Ephesians 3:1-13 - Homilies By R.m. Edgar
The death of the tribal spirit.
The apostle, having stated the unity between Jews and Gentiles in the one spiritual temple, proceeds in this parenthesis to state the aspect of the gospel which is thus presented. It amounts, in fact, to the death of the tribal feeling, and to the encouragement of that broad cosmopolitanism which has been fostered by the Christian system. Paul, of course, rejoiced in his Jewish origin and in all the privileges which he had thus inherited. But since his conversion unto Christ, the narrowness had disappeared, and he took his stand before the world as the apostle and apologist of the Gentiles, hoping for the same elevation of character for them as for himself.
I. LET US NOTICE HOW PAUL WAS PREPARED FOR THIS CHAMPIONSHIP OF THE GENTILES . ( Ephesians 3:8 .) He had come to entertain a deep humility of spirit. He deemed himself "less than the least of all saints." In Paul's experience it has been observed there is a progress. First he speaks of himself as "the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God" ( 1 Corinthians 15:9 ). Secondly, as in this passage before us, he regards himself not only as hardly worthy of the name of an apostle, but as less than the least of all saints. Having ranked all apostles above himself in the first instance, he now ranks all the saints above him. Then, thirdly, he puts himself below all other sinners, and declares, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief" ( 1 Timothy 1:15 ). Now, this expresses a complete revolution in Pharisaic thought. Unquestionably Paul had learned to judge himself severely when he comes to conclusions such as these. Now, Christianity secures this apparent moral paradox of esteeming each the other better than himself ( Philippians 2:3 ). "By humility," as A. Monod has said in his 'Explication,' "the Christian is led to judge himself severely, while charity comes to his aid in making him judge favorably of another. Each one, besides, reading in his own heart and not that of others, perceives only in himself that depth of sin which is the worst aspect of it, although least visible, and he can always hope that with others, whatever the appearances may be, this depth, hidden from his eyes, is better than with him." This personal humiliation, then, is the preparation Paul receives for his great role as elevator of the Gentiles. It is when personally abased that we are exalted in heart and hope, and become the willing servants of mankind.
II. PAUL 'S ESTIMATE OF HIS OFFICE . ( Ephesians 3:8 .) It was a "grace" given to him to be allowed by God to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. His notion was that it was the crown and summit of human privilege to be thus placed in charge of such a commission. He magnified his office. He saw nothing to be compared with it in the privileges of men. He would have endorsed the words of a great modern preacher when he declared to students for the ministerial office, "There is no career that can compare with it for a moment in the rich and satisfying relations into which it brings a man with his fellow-men, in the deep and interesting insight which it gives him into human nature, and in the chance of the best culture for his own character.... Let us rejoice with one another that in a world where there are a great many good and happy things for men to do, God has given us the best and happiest, and made us preachers of his truth."
III. THE MORAL ELEVATION WHICH THE GOSPEL PROPOSES TO BESTOW UPON THE GENTILES . ( Ephesians 3:6 .) Up to out Lord's time the tribal idea prevailed. The Jews were a tribe, and their policy was, as their policy would still be, the supremacy of the tribe. But Christ proposed not to carry the Jewish tribe up to proud supremacy, but, on the contrary, to bring all other tribes up to their level of privilege, and to weld the world's peoples into one. It was he who first touched the key of cosmopolitan comprehensiveness and bade the narrow tribal spirit to cease. He talked of many coining from east and west to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven ( Matthew 8:11 ). He talked of drawing "all men" unto himself once he was lifted on the cross ( John 12:32 ). He spoke of Jerusalem ceasing to be the single center of true worship, and of true worshippers worshipping the Father anywhere ( John 4:21-24 ). All nations were to be discipled by his servants ( Matthew 28:20 ). Into these broad and noble views for mankind the eleven did not very rapidly or fully enter. Doubtless Peter had inaugurated the Gentile Pentecost in the house of Cornelius; but he relapsed into narrowness a few years later at Antioch. It was reserved, therefore, for Paul, the most powerful mind of the apostolic band, to catch the cosmopolitan spirit of his Master, and to champion the Gentile against all the prejudice of the Jewish world. It has been suggested that he would not have chosen the appointment had it been left to himself. But, as far as we can judge, he showed no narrowness once he had humbled himself at Christ's feet on the way to Damascus. He there ceased to be the patriot of a tribe, and became, in the widest and worthiest sense, a citizen of the world and a champion of the rights of universal man. There is surely something grand in this idea of lifting outcast communities into the highest and holiest associations. There is no casting of contempt on any tribe, but extending pity and. compassion unto all. The golden gate of privilege is opened wide for every one. The missionary enterprise is the best and noblest policy which men have set themselves in earnest to carry through!
IV. THE LESSON THUS AFFORDED TO THE HEAVENLY WORLD . ( Ephesians 3:10-12 .) The idea of Paul is that the angels on high look down with rapt interest and profit upon what is taking place in the Church. The movements of men outside the Church have, of course, their interest; but it is the bringing of the different peoples of the earth into the glorious unity of the Church of God which so strikes the attention of the heavenly world. The Divine society which is gathering round Jesus is the most instructive exhibition of God's purposes which the heavenly world can contemplate. As Jonathan Edwards put it in his sermon upon Ephesians 3:10 , the angels are benefited by the salvation of men,
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