“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.”
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?