his article is about the preacher, the primacy of preaching and the message. The author discusses Ephesians 3:8.

Source: Witness, 2009. 4 pages.

Ephesians 3:8 - The Grand End of Ministry

Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Ephesians 3:8

Preaching is not highly regarded these days. Yet traditionally, and more importantly biblically, it is a grand end and function of the Christian church.

One way or another the church’s task is the offer of Christ as all-sufficient Saviour, preaching the good news of salvation to sinners. Like setting up a ‘rescue shop’, in C T Studd’s picture:

Some wish to live within the sound of church and chapel bell, I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.

Is that not one ambition of everyone who takes Jesus’ teaching seriously, as long as there is a ‘broad road’ to destruction and many on it, and a new and ‘narrow way’ to point the sinner towards? ‘Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men’ (2 Corinthians 5:11). The urgency and necessity of gospel preaching will be motivated by this context – judgment and hell. The Apostle Paul faced this. At times he had to vindicate his ministry, as there in Ephesus. There is this ‘digression’ in Ephesians 3:1-13. He speaks of his part in bringing the gospel to them. His approach is Christ-centred. In these verses the theme is the glory of the ministry and the glory of the message. The basis, content and goal of his work is the glory of Christ. The mystery of Christ (v4) is now revealed by the Spirit (v5). By preaching Him (v8) the manifold wisdom of God is made known through the church (v10). I would like us to consider verse 8. There are three elements here, one focussing on the preacher (the man), another focussing on the primacy of preaching (the method), and the third focussing on the content of the preaching (the message) and its implication for the church.

1. The Man (Character)🔗

‘To me, who am less than the least of all saints’. Is Paul in the ministry because he is more extrovert than others? Or because he has more of that air of authority as a public speaker? Even if we answer, no, to these questions, doesn’t he often claim apostolic authority in his work? And we after all claim authority for his writings. We look to his Spirit-inspired exposition of the person and work of the blessed Saviour. But then it shocks us when we read that he considers himself ‘less than the least of all saints’. He doesn’t just say, ‘least of saints’. There is here a double diminutive: less than the least! He might for all we know have been an extrovert with an air of confidence and authority. But as he reflects upon himself he sees himself thus: less than the least of all saints. What sort of characteristic is that? Humility. Is this a false modesty? We think not. In writing to the Corinthians he speaks of himself as the least of the apostles. Why? ‘Because I persecuted the church of God’ (1 Corinthians 15:9). He is genuine in his feelings about himself. He remembers his past, the persecutions he inflicted, and his past hostility to Christ and the church. This gives him a deep feeling of humility – evangelical humility. Like John the Baptist: (Christ’s) shoes I am not worthy to bear’ (Matthew 3:11). ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3:30). There will be feelings of weakness. As C H Spurgeon put it: ‘The fuller the vessel becomes’ (not the better it thinks of itself, but) ‘the deeper it sinks in the water’. That was Paul’s experience, and it is a characteristic to exemplify, for every Christian, not just the preacher and elder. Spurgeon again:

I prescribe to any of you who seek humility, try hard work; if you would know your own nothingness, attempt some great thing for Jesus. If you would feel how utterly powerless you are apart from the living God, attempt specially the great work of proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ!

But where can you go when you feel ‘less than the least of all saints’? Paul knew. ‘Unto me … is this grace given’. What grace? Enabling grace, divine grace. How did he become a minister? Naturally extrovert, authoritative, confident? No, but it was the gift of grace (‘this grace is given’). And the calling of God (‘unto me … that I should preach’). This is treasure, treasure in earthen vessels, ‘that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us’. So, we have here the character of the gospel preacher. Self confident? Omni-competent? Standing on the mountain tops? No, but rather deep humility, with the calling and empowering of God.

2. The Method (Commission)🔗

What about Paul’s method in his work? First of all there was this:

  • Preaching‘that I should preach among the Gentiles’. Paul had a commission to preach. It was from the Lord. It was by grace. He is called to announce the good news of salvation for sinners. It was his responsibility, his constraint: ‘Necessity is laid upon me’, he says (1 Corinthians 9:16). And, yes, ‘woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!’ ‘Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed’ (Galatians 1:8). These are strong words. Therein is the primacy of preaching. Of course there are other means – effective means too under God – of communicating Christ and truth. We might say that all witness is a species of preaching. But the New Testament is clear on the primacy of the preached message. This is how Paul writes to the Romans:

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?Romans 10:14

Certainly the church needs preachers and preaching; preachers of the word (2 Timothy 4:2); preachers of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:23); preachers of the gospel good news (Galatians 2:2). It always was foolish: foolish to those who were perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18). It may not be with enticing words of man’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:4). But it is a task and duty and privilege approved of God. And surely, in demonstration of the Spirit and in power (1 Corinthians 2:4) it is ‘mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4). This continues to be the calling of God and great need of the day, foolish as it may be in the eyes of the world. We are to preach in felt dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit of God.

But in Paul’s approach there was also this:

  • Reaching – There is not just preaching, there is also reaching to do: ‘that I should preach among the Gentiles’. Reach those outside; those who need to hear, who need to learn of the revealed ‘mystery’. Yes, those presently ‘dead in sins’ (Ephesians 2:1), ignorant and hell-bound. What are you preaching for?

Whom we preach, warning every man … that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.Colossians1:28

Him we preach to make people ‘see’ Him by faith (Ephesians 3:9). Preaching must reach. It is for all men everywhere. Go and preach and reach. This is the fundamental task of the church, which professes to follow out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Preaching is the primary thing in reaching, though not, of course, the only means of communicating the message, for there are also visitations, witness, prayers, literature and the like.

3. The Message (Content)🔗

This is the third element in verse 8. We are not left in the air by the apostle. When we ask: What preaching? the answer is readily to hand – ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’. This is what we have in Christ; and this is what we are to proclaim in the gospel. This is what all Christless souls are missing. And this is what must come over in preaching.

‘Unsearchable riches’. When Paul speaks of the riches being ‘unsearchable’ he is not referring to something that is a complete mystery which we can have no hope of knowing. Indeed, that would be a contradiction of verse 9 in which the purpose of the message is to make people ‘see’ what is the ‘fellowship of the mystery’. No, it simply means that here is something that is inexhaustible. Imagine for a moment the Pacific Ocean. We may go down into that Ocean and experience its depths, but it is so vast that we cannot comprehend it all or search it all. Perhaps an even better picture is that of the Puritan Paul Bayne: ‘Christ is a gold mine, the veins of which are never exhausted’.

But what, then, are these ‘riches’? We can only really say what they embrace in general terms, for they are ‘unsearchable’.

  1. There are the inherent riches of the God-man: in His divine-human perfections; in His saving work on the cross to accomplish atonement for sinners; in His love both as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and as the risen, ascended and exalted Lord to whom has been given all authority and power in heaven and upon earth; in His intercessory work at the right hand of the Father; and in His work, through His executive (as it were) the Holy Spirit, in building His Church.

  2. There are also what we might describe as His communicated riches. There are the riches of His forgiving grace and of His grace and mercy and peace to the undeserving objects of His saving love. There is the joy and hope He communicates in salvation to the sinful sons of men. He will never say to the penitent, returning sinner, ‘I have no more to give you’. The endless ages of eternity will not exhaust the unsearchable riches of His grace and love to the redeemed. The soul who has Christ is in possession of everlasting treasures. There are grand houses, museums, castles and galleries full of all sorts of treasures in this world. They will all burn up. But not the ‘heavenly treasures’ of Christ’s unsearchable riches. As Paul exhorts the Colossians: ‘If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth’ (Colossians 3:1-2).

Here is the glorious subject for the preoccupation of the church. It is Christ in all the divine glory of His exalted Person. Christ who is unsearchable riches for any sinner. Here is the greatest need for the sinner and the greatest message of the Church. As E K Simpson put it so poetically: ‘The Prince of givers shares even His crown jewels with His redeemed’.

These riches are one way or another the content of the message. It is part of the gospel call: Sinner, this is what you need; this is who you need; this is what alone will satisfy your soul here and hereafter. It is having Christ, and glory with Him. When we preach the ‘unsearchable riches’, what will happen? Sinners will be drawn. It is a God-appointed way of drawing sinners. Little wonder that we have such a doxology at the end of this glorious chapter:

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.Ephesians 3:20-21

John Stott reminds us that revealed truth is held in stewardship: ‘It is given to be shared (he says), not monopolised. If men cannot keep their scientific discoveries to themselves, how much less should we keep to ourselves the divine disclosures?’ Just so. ‘Preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ’. Christ incarnate, Christ crucified, Christ exalted, Christ the Saviour of sinners. The message we proclaim involves serious warnings to sinners to flee from the wrath to come; to repent or perish. But thanks be to God that we preach a gospel of invitation, a gospel which invites sinners to come to Christ. Our message does not say to the sinner: ‘Go away, sinner, I have nothing for you’. Our message speaks of limitless riches to be found in the Saviour. This involves, as Charles Hodge expressed it so well: ‘The fullness of grace to pardon, to sanctify and save; everything, in short, which renders Him the satisfying portion of the soul’. What can we say? Lord, be pleased to make us effective communicators of thine unsearchable riches!

Friends, may the Lord, the Head of the church give us blessing and guidance in this Assembly; may He be pleased to send the Spirit in power among us and our congregations; may He send a reviving in our land; may He make us to be a people marked by burning love and zeal, for Him, for His ordinances, for one another, and for the souls of men and women perishing in their sins; may the Lord give us grace to communicate faithfully always the unsearchable riches of Christ to our needy generation.

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