Paul identifies himself as “a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace”. The word servant used here as rendering service, like a waiter, a servant who executes the commands of his master and king. Paul clearly sees his purpose as receiving the commands from Jesus Christ and fulfilling the directions given to him by His LORD.
Paul continues saying that “although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people (saints), this grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ”. Paul views himself as the most unworthy object of Christ’s redemption, he confesses why in 1 Corinthians 15, “because I persecuted the church of God”. Paul acknowledges his great sin, and the abundance of grace given when the risen LORD Jesus revealed Himself to Saul to save him from his iniquities. Paul was on the road to destruction with false righteousness, thinking that he was doing “God’s work” in killing Christians; the risen Lord Jesus interrupted Paul’s momentum and transforms him from murderous thinking into the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Paul continues saying that this position of “servant of the gospel” was a gift, “given me through the working of His power”. Ephesians 1:19 describes this power: “what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength. This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms”. God gave Paul “this grace” to preach, proclaim, enlighten and make plain the message of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles in His manifest plan. God chose Paul to share the good news with the Gentiles and gave him the power to do it.
Paul describes the gospel he was called to preach as “the boundless riches of Christ”; some translations use the word unfathomable or unsearchable. We should understand that this phrase points us to the greatness of God and not towards the idea that we cannot know God rather that God’s grace is without boundaries. Isaiah 55: 8-9 helps to understand this phrase: “Indeed, my plans are not like your plans, and my deeds are not like your deeds,” says the LORD, “for just as the sky is higher than the earth, so my deeds are superior to your deeds and my plans superior to your plans”.
“Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things”. Paul has been given the task of bringing people to see this cosmic mystery which is at last revealed, and how God chooses to work out His eternal purpose. The verb used here “make plain” means “to enlighten” this can be best understood as “fog of spiritual darkness” about to be dispersed by God’s truth. Imagine an early morning fog, which has completely obscured the trees and houses from your sight, then the morning sun breaks through and disperses the fog so you can clearly see. The Holy Spirit provides God’s truth which shines through our spiritual fog to make plain and disperse false teachings and convict us our sins.
Paul continues, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory”.
Paul discloses that God’s plan was to reveal “the boundless riches of Christ” through the church. The descriptive word “manifold” in Greek refers to a beautiful embroidered pattern of various colors in flowers. What a glorious way to describe the church, the new church of Jews and Gentiles woven together into a new creation. This new creation, the church, serves as an object lesson of the wisdom and beauty of God to the angelic hosts “in the heavenly realms”.
Paul believes that the church is to be a central witness to the gospel. This reminds us of the prayer of Jesus for his disciples in John 17. He prayed that the unity and love between the disciples would reflect and be a witness to the unity and love between the Father and the Son. “I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one— I in them and you in me—that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me”. John 17:20-23
Paul concludes this section saying, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory”. Through faith in Christ believers have the right, freedom, courage and confidence to approach the throne of God – they have the right of access. What an amazing privilege to be able to approach the Lord of Creation, with confidence. By Christ’s death and resurrection the curtain in the Temple was torn in two and we now have access to God that previously was reserved to the High Priest only once per year. Believers today have that same access; we can approach God with confidence.
Paul’s last statement in this section is “I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory”. In the ancient world, Paul’s imprisonment would be a disgrace, dangerous and something to dissociate yourself from. But Paul turns that concept on end – his sufferings were for their “glory”. Paul has been in prison for about 3 years, I can imagine the believers in Ephesus are starting to get discouraged and fearful of Paul’s impending sentence. But Paul says this is all for their glory, because he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, in which Paul reveals God glorious plan to include the Gentiles for redemption.