“[…through the gospel] of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,” (Ephesians 3:7-8, NASB95)
I frequently find myself asking, “Where is my focus?” Here Paul, who just spoke of himself as a “prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…” (Ephesians 3:1), and he closes this same letter referring to himself as “an ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6:20). This is an incredible picture that Paul paints as he refers to himself positioned here in the world as a prisoner bound by man but who never didn’t lose sight of the truth that he was sent by God such that even while in prison he might be an ambassador of the good news of salvation to the world. He knew who called him to ministry and he knew what he was sent to do. He knew that whether he was caged or freed by man, that he was constrained by God to do what he was sent to do. He knew that this was not going to be easy, but also that the fruit would last for eternity.
Paul, who had it all as a Jew among Jews, gave it all up. But in giving it all up he realized that he had gained so much more. “… If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,” (Philippians 3:4–8, NASB95)
Jesus stopped him on that road to Damascus and called this man to Himself. He then set him aside for a very special ministry which also meant that he would have to suffer great rejection by his own people. Of all the records of imprisonment of Paul they were all initiated by the Jews of whom he was once a key person. Paul, like Christ, knew what it was to suffer rejection and ridicule. He knew what it was to be beaten and left for dead. He knew what it was to sit in prison for long periods of time. He knew all of these horrible things. But more than that, he knew what it was to be loved by God, to be saved by His amazing grace, and to be given the very special privilege of sharing this good news with the world.
Paul knew that this was not of his own doing. He knew that just as he was called to this ministry by Christ, he was also enabled to do this ministry by His as well. Having seen times at both ends of the scale, Paul knew that regardless of what was going on that it was in Christ that he found his strength as he wrote in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NASB95) And if you were to continue reading the next verses in Philippians you would read of the great joy he had in seeing them grow as the fruit of the ministry which God had given him to do, and you would see him rejoicing in their growth and their own returned ministry to him. It was from this that he added, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4:19–20, NASB95) It was all about God getting the glory.
For Paul, the suffering was difficult, but he also knew that God knew what He was doing and that through the suffering God would accomplish what He intended. This is a great encouragement to me. There are days when I wonder what and why, but then I am reminded that it is because of God’s great love that He saved me and gave me the privilege to be His servant reaching into a world that is hopelessly lost with the hope that comes by faith in Christ alone. It is also in looking to Paul and Christ that I am reminded that the things that seem so big to me really do pale in comparison to what they suffered for me. Jesus, being God, set aside His place at the right hand of the Father to be born as a man for the expressed purpose of paying for my sins and giving me salvation and life as His incredibly precious gift. Paul, who persecuted followers of Christ, was shown by Christ who He really was, and He called Paul to be a servant of His so that through the ministry given him many might hear and be saved. God so loved this great persecutor that He drew Him to Himself and gave Him a great ministry. Paul was faithful in not losing sight of this even when things got really tough and his physical life was on the line.
Perspective is an amazing thing, but our strength is not in our perspective. Thinking positive will not save us by any stretch of the imagination. But remembering who our God is and trusting Him to be faithful makes all the difference. He has said that He will complete in us what He began. He gives us what we need to serve Him and He will meet our every need. He encloses us before and behind and knows our every thought, and He is powerful to tend to our every concern. He has promised to direct our steps when things are dark or uncertain, and looking to our God and trusting Him helps us to frame up just how small the big stuff pressing in really is. It is here that we know that we are His and that He has ordained the days of our lives. It is here that we truly are reminded that the greatest privilege given to us and our greatest response of loving appreciation is to give ourselves back to Him as living sacrifices committed to doing His good works which He determined beforehand.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95)
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NASB95)