Ephesians 3:1-13 - Homilies By D. Thomas
Aspects of the true gospel ministry.
"For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and. prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory." Homiletically, this whole passage, in which there are many digressions and involved utterances, may be regarded as exhibiting a true gospel minister in three aspects— as the subject of vicarious suffering, the recipient of Divine ideas, and as the messenger of redemptive mercy.
I. THE SUBJECT OF VICARIOUS SUFFERING . Paul speaks of himself as a " prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles," and in the thirteenth verse he says, "my tribulations for you ." As an apostle, Paul's sufferings were great; elsewhere he gives a brief catalogue of them (Corinthians, etc.); but all his great sufferings as an apostle were vicarious— they were for the men he endeavored to help. "All for you Gentiles." We offer three remarks concerning his vicarious sufferings, as a true gospel minister.
1. They were intense . What agony of mind is involved in the expression, "For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh"! According to Dean Alford, Dr. Wordsworth, Professor Plumptre, Jowett, and our best critics, this means such an agonizing desire for the salvation of men as would prompt the most terrible sacrifices to accomplish it. In another place he represents his state of mind as a parturition distress. "I travail in birth again." Again, "I suffer trouble, as an evil-doer, even unto bonds." And again he says, "I endure all things for the elect's sake, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus" ( 2 Timothy 2:9 ). Every true gospel minister knows something of this intense spiritual suffering for others. What solicitudes, disappointments, wrestlings of soul has he! So intense was the desire even of Moses for the good of others, that he said, "If thou wilt forgive their sins—and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written" ( Exodus 32:32 ).
2. They were voluntary . Human society is so organized that a certain amount of vicarious suffering comes on all men, irrespective of their choice , and even contrary to their choice. The innocent suffer for the guilty, children suffer on account of the sins of their parents. The present generation groans under the burdens of the past. But the vicarious sufferings of Paul, as a minister, were voluntary , he entered into them freely. The love of Christ "constrained" him to put himself in the place of suffering men, and to feel with them and for them. Hence he says, "Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? "( 2 Corinthians 11:29 ).
3. They were Christ-like . Whilst there are points which mark the vicarious sufferings of Christ, both in their nature and amount, from the vicarious sufferings of those of his ministers, yet there are points of agreement which are worthy of our notice. That such correspondence exists is suggested by the similarity of Scripture-language by which both are set forth. Both are represented as endured for sinners and in order to effect their salvation . Indeed, Paul speaks of his whole life as a sacrifice ( Philippians 2:17 ). Two points of analogy are especially worthy of remark.
II. THE RECIPIENT OF DIVINE IDEAS . "By revelation he hath made known to me the mystery," etc. The gospel truths which Paul had to proclaim to the Gentiles were not derived from any human source. They were not the deductions of his own reason or the intuitions of his own soul, but they were revealed to him by God. "I never received it of man," said he, "neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (see Acts 16:1-40 .). We have an account of this revelation given by Patti himself. It is the glory of man that he can receive ideas from the great God himself. He has what no other creature under heaven has—the capacity to take in the thoughts of the Infinite. It is essential to a true minister that he does this. He cannot offer any spiritual help to humanity unless he does so. His own ideas have no power to help his race. The ideas to enlighten, elevate, and bless souls must come from God. Hence what Paul gave to the Gentiles, he tells us, came by revelation. Two remarks are suggested by the passage in relation to the idea.
1. It had been long hidden . He calls it the mystery: "The mystery which in other ages was not made known." It was a mystery not in the sense of incomprehensibility , but in the sense of undiscoveredness. It had been unrevealed, and therefore unknown to past generations. The whole gospel was once a mystery; it was in the mind of God as an idea unrevealed to the universe.
2. It was very grand . The particular idea to which the apostle here refers is this, that the Gentiles were to partake of the salvation of the gospel, and to be united in one body with the Jews . "That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." Grand idea this! That the poor Gentiles should become "heirs" of the same inheritance as the Jews—members of the same great spiritual "body" as the Jews—partakers of the same great " promise " as the Jews. The idea that Paul had from God was the uniting of all the races in the world in one great spiritual confederation.
3. It was exceedingly ancient . "From the beginning of the world it hath been hidden in God." Such was the idea that Paul tells us had been revealed to him and to the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. Every true gospel minister is the recipient of Divine ideas.
III. THE MESSENGER OF REDEMPTIVE MERCY . Paul speaks of himself here as the "minister" of the things that have been revealed to him. "Whereof I was made a minister," etc . What he received he had to communicate. The passage indicates several things concerning a true messenger of redemptive mercy.
1. The Divine designation to the office . "I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power." The office of a true minister is a gift of grace—a gift of grace, which comes to the soul by the effectual working of God's power. Paul felt that he became a messenger of these truths, not by his own seeking or merit, but by the grace of God. Nor by his own native inclination, but by the effectual working of God's power, referring, undoubtedly, to the Divine energy in his conversion. Every man must experience this Divine energy before he can become a true messenger of redemptive mercy. God must work in him before he can work by him.
2. The humble spirit of the office . "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given." The expression means, who am incomparably the least of all the saints, who am not worthy to be reckoned amongst them. The memory of his past conduct and the solemn grandeur of the work to which he was called deeply impressed him with the sense of his own unworthiness. Humility is essential to this great work; it is when a man feels his weakness that he is truly strong in the ministry of truth. A deep sense of our own insufficiency is essential to make us sufficient for this of all offices the most grand and momentous. He who feels himself the "least of all saints" will become the greatest of all preachers.
3. The grand subject of the office . What is the great theme of the gospel preacher? Scientific facts, philosophic speculations, theological theories? No; "the unsearchable riches of Christ." The word" unsearchable" occurs in only one other place in the New Testament ( Romans 11:33 ), where it is rendered " past finding out ." Past finding out, not so much in the sense of mystery, as in the sense of inexhaustibleness. It is an ocean whose depths are unfathomable, and whose breadth and length stretch into the infinite. These "unsearchable riches" of Christ, unlike material riches, are soul-satisfying , man-ennobling , ever-enduring .
4. The enlightening character of the office . "To make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery." The idea is to enlighten all in respect to God's redemptive mercy, the Gentiles as well as the Jews. The work of a true gospel minister is to make men see Divine things, to bring them before their eyes, and to induce them to look earnestly and steadily upon them.
5. The angelic bearing of the office . "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." Several thoughts are implied in this passage.
6. The high privileges of the office . "In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him." "The accumulation of substantives in this sentence," says Hedge, " boldness , access , confidence , shows that there was no word which could express what Paul felt in view of the complete reconciliation of men to God through the mediation of Jesus Christ." The privileges of a true gospel minister, as indicated in verses 12, 13, are:
"Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory" Paul was now a prisoner at Rome, and. yet he felt that inward support which enabled him to exhort the saints at Ephesus not to faint or be disheartened on his account. Such in brief is the view which this passage presents of a true gospel minister. He is a man of vicarious suffering , a recipient of Divine ideas , a messenger of redemptive mercy . Where are the preachers that answer to this sketch? Let such men fill our pulpits, and the conversion of our England will not be far distant; and when all England becomes a true Church, the whole world will speedily be won to Christ.—D.T.
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