “least of all the saints.”
When he returned to Jerusalem, several chapters further on in Acts, he recounted his story. You can read that, too. It’s in chapter 22. (Your reading assignment is growing today!) In that account, he tells how he had persecuted the Way – the church – “to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women…”
Do you think you have something in your past about which you’re not proud? Do you remember things you have done that make you feel unworthy of working for, or even being part of, God’s kingdom? Well, think about Paul – the great Apostle Paul. Think about what he did! Think about his past. “I persecuted this Way to the death!”
Now, I don’t think Paul doubted his relationship with God. And I don’t think he carried around a lot of guilt. He knew he was forgiven. And he knew what Grace truly was! But I think he remembered, and it kept him humble. He called himself “The very least of all the saints.”
Do you ever feel that describes you, too? Too many people see that as an excuse not to have to do anything for God’s kingdom. But there are many who see it as a true obstacle. They look at their lives and they truly don’t feel worthy of God’s kingdom. Do you ever feel that way?
Well, as I once heard, long ago, there’s a reason we feel unworthy of God’s kingdom. And the reason is that we are unworthy! That’s why Paul keeps referring to this word “Grace.” And he understood that word as well as anyone! As you know, Grace is the love and forgiveness we receive from God even though we are unworthy! And that is part of what he calls the “unspeakable riches of Christ!” We who are unworthy have been made worthy!
Paul told the Corinthian church that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are!” (I Corinthians 1:27-28)
So, do you feel unwise? Do you feel weak? Do you feel low and despised? Do you feel like you are the very least of all the saints” Well, the good new is, that’s exactly the kind of person God is looking for in his kingdom!
Eternal God, your wisdom is unsearchable, and for those who have no might you increase their strength. Help us, who sometimes feel unworthy, to know the unspeakable riches of Christ. Help us to be strengthened within. Help us to know the peace that only you can give. Show us how to be your people where ever you call us. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.