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Incomprehensible Riches of Christ

“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”

(Ephesians 3:8-9)

Only twice in the New Testament is the word ἀνεξιχνίαστος (anexichniastos) ever used and only three times in the LXX translation of the Old Testament. Always it is used in the context of God’s redeeming work. Always it is used in the context of giving God praise for the extent of his mercies. Always it is used with a sense of revered awe when it comes to the fact that God saves a people for himself. The other place this term is used in the New Testament is Romans 11:33. In the LXX, it is used in Job 5:9; 9:10; and 34:24. Always marveling at the amazing plan of God.

What is significant about this term? Ἀνεξιχνίαστος (anexichniastos) literally refers to something that cannot be measured or traced — it is incomprehensible or inscrutable in measure. What then better description of the plan of God? What better description of the Word of God? What better description of the redemption that God has offered you and me?

And here’s the rub. Too often, professing Christians treat this redemptive work of God as commonplace and as something that everyone really deserves. Thus, they suggest that God is being unfair to elect some to salvation and to reprobate others to damnation. Yet, we all deserve reprobation and none of us, not even the smartest or wisest of us, will ever truly comprehend the wonder of God’s mercy that he would elect to save some to show his grace and mercy. It is worth a lifetime of wonder and awe. No, it is worth a thousand lifetimes of wonder and awe and still its depths will not be grasped. And what a privilege it is to tell others of the grace of God.

So, why are Christians silent so often if they really believe what it is that Paul is saying here? Why do we not speak of this incomprehensible gift to people that we meet? Is it not a joy to do so? Paul says it is. Chesterton once wrote, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Yet, any difficulty in sharing the truth of God’s redeeming work in the Son is merely a result of our sin or unbelief – an effect of the fall is that what we most ought to desire, we don’t — even if that thing is the most worthy object of our desire. Christ is worthy of our desire and telling others of God’s redemptive plan is something in which we ought to rejoice. Why remain silent?

Least Significant of the Saints

“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”

(Ephesians 3:8-9)

We are going to need to break this down some, but in the original Greek, this forms one sentence, so I wanted also to preserve the flow of thought. This morning, though, I want to talk about the very curious language of Paul being the least amongst the saints. How do we understand and measure this? Is this just a sense of false humility or is there something else going on here?

I think it can be safely affirmed that there is no false humility in Paul’s language…here or anywhere. Such would be disingenuous and sin. Far be it from the Apostle to adopt such a tone in his letter. Often, people point out that it is Paul who led persecutions of Christians and that he was present at the martyrdom of Stephen. Indeed this is both true and plays into Paul’s personal testimony. God has made the murderer of the saints a saint himself; what an ironic twist in the plan and design of God. Yet, I think that there is more at play.

In the Jewish mind there was a certain “pride of position” in the world. Indeed, God had given them the Law and they had stewarded it faithfully across the generations even though they could not understand the mystery it contained, which pointed to Christ. Yet, Paul, a Jew, was not called to be the Apostle to the Jews; he was called to be Apostle to the gentiles — people whom the Jews considered to be unclean. From a Jewish perspective, Paul would have remained ritually unclean for the majority of his ministry.

Note: Paul is not complaining about his situation, but celebrating it. Shall not the last be first in the Kingdom of God? Is it not the servant of the most lowly that God honors? Has not Paul been given one of the most abased roles (from a Jewish perspective) exactly because God was using him mightily in the kingdom? Yes, indeed, Paul is “least” in significance from a human perspective and thus God will use him in mighty ways from a divine perspective. 

God’s ways are not our ways, beloved. How often we look to preachers with mega-churches or massive ministries and celebrate them when we ought to celebrate the humble minister who faithfully guides and instructs his flock across the years. How often the church confuses position when it comes to God’s kingdom. Yet, those who are first in the eyes of man will spend eternity as last in the eyes of God. So, for what will you strive?