Have you ever had someone sneak up behind you and surprise you? Often times, it is not a very pleasant experience. After yelling and screaming, possibly letting out an expletive, we try to calm down and find a sense of normalcy. We often turn to the instigator of the experience and give them a piece of our minds! But imagine with me if the person doing the sneaking up is the Creator of the universe. How would that make you feel?
Honestly, it is an intensely private matter when God sneaks into one’s life. Add to that the moment when God sets up shop and asks for Kingdom service as well, and it is awkward, even impossible, to ﬁnd the words to describe the indescribable.
In part, it is what Paul encountered. At a crucial juncture in his life and ministry, Paul found himself defending his ministry and mission strategy to a church whom he had never met. They certainly knew of the old apostle, but they did not know him. So, in the book of Ephesians, he attempts to outline for them the reasons for his calling and, more important, why that calling pushed him beyond the safe borders of ministry exclusively to the Jews but to the Gentiles as well.
It was a risky business, and Paul knew that. The risks for the old apostle are well known. He was frequently imprisoned for his work and as a result of his commitment to Christ. He was imprisoned and yet remarkably free. Why endure the risk and the threats? Why continue to follow such a perilous path? Why did Paul do it? Even more perplexing: Why do we do it?
It begins with the commission of grace. In Ephesians 3:2, we read, “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you”. That grace so powerfully bestowed upon Paul was not an exclusive phenomenon, intended only for a certain kind of person. We often say that to excuse because of how Paul responded. What Paul encountered was the very thing that he would later preach. The gospel is for all who are willing to follow in the path of Jesus Christ.
It is an interesting phrase, “the commission of grace.” It holds a unique, almost dichotic feature. The emphasis on commission gives a sense of one who is sent or compelled to be in service. Correspondingly, the word grace features an unusual, unmerited action of God in our lives. It both grips and released us in one action.
Nothing could better describe God’s work in the life of Paul. Because of God’s remarkable intervention in Paul’s life on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 9), the power of grace became Paul’s lifelong commission to service. His conversion is one of the most unique in all of Scripture. His call is actually twofold in nature: he was both converted and commissioned in one fell swoop from God. Although the moment was unique to Paul, the dynamics hold for all who call upon the name of the Lord. When we choose to follow Christ, we truly receive our commission from God that day. We sign on to be loyal and obedient followers of Christ from that moment on. It is not a temporary, knee-jerk response; it is a life-changing event.
When people come to Christ today, they do not realize this too is part of their new life. God saves but He also prepares us for ministry. Salvation is not a stop and waits until heaven experience, rather it is a turning away from the past and pursuing God until we see Him. As Paul writes from prison in Philippians 3:13b-14, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” There is purpose and activity when God calls us to Himself.
Paul’s great ministry was a ministry to the masses regardless of ethnicity or nationality. The story of God’s redemptive work is filled with twists and turns. None is more evident than in the intriguing way God used a hardheaded, hard-hearted, dyed-in-the-wool Pharisee named Saul to introduce the universality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In part what unfolds in Paul’s work goes back to the previous assertions. Paul was under a great command from God. Indeed, he identiﬁes himself as a “servant to the gospel” in order to see God’s work accomplished. His great place in history is the pivotal matter. His preaching and teaching ministry shifted the momentum of the Kingdom toward including all persons in God’s redemptive plan.
Included in Paul’s understanding of this unique inclusiveness was the manner in which he viewed himself. Paul identiﬁed himself at the lower end of the human spectrum. He calls himself “the least of the saints” in 3:8. This compelled Paul to reveal the mysterious, often hidden hand of God in drawing all persons to Jesus Christ. Frankly, Paul was needed in the Church. It is always amazing how God draws persons at just the right moment to serve in a remarkable Kingdom capacity. Paul was such a person. He stepped into the stream of history at the very moment that the gospel reach was to extend to all people.
I experienced that a number of years ago when God led us into a difficult church situation. Although I did not see it at the time, God placed us there to help a group see and move beyond their building, their denomination, but to a bigger view of God’s kingdom where relationships mattered more than all else. It was pointed out to me by a colleague that I was the right person at that time regardless of the struggle and pain we experienced.
Of course, with all of Paul’s accolades and contributions, he was just a bit player in a much larger drama. He rightly reminds the Church that at the epicenter of God’s redemptive plan stands only one Person, Jesus Christ. Everything that Paul endured, be it the suffering or the imprisonment, was but a reﬂection of God’s eternal purpose through his Son. He writes in 3:11-12, “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.”
The reminder is a sober one. God’s purposes are revealed through Jesus Christ. It is a correction to many misguided theologies that assert the centrality of the human contribution to God’s great work. Paul is purposeful in his theology that because of Jesus Christ we can be bold in our faith and have conﬁdence in our God. That kind of trust is like a gyroscope. It balances our lives even in the midst of the storms and keeps us centered appropriately in Jesus Christ. It is in him that our questions and uncertainty ﬁnd their ultimate reason. He is the reason for our life.