by John H. Essex

       To me, less than the least of all saints, was granted this grace: to bring the evangel of the untraceable riches of Christ to the nations...(Eph.3:8).

       The expression "less than the least of all saints" should not be taken as polite modesty on Paul's part, but as a summary of his true feelings. It can be compared with his other statement in 1 Corinthians 15:9,10, "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not competent to be called an apostle, because I persecute the ecclesia of God. Yet in the grace of God I am what I am." And again it may be compared with his other claim, to be the "foremost of sinners", in 1 Timothy 1:15,16. This latter is also set against the background of Paul's earlier life, when, as Saul of Tarsus, he had "inordinately persecuted the ecclesia of God and ravaged it". Let us read from verse 12 of 1 Timothy, chapter 1. There Paul declares, "Grateful am I to Him Who invigorates me, Christ Jesus, our Lord, for He deems me faithful, assigning me a service, I, who formerly was a calumniator and a persecutor and an outrager: but I was shown mercy, seeing that I do it being ignorant, in unbelief. Yet the grace of our Lord overwhelms, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Faithful is the saying and worthy of all welcome, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, foremost of whom am 1. But therefore was I shown mercy, that in me, the foremost, Jesus Christ should be displaying all His patience, for a pattern of those who are about to be believing on Him for life eonian".

        As Saul of Tarsus, Paul had been the greatest enemy of Christ, persecuting His followers beyond measure. It was on one of these persecuting missions that he had been suddenly arrested on the way to Damascus. Worthy of God's indignation, he received nothing but grace instead. As the subsequent dispenser of the evangel of God's grace, he became as dust before his Maker. All must henceforth be of God; nothing of himself. The "foremost of sinners" becomes "less than the least of all saints". Such was Paul's appraisal of himself, shown again in the Philippian letter, where he expresses his determination to regard all as forfeit that he might gain Christ, and be found in Him (Phil.3:8,9).

        Paul was commissioned to bring the evangel of the untraceable riches of Christ to the nations. These riches concern Christ's celestial glories. They are not to be found elsewhere in God's Word. They are indeed "untraceable" outside of the Pauline letters. Others reveal Christ's earthly glories as Israel's Messiah and King: Paul alone reveals His celestial eminence. For example, note the three special descriptions of Christ, embracing this wider conception, in Ephesians 1, Philippians 2 and Colossians 1. In each case, both heaven and earth are specifically mentioned (Eph.1:10; Phil.2:10 and Col.1: 16,20). In Ephesians, it is as "Head over all" that Christ is given to the ecclesia, which is His body; in Philippians, it is with "the name that is above every name" that He receives the homage of the universe; while in Colossians, we find `'that in all He may be becoming first, for in Him the entire complement delights to dwell".

        ...and to enlighten all as to what is the administration of the secret, which has been concealed from the eons in God, Who creates all...(Eph.3:9).

        The secret of Christ is concerned with an administration. This is described in Ephesians 1, which we considered in earlier articles. Briefly, it involves the heading up of all in the Christ, both that in the heavens and that on the earth. The ecclesia is privileged to play a great part in this, for we are to be for the laud of God's glory. We are the complement of Christ, through which the All in all will be completed.

        This was concealed from the eons in God. What a profound statement that is! Concealed in God! Not concealed in His Word, where by earnest searching it might have been discovered, but concealed in God Himself where it was impossible for anyone to probe. But we read in 1 Corinthians 2:9,10, "that which the eye did not perceive, and the ear did not hear, and to which the heart of man did not ascend--whatever God makes ready for those who are loving Him. Yet to us God reveals them through His spirit, for the spirit is searching all, even the depths of God". God's spirit is able to delve into the innermost recesses of His being, and disclose that which is dear to His heart, and which He has kept secret for so long.

        "Concealed from the eons" -- this implies that it was not merely concealed from humanity, but from the celestials as well, for man was not in existence in the first eon. God alone knew the secret of Christ, and He kept it entirely to Himself. As God was the Creator of all, He could control all, and could therefore choose His own time for its revelation. As we consider these matters, well might we exclaim, as Paul did in Romans 11:33-36, "O, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How inscrutable are His judgments, and untraceable His ways! For, who knew the mind of the Lord? or, who became His adviser? or, who gives to Him first, and it will be repaid him? seeing that out of Him and through Him and for Him is all: to Him be the glory for the eons! Amen!"

        ...that now may be made known to the sovereignties and the authorities among the celestials, through the ecclesia, the multifarious wisdom of God, in accord with the purpose of the eons, which He makes in Christ Jesus, our Lord, in Whom we have boldness and access with confidence , through His faith (Eph.3: 10-12).

        This is one of the most stupendous statements of scripture. The multifarious (many and varied) wisdom of God -- the Divine discernment in all its manifold aspects and intricacies -- is even now being made known to the very highest among the ranks of the celestials through the ecclesia. Let us be careful here! It is not being done by the ecclesia, but through the ecclesia. We can claim no credit for this. Nevertheless, it is surely reward enough for us merely to know that God is making use of us to reveal to this higher creation the greatness of His wisdom. It is knowledge which they could gain in no other way. They see a creation (humanity) inferior to themselves, and they see chosen out from this creation many whom neither they nor the world would consider worthy. Moreover, they see these being prepared for an exaltation to the very highest rank among the celestials, and equipped for a ministry which will be the means of effecting their own reconciliation to God. It will not be easy for them to accept this fact, but accept it they will, for they will come to realize that there is no other way. It is the way that God devised when He formulated His purpose, and not a solution imposed upon Him by any action of theirs. Ours will be a ministry of conciliation in accord with the grace given to us in Christ Jesus before eonian times (2 Tim.1:9). All this is in accord with "the purpose of the eons", which God makes in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

        "The purpose of the eons" is a wonderful phrase, and a key scripture. God's purpose is allied to the eons. It is bounded by them. It is contained within them, and does not overspill them at either end. Whatever is described as being "before the eons" -- the promise of life (Titus 1:2; 2 Tim.1:1), the gift of grace to the ecclesia in Christ Jesus (2 Tim.1:9), and the wisdom of God (1 Cor.2:6-10) -- all these are in conformity with decisions made by God before He put any part of His purpose into operation. They are the great pillars of truth around which God's purpose is built. The promise of life will eventually be fulfilled in all; the gift of grace to the ecclesia ensures that the dominant factor in God's operations will be His saving grace, while His wisdom in the secret, which was concealed so long, shows, now that it is revealed, that His plan was determined to the very last detail before any part of it was put into operation.

        This is the only passage in scripture that relates God's purpose to the eons. In fact, there are surprisingly few references to God's purpose in His Word, and all of these are by one writer, Paul, and even he is very sparing in his mention of it. In his thirteen letters, there are only five occurrences of the noun "purpose" in relation to the Divine program. it is mentioned twice in Romans (8:28 and 9:11), twice in Ephesians (1:11 and 3:11) and once in 2 Timothy 1:9. In addition there are two usages of the verb form in Romans 3:25 and Ephesians 1:9. Because God's purpose is linked with the eons, it follows that it will be consummated at the completion of the eons. This removes it from the idea conveyed in the King James Version that God has an eternal purpose. It is true that its effects may last for eternity, but God's purpose itself is not eternal but eonian, reaching its climax at the end of the eons when God will be All in all (1 Cor.15:28).

        God's purpose is centered in and around the Son of His love, Christ Jesus, our Lord. When Paul introduced his evangel, it was "concerning God's Son" (Rom.1:3). Love for His Son (and, through Him, for all creation) is the motive behind all God's operations. Because of Christ's faith, and His obedience to God's will, even unto death on the cross, we have access to the Father with boldness and confidence. There is no barrier left to prevent this.

        Wherefore I am requesting you not to be despondent at those my afflictions for your sake which are your glory (Eph.3:13).

        Paul concludes this part in parenthesis on a personal note. He does not want his readers to be despondent on account of whatever he may have suffered on their behalf. His Lord had suffered, and it had been intimated to Paul from the beginning that he, too, must suffer for God's name's sake. The pathway of grace is not one of fleshly ease and comfort. Paul's tribulations were for the benefit of the ecclesia. He develops the theme in Colossians, where he says", I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for you, and am filling up in my flesh, in His stead, the deficiencies of the afflictions of Christ, for His body, which is the ecclesia of which I became a dispenser..." (Col.1:24,25). There is such a thing as "the fellowship of His sufferings", and any one of us may be called upon to "be suffering together, that we should be glorified together also" (Rom.8:17).  

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