As we prepare to meet with the Most High, we’re going to use Ephesians 3:8 to help focus our prayers today. This verse is one of the most incredible passages in all of Ephesians. In it, we see Paul’s candid assessment of himself, despite how much the Lord used him and how much we honor and respect Paul. It’s a glimpse into his heart of humility and a picture of how each of us should view our lives. But we get a glance at the magnitude of the blessing God gave him by calling him into the ministry. He uses this phrase, “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” to explain what a life hidden in Christ is all about (Col. 3:3). And, as we will see tomorrow, it’s beyond description!
Ephesians 3:8 reads as follows:
To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Once again, we come face to face with the word that seems to sum up Paul’s life, given. We see this word in Ephesians 3:2, and again in verse 7, and now once more in verse 8. Paul says, “this grace was given” to him as a gift, an unmerited blessing he did not deserve. And the key to Paul’s life is found in his faithful commitment to properly execute his stewardship and calling according to the gift he received from God.
Paul understood who he was in the sight of God and how undeserving he was for anything other than judgment and condemnation. Grace, if you remember, is getting something you don’t deserve, such as love, forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life. Mercy, on the other hand, is not receiving what you truly deserve, such as guilt, condemnation, judgment, and death. Paul never forgot God’s inexhaustible mercy nor the grace he received. And this grace included not only a ministry, but a divine purpose for his life.
Lower than the Bottom of the Barrel
Paul calls himself “less than the least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8). In his mind, he is the least likely, the least deserving, the last one on earth God would choose to save, redeem, and call into the ministry. Nevertheless, God did just that. There are many reasons why Paul would feel that way, and most of them center around his life before Christ.
In 1st Corinthians 15:9, he says, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Again, in 1st Timothy 1:15, he says, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
Paul understood, as much as anyone, how good God is to give him a second, third, and even fourth chance. He probably was never able to erase from his mind the scene where he gave his consent to the death of Stephen (Acts 22:20). There may have been countless others that he dragged from foreign cities and brought back to Jerusalem to face beatings, flogging, imprisonment, and death because of their faith in Jesus Christ. And in spite of all his sin, God chose him anyway.
Peter, who in his arrogance proclaimed, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny you!” (Matt. 26:35), did deny the Lord, and in his shame slid into the shadows from fear while Christ suffered alone. Yet God used Peter. And as low as Peter may have viewed himself because of his public failure, Paul viewed himself even lower. He was “less than the least of all the saints,” including Peter.
But the point is not the unworthiness of Paul, but how full of grace and mercy is God to call someone as undeserving as Paul and to use him as mightily as He did. For me, this gives me great encouragement. Why? Because my sins are also great, as I’m sure yours are. And, like Paul, I have failed the Lord many times, as may also be the case with you. And I have consistently proven myself unworthy to receive His grace and mercy and His special calling in my life, yet nonetheless, God still chooses to use me. Just like He still chooses to use you, no matter the depth of your sin and shame. It’s almost like He takes the throwaways and rejects of the world, the Goodwill and Value Village kind of items, and turns them into something sold at Oscar de la Renta, or Georgio Armani, or Lanvin, in New York City. And God does this for no other reason than it brings Him glory.
Please understand, these words from Paul are not an exercise in faint humility. He doesn’t call himself “less than the least,” so we will say, “No Paul, you’re wonderful!” – like many do when they post a selfie on Facebook, hoping somebody will tell them how pretty they are. No, Paul had a clear and accurate understanding of who he was in contrast to the holiness of Christ. That’s why we find in Scripture when the holiness of God confronts someone; their natural reaction is to fall flat on the ground, facedown, repeatedly uttering how unclean they are and how righteous God is. We see this scene played out before us in the life of Isaiah, Peter, and with the angels in heaven who cry out their unworthiness to open the scroll (Rev. 5:9).
We would do as well, in our age of self-exaltation, serial self-promotion, and “look how important and pretty I am” narcissism, to have a clear understanding of our value as creations and His infinite worth as the exalted Creator. We must always remember God did not choose us because we’re good. Nor did He choose us because we’re better than anyone else. He also did not choose us because we somehow deserved it more than others. He chose us solely because of His grace and mercy, which He chose, to our great wonder, to lavish on us (1 John 3:1).
When we get just a glimpse of the holiness of God compared to who we are, pride, arrogance, and our independent apathy quickly fade away. And we should be filled with nothing but sheer gratitude and heart-felt adoration to the One Who would choose “less than the least of the saints” to proclaim the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).
There is nothing this life can offer to surpass what we already have in Him.
Time to Pray
Pride was the original sin and the downfall of Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-15), and the consequences of pride drove Adam and Eve from the Paradise of God (Gen. 3:24). Pride is nothing more than an exalted view of our own value and worth, and it’s one of the few things the Lord calls an abomination (Prov. 16:5). When you pray, ask the Lord to remove every hint or stain of pride in your life and to bring you to the point of true humility, gratitude, thanksgiving, and obedience for the mercy and grace freely bestowed on you (Eph. 1:6). And as you approach God, remember you are “less than the least” of all the saints, yet God has chosen, redeemed, forgiven, and blessed you with the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).
Father, thank You for choosing me in spite of my unworthiness, sin, and rebellion. Thank You for still choosing me today, even though I have failed You many times because of my pride. You are good and glorious and full of grace and mercy. I can’t thank You enough for taking someone as sinful as I am and allowing me into Your Presence to have a relationship with Your Son. I am overwhelmed by the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, Who chooses to live within my frail, fallen, sinful body. Yet, in spite of all my failures, You have sanctified me by His presence, and I am now a sanctuary, a dwelling place of the Spirit of God.
Lord, would You let me live like what You created me to be? And would You fill my heart with gratitude for the privilege of being able to not only experience but preach and proclaim the “unsearchable riches” found in Christ? In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
As we prepare to close out this section of Scripture, I want to remind you that the seven verses that begin Ephesians 3 are all one long sentence. Therefore, it is difficult to understand the whole without examining each individual part. And it is equally difficult to understand the various parts, or verses, unless we first have a grasp of the entire meaning of this single sentence. It seems this sentence has at its beginning and end two bookends displaying both the humility of Paul and the grace given him by the Lord. We find these two bookends revealed in the word: given.
Paul begins with the “dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you” (Eph. 3:2) and ends with “I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me” (Eph. 3:7). In both instances, Paul humbly reflects he was nothing more than the blessed recipient of something from God given to him for the sake of someone else. In this case, the Gentiles. But he ends by stating the gift given him, his calling into the ministry, was only accomplished by “the effective working of His power” and for no other reason (Eph. 3:7). So both the gift and the effectiveness of Paul’s ministry, is all according to God, and not of any inherent merit of Paul.
Of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power – Ephesians 3:7.
Paul claims his calling to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gift from God. He never ceased to be amazed that God took someone like him, a murdering, vile, angry, detestable, blaspheming Pharisee, and turned him into not only a believer, but one called to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).
Paul understood everything that happened in his life was because of grace. God gave him the grace of revelation to be able to tell the Gentiles about the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). But God also called him into service as a minister of Christ and a servant of others, which gave his life more meaning and purpose than anything else, ever. His old life as a Jew, “born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law” (Acts 22:3) meant nothing now. Compared to the Lord’s gift of ministry and revelation, Paul considered it, like all things, “rubbish” – save for the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).
His Power, Not Ours
But the most profound statement Paul makes in this section of Scripture is that he became a minister of Christ for no other reason, and by no other means, than “the effective working of His power” (Eph. 3:7). The word translated “effective” (enérgeia) means “operative, active power or ability.” It’s where we get our word, energy. And the word for “power” (dúnamis) means “mighty deeds, miracles, or achieving, explosive power.” Paul clearly understood it was only because of what Christ had done and the gift he received, that he was anything at all.
As believers in Christ, sometimes we wonder how God can save the most unsavable and disinterested of our family and friends? Is it done by our proper diction, our eloquent use of our best English, or our ability to present the gospel in a way they will understand and be able to relate? Is it by the teaching in our current church culture that strives to make the gospel less offensive and bring seekers into the church to somehow, by osmosis or good works or lattes before the praise band starts, lead them to Christ? I think you know the answer.
The only way someone can come to Christ is through the new birth; through regeneration. It is not by making a decision, nor by joining a small group, nor by reading a book by Beth Moore. It is only by the Holy Spirit, or the “effective working of His power” (Eph. 3:7)
Some sermons are preached by the most learned and eloquent of men, and nothing happens. And other sermons are preached by those who have limited education or a difficult accent to understand, or maybe they have a speech impediment, and yet revival breaks out. What is the difference between these two? It is the power of the Holy Spirit, the “effective working of His power” (Eph. 3:7).
Paul spoke about this in his first letter to the church at Corinth. He said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
And there’s no greater demonstration of the “Spirit and of power” than changed lives.
God also called you to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We’re not necessarily talking about a clergy position in a church. But we are talking about each of us having a ministry to serve others as we serve Him– which makes you, and every other member of His body, a minister who is to proclaim the good news. You may not be a pastor or have a seminary degree, but you are just as much a minister for Him as anyone else. And the spiritual fruit we are blessed to bear, the lives we live as light in darkness in front of our family and friends, and all those in our sphere of influence, are affected by the “effective working of His power” in us.
Time to Pray
Please know, nothing is standing between you and all God wants you to be other than your desire to yield to His Spirit. He’s given you the gift of the Holy Spirit, not in part, not miserly doling it out to you like Ebenezer Scrooge, but He’s given you all of Himself in full. So much so that Colossians 2:10 says, “you are complete in Him.” Therefore, as a minister of Christ, let our prayer be for us to move out of the way so the Holy Spirit can do His work through us by the “effective working of His power” (Eph. 3:7).
And that all begins by simply asking Him.
Lord, I thank You for giving me the Holy Spirit who has “sealed” me in You and is the “guarantee of my inheritance” as Your child (Eph. 1:13-14). I confess I have often been afraid of the Holy Spirit and, because of my fear, have relied on my strength and resources more than I have the Spirit You left in me. Please forgive me? And Holy Spirit, I ask You to forgive me for grieving You (Eph. 4:30). I believe You are equally God, the Third Person of the Trinity, and I thank You for choosing to make Your home in me. Please show me how to yield my life to You in a way that brings glory to the Father, honors the Son for His sacrifice for my sin, and allows You to change the lives of others through me. The glorious work You did in my heart in salvation, I pray You will use me to do in the lives of my family and friends. I ask You to fill me to the point of overflowing for the sake of others and for the glory of God. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
Today is the first day of a New Year. Congratulations. Whew, we made it. And better than that, it’s the first day of a brand-new decade. On January 1st, many of us tend to make resolutions we never actually keep. Planet Fitness, for example, will be packed tomorrow with people who made a commitment today to get in shape only to find most of them gone by February 1st. Trust me, it happens.
But that shouldn’t be the case for those of us who follow Christ. When we make a resolution, a commitment, or a vow according to Scripture, we should rely on the Holy Spirit to help us finish what we promise to start and not try to grit it out in the flesh. Again, I know personally how futile that can be.
The passage we are focusing our prayers on this first day of the New Year is Ephesians 3:1-2. It reads:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you.
We’ve previously looked at a number of words in this passage, but today we’re going to examine the most convicting of them all, the word dispensation. It’s a strange word seldom used today, especially in Christian circles. In fact, the only time we hear dispensation is usually in a heated discussion between two so-called Bible scholars who have differing views of the end times. But that discussion is for another time and place and is not how the word is used in this verse. The word dispensation (oikonomía) means “to be a manager of a household, or the position, work, responsibility or arrangement of an administration, as of a house or of property, either one’s own or another’s.” In other words, dispensation can be translated steward or stewardship and refers to the management of a house or business on behalf of someone else. A steward, therefore, was responsible for taking care of something not his own, that which belonged to someone else.
When Paul is referring to “the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you” (Eph. 3:2) he was speaking about the stewardship given to him by God for proclaiming the grace revealed to Paul for the benefit of the Gentiles. Paul had a calling and a mission, a divine mandate, a fiduciary responsibility as a steward of God, to fulfill the task God had given him to do. And for Paul that task, according to Ephesians 3:2, was to present to the Gentiles the grace of God given and revealed to Paul for them.
Our Duty to God
Do you realize you and I have the same responsibilities as stewards of God to the ministry He has given to us? God has placed us to live at this particular time in history, and in the very family He chose, married to the spouse He ordained, with the children He allowed us to have, born in the nation in which we live, for a reason known only to Him. It was all by His design. Everything.
Many years ago Bill Gothard talked about the Ten Unchangeable Traits each of us has. These are divine attributes God placed on each of us that we had no control over and can do little, if anything, about. And our calling, our mandate from Him, and our stewardship in the dispensation God has given us is to be able to glorify Him within the attributes we cannot change.
The Ten Unchangeable Traits are:
1. Our Parents (we had no control or voice over who our parents would be)
2. Physical Features (no matter how hard I try, I will never dunk a basketball)
3. Gender (contrary to PC thought, you cannot change your gender and it was given to you by God)
4. Brothers and Sisters (see #1)
5. Birth Order (see #1)
6. Ethnicity (that was determined by #1 and we can nothing about it)
7. Place of Origin (remember Joseph was from Nazareth yet Jesus was born in Bethlehem)
8. Time in History (you and I were born in the year God choose, for a reason)
9. Mental Capacity (this is why I have such a hard time reading phonetically)
10. Aging and Time of Death (see Psalm 139:16)
“What does this mean for us on this New Year’s Day?” you ask. It means God has given us something to do and we can’t hide behind our excuses any longer. He has given each one of us grace “according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:7). He created us how He wanted to, He gave us the family He desired, and He placed us in this town and in this nation in 2020 for a reason. He knows our limitations and yet still has a role for us to play in His divine pageantry.
Now relax, this doesn’t necessarily mean we’re to be a missionary in a foreign land, or hold massive city-wide revival crusades, or stand on the street corner wearing a billboard that says, “The End is Near!” It simply means we have a position in His Kingdom that only we can fill. To use a football analogy, some of us may play tight end, some an offensive lineman, and others may play cornerback or safety. It doesn’t matter what position we play as long as we faithfully fulfill the stewardship of trust our Head Coach has placed in us when He drafted us on His team.
Therefore the first thing we must determine is who is in our sphere of influence? Who has God sovereignly placed in our light? Look around you. You have your family, your friends, your co-workers, the people you know on Facebook, the very ones you would call in a tight spot— all of these are in your sphere of influence. God placed you in their midst for a reason. And that reason is to be light in their darkness.
So once you determine your sphere of influence, the next thing is to pray and ask the Lord how you can shine His light into their darkness. And that usually involves opening your mouth and saying something. I’ve never known a lost person to become a Believer by silent osmosis. Have you? It doesn’t happen that way. Yesterday we spoke about the importance of verbally communicating God’s message. If you’re afraid, confess that to Him. It’s not like He doesn’t already know. Then ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to be all Christ has commanded you to be. And know this, He will.
Time to Pray
So on this January 1st, 2020, let me encourage you to spend some time this morning committing your life to Him. All of it. Everything. Ask Him to turn you into someone He can trust, at all times, to remain faithful, connected, abiding, in Him. Ask Him to help you become the kind of “true worshipers who will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” Why? Because Jesus said, “For the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23). That person can be you. You! Can you imagine what it must be like to be the kind of Believer the Father looks to for true worship? Can you think of anything greater?
Commit your life to Him right now. Ask Him, in faith, to empower you, to draw you closer to Him, and to teach you how to love Him more than you ever have in the past. And then, let’s embrace the future as if our Lord could come at any moment. Because who knows, He can and He might and He someday will.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Often we preach about the need for revival in the church and in our own lives. We hold the virtues and blessings of revival up high, for all to see, yet fail to talk about the dark side of revival, the downside of totally surrendering to Him.
And that downside is satanic attack.
For the novice, this attack can be devastating because they are often ill-prepared to stand against it. For the more mature believer, the attack is just another affirmation they are living as light and walking where the enemy dwells.
Do you know how to prepare for a spiritual attack? Do you know how to stand when the day of evil comes (Eph. 6:13)? If not, then keep listening.
The following is a study on Spiritual Warfare.
To download the slides for this message, click – HERE
Download this episode (right click and save)
One of the greatest needs in the life of the believer today is revival. Revival is defined as “a restoration of life, consciousness, vigor, or strength. It is an awakening to something previously dormant. It is an improvement in the condition or strength of something or someone.” Spurgeon said revival means “to live again, to receive again a life which has almost expired; to rekindle into a flame the vital spark which was nearly extinguished.”
But how does revival come about?
What does true revival look like?
How does it change the person being revived?
Are there stages or steps to revival?
And how can we have revival now, today, in our lives and in the church?
Are you interested in finding out more? Then keep listening.
The following is a study on revival.
To download the slides to this message, click – HERE
Download this episode (right click and save)