A Commentary by John Stott

Ephesians 3:7-13. 2). The divine commission to Paul or the ministry entrusted to him.

At the end of verse 6 Paul has virtually equated ‘the mystery’ with ‘the gospel’. At least he writes that it is ‘through the gospel’ that Jewish and Gentile Christians become united to Christ. This can be so only because the gospel announces the mystery, so that people come to hear it, to believe it and to experience it.

Now this equation of ‘mystery’ and ‘gospel’ is significant, because the mystery was essentially truth revealed *to* Paul, while the gospel was essentially truth proclaimed *by* Paul. Paul himself made this connection, because he was convinced that the good news had been revealed to him only in order to be communicated. He says so plainly: *Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me* (verse 7). Thus if the first gift of God’s grace to him was ‘the mystery’ itself which had been revealed to him (verses 2-3), the second was the ministry which had been entrusted to him and by which he would share it with others. He had received it by God’s grace, and would exercise it *by the working of his power*.

This commission or ministry Paul regards as an enormous privilege. For what he calls *this grace*, which we might call ‘this privileged gift of God’, had been given to him, in spite of the fact that he was *the very least of all the saints* (verse 8), or ‘the meanest member of the holy people’. It is a very striking expression. He takes the superlative (*elachistos*, ‘least’ or ‘smallest’) and does what is impossible linguistically but possible theologically; he turns it into a comparative (*elachistoteros*, ‘leaster’ or ‘less than the least’). Perhaps he was deliberately playing on the meaning of his name. For his Roman surname ‘Paulus’ is Latin for ‘little’ or ‘small’, and tradition says that he was a little man. ‘I *am* little,’ he may be saying, ‘little by name, little in stature, and morally and spiritually littler than the littlest of all Christians.’ In affirming this he is neither indulging in hypocrisy nor groveling in self-depreciation. He means it. He is deeply conscience both of his own unworthiness because he ‘formally blasphemed and persecuted and insulted’ Jesus Christ (1 Tim.1:13) and of Christ’s overflowing mercy towards him. A good indication that his modesty was neither sham nor morbid is that it did not hinder him from taking responsibility as an apostle. On the contrary, in this very passage he twice uses the self-conscience apostolic *ego* ‘I’ (3:1; 4:1). Thus, he combined personal humility with apostolic authority. Indeed, while ‘minimizing himself he magnified his office’.

The privileged ministry of spreading the gospel, entrusted to him by the grace of God, he now elaborates in three stages:

Tomorrow: Ephesians 3:8. a). Making known Christ’s riches to the Gentiles.

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.