Please note that a general essay on the subject of Leadership and Servanthood is also available.
Ephesians 3 constitutes one of the clearest indicators we have that the glory of the Gospel is independent of the personal glory of the person delivering the message. Whilst modern Christianity seeks to line up the most famous and credible people it can find to give the Gospel endorsement the God of heaven is quite content to let the message speak for itself.
Looked at in depth Ephesians 3 and especially the middle section from verses seven to thirteen is really a study of extremes. On the one hand the incredible and unsurpassable nature of the message is elevated; on the other the lowly position, poor qualifications and abuse of the messenger is highlighted. This is entirely antithetic to modern preaching whereby the preachers with the best message tend to obtain the greatest status and privilege.
However the purpose of this paper is not particularly to contrast the Biblical approach to the modern one; this will be evident enough to the reader without assistance. Instead I am to give a brief verse by verse analysis of the middle seven verses and aim to open our eyes a little to the dichotomy that is presented.
Eph 3:7 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.
The first thing to note is that Paul became a minister of the Gospel through a gift of grace. It was not, at least directly, a gift of aptitude the showed that he was capable of distributing the message. It was a direct gift of grace given to Paul by the power of God. It was not bestowed by a church even though Paul was commissioned at Antioch. It was not generated through education even though Paul's education was superb. It was entirely be power of God. We should note too that the gift of God was effective. It is so tempting to seek to embellish God's gifting with modern techniques or other assistance. However, the main point to note is that Paul was a minister. The word is often used of teachers although it really means servant.
Eph 3:8 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,
If one verse characterizes this dichotomy in microcosm then this is the verse. As Adam Clarke points out Paul has to invent a new Greek word in order to adequately express his lowliness. The adjective used for least is already a superlative; to add a comparative for less to that isn't really logical. However for Paul he feels it is necessary to express his position. JFB also points out that Paul is using the present tense. This is not some story of past inadequacy followed by an uplifting story leaving the hearer with the impression that the preacher is now in a much loftier and exalted position. Paul's present position is less than the least of the saints.
Yet it was to this lowly, humble servant that the message of the unsearchable riches of Christ was given. As JFB notes the word unsearchable does not mean it cannot be found at all; it really means it cannot be fully mapped out. Much as an infinitely big gem mine could never be fully explored the riches of Christ can never be fully comprehended. We should notice that Paul does not allow for one moment his own personal humility to encroach upon the message that he is bringing. Whilst he may be a meager messenger the message was beyond value.
The next four verses focus further upon the nature of the message. Verse nine tells us the message is universal, novel, eternal and divine. Verse ten is perhaps more startling; it makes clear that whilst the message is to be distributed upon the Earth the message itself will cause the wisdom of God to be manifest within the heavens. It is challenging to think that the heavens themselves are affected by the preaching upon the earth. Verse eleven is comforting. Whilst the message delivered to and by man is vital in one sense; in another the sovereignty of God and the accomplished work of the Lord Jesus make the efficacy of the work pre-determined. Finally in this smaller section we see that whilst a humble servant in terms of our service to God we are also in terms of our divine position enabled to come with boldness and confidence into the presence of God. We may be humble servants but we are ones that have been fully accepted by our masters.
Verse thirteen then forms a sobering close. One might imagine that Paul manifesting a humble appearance and laboring to spread the glorious Gospel of God might well have received divine protection. Perhaps one might expect similar results to the witnesses of Revelation 11 that seem impermeable to external attack. However the opposite appears to be the case. The thirteenth verse actually starts with a 'therefore'. In light of Paul's humility and obedience, considering God's direct commissioning and empowering, bearing in mind the importance and glory of the message, Paul asks the hearers not to be disheartened at the tribulations he is going through on their behalf. Whilst God does enable, empower and provide the fact is that God frequently allows his ministers to suffer. We are told this is for His ultimate glory and we shouldn't lose heart. Neither should we be surprised.
This has been a very brief overview of an incredible passage; as such it also feels that the subject has been tackled inadequately. In one sense it has; there is plenty more that can be gleaned from this passage. In another sense however the brevity should help to reinforce the simplicity of the message. Paul took no personal glory at all from the gospel he preached. That said there was no doubt at all in Paul's mind that the gospel he preached was divinely inspired, important and effective. I hope that as we go forward we are all able to lose sight of ourselves and see instead the wondrous nature of the message with which we have been entrusted.