“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?
“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”
Paul addresses this letter to the Christians in the church in Philippi and in doing so, refers to them as “holy ones,” or as many of our Bible’s word it, “saints.” The word “saint” comes from the Latin word, sanctus, which means, “holy.” Holiness itself is a word that we use in the church great deal, but also don’t always understand. Biblically, holiness is not so much a state of being that is generated within you — often the society thinks of “holy people” as those who set themselves apart as gurus or in a kind of aloof manner. Yet, you don’t ever make yourself holy. We are made holy by another who is greater than us and who has set us apart for his own use — that would be God himself.
Thus the term “saint” or “holy one” or even “one being sanctified” is a term that has little to do with us and much to do with Jesus Christ who sets us apart to be saints. The question with which we are faced is whether we will be faithful to that calling or not. God has set us aside for his use in our salvation…he has done that work from beginning to end, drawing us effectually to himself. Yet, how will we respond to that drawing? Will we be sharp tools, ready for the master’s hand? Or will we allow those old sins to dull us and leave us dull. To preserve the analogy, tools are sharpened with a stone or a file and when put on a grinder to be sharpened, sparks fly — not the most comfortable process for the tool, but a needful one if it is going to be useful to the master. Which will you be?
“I will praise you forever, because of your work;
I will hope in your name, because it is good in the presence of your saints.”
(Psalm 52:11 [verse 9 in English translations])
And here, David, in the midst of the grief and sorrow of loss turns his heart to praise. What a remarkable statement and model for our lives we have in the character in this great king over Israel. How often we find ourselves stuck or absorbed by our grief that we can never find ourselves being pulled out of it; David says that even in the midst of this sorrow, he will give God praise because God has preserved his life and has promised to judge the wicked who have done these horrible things. Loved ones, God will avenge and will make right every wicked act that is done against the lives of his people; may we always follow David’s example and model that in our lives as we praise God in the midst of our crises.
A note should be made here in terms of the word “saints” in translation. Literally, the word that David uses is dyIsDj (chasiyd), which is derived from the word, dRsRj (chesed). The word dRsRj (chesed), as we have discussed above, refers to God’s covenant faithfulness to us despite our lack of faithfulness in return. Similarly, then dyIsDj (chasiyd) refers to those who are the object or recipients of God’s dRsRj (chesed). In the New Testament, the term a¡gioß (hagios — literally, “holy ones”) is rendered as “saints,” yet it seems that the sentiment being communicated is rather similar, for indeed, just as there are none of us who are deserving of God’s faithfulness apart from His divine grace, so too, there are none of us who are holy, but instead we are made holy by God’s divine grace through the completed work of his Son, Jesus Christ.
And it is we, the saints, who have faith in the name of God almighty. Notice that the language referring to “the name” of God is singular. God has many names that are applied to him in scripture, but in a very real sense, these names are just aspects of his one true and Triune name: Yahweh — “I am.” When Jesus gives the disciples what we now know as the “Great Commission,” we find him using the same language once again in the context of baptism: “you shall baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19b). Notice that it does not say, “in the names” (plural), but “in the name” (singular). God may be three persons, but he is one in name. And hope is one of those funny little things. It does not exist in and of its own right, but hope must rest on something (a promise, a coming reality, the character of another, etc…). For the believer, we hope in the name of God for we know that he will not forsake his character or his promises to those who are his holy ones.
Beloved, it is in that hope that we can draw confidence and know that God is our fortress and our protector. He will allow us to grow up strong within his gates. He will defend us against our foes. And he will be the one who will avenge us of the wickedness that the ungodly do against us because of His name. Trust Him to that end.