Less Than The Least
Part 1: Unsearchable Riches
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 21 August 2004
"To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ); to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Messiah Yah'shua (Christ Jesus) our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.
"For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Ruach (Spirit) in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height -- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Messiah Yah'shua (Christ Jesus) to all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Eph.3:8-21, NKJV).
There are weeks when I struggle and struggle to get a theme to preach to you on each Sabbath. Sometimes I know days in advance and the message is given to me like turning on a tap. Sometimes I just keep coming up against a brick wall. At least a half-a-dozen themes presented themselves to my mind last week and each time I sat down to write, all I got was a blank - the Ruach (Spirit) simply was not there. The same happened yesterday morning ... until I came across the passage I have just read to you and the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) cascaded down and the tears started coming to my eyes. So I know this is Yahweh's word for you all today.
Our scripture today is from the third epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. It's an incredibly deep passage that opens a window wide into Paul's own heart. Here the great apostle, whose writings dominate the New Testament, describes himself as "less than the least of all the saints". This is not something that he has casually said. This is not something superficial or flippant. He isn't saying that he is "less than the least" to win points in some sort of false humility game. He isn't being humorous either. He meant what he said. He was "less than the least of all the saints". He knew it. And so he said it.
This is, of course, a figure of speech. You can't logically or mathematically be "less than the least" and as such, then, this passage of scripture cannot be dissected on the laboratory table. It's what in English we call an 'oxymoron' which literally means 'wise-folly'. An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which what is said at first sight appears to be foolish but which, when you come to consider it, turns out to be exceedingly wise. Thus in the Book of Job we read that he "strip(s) the naked of their clothing" (Job 22:6, NKJV). How can you strip clothes off those who are already naked? And Paul says to the Corinthians, "When I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor.12:10). These are oxymorons. So what do they actually mean?
"To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ)".
These are mysteries which are only understood when you are in Christ. These are sayings which are ridiculous to the unregenerated but which make perfect sense to those who are saved. In this passage is concealed one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith, and Paul is not afraid to call it such. Moreover, it's not the kind of 'mystery' that writers of thrillers talk about, or the kind of 'mystery' that occultists like to claim they have. This is not the kind of mystery that puffs up the ego and leads it on some fantastic quest that turns out to be a dead-end spiritually-speaking. This mystery is the mystery of all time, and so great and wonderful that Yahweh purposefully kept it hidden for 4,000 years until the dawning of the Christian Age. Moreover, this 'Mystery of Mysteries' is only obtainable from one source and in one way.
The key to this mystery lies in the relationship between two vitally important principles in the Gospel. The first is the sense that all true believers feel their personal unworthiness. Those who have been regenerated in Christ have, as a hallmark, a total absence of self-glorification. They do not toot their own horn or blow their own trumpet. They do not go around telling people how wonderful they are. They are not seeking for recognition, accolades or applause from people. A person who is in Christ truly feels revolted at such a thought. And yet, at the same time, he knows that he it not worthless or valueless. He knows that he is dearly loved and cherished. He knows that he is wanted. He has purpose, direction, and an overwhelming sense of hope. And yet he knows that he is "less than the least".
The second principle, which rides in tandem with this sense of personal unworthiness relative to God, is the presence of an increasing trust. It is possible to feel unworthy outside of Christ but when you do, it does not lead to a deepening faith but to an increasing despair. In the world it is not hard to find people who feel worthless but that sense of worthlessness is not based on truth but on lies. When someone tells you that you are 'worthless' it is a lie because you are infinitely precious, no matter who you are. The Creator of the Universe, who notices even when a sparrow falls out of the sky, is intensely aware of you in every aspect. Your needs and wants are known by Him. Your sufferings are felt by Him. Your loneliness and despair are understood by Him. He is connected to your reality far more intimately that you could possibly dream. But the solution to your problems, whatever they may be, is not to be found in 'reverse' psychology', which is to exchange one illusion for another. Someone who feels he is an idiot because cold-hearted and unspiritual people have hammed this lie into him time and time again will not feel better by simply reprogramming himself into thinking that he is wonderful. I will never forget a very fat lady I knew who comforted herself by writing, like a school girl getting a punishment, 'I am slim and beautiful'. This is called 'positive-thinking' but it is a terrible illusion. What you may tell yourself, or what others may tell you, does not connect you to truth. The only way you can connect to truth and reality is by connecting to the source of truth, Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) "who created all things", including you, as the agent of Yahweh.
A statement is simply a statement. If I tell you that Yah'shua (Jesus) is the Messiah (Christ) and your only hope of heaven, it is only a statement of words until the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) has made those words into living words. There has to be a power in them for them to register with the soul. Thus a preacher, as I have mentioned before, can say lots of truthful things, yet only some will actually 'register' in their souls - to the rest, they are just dreary, dull, boring words. I know, I used to hear the Gospel preached as a boy, but they never registered. They did not regenerate me even though they do today. Why? What is the difference? And the answer is FAITH.
It is faith that connects us to the unseen Yah'shua (Jesus) and to the realisation that we are not nearly as 'great' as we would like to think we are, or which we have deliberately cultivated in order to undo the sense of unworthiness or uselessness that unkind tongues have said about us which we have unwisely believed. Yes, we have exercised faith but in the wrong things. When we believe the lies people have said about us, we are exercising wrong faith. Never think that you have no faith. Everybody has faith. Everybody trusts in something or someone, even if it is just yourself. Indeed, you can't exist without faith. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb.11:1, NKJV). I know a lot of people who don't believe in faith but in what they foolishly call 'science'. They believe in supposed 'facts' and think that they are 'above' and 'beyond' the supposed superstition called faith. But they are not being honest with themselves. Even science rests on faith - it rests on the believe that there is order in the universe otherwise we could never be able to discover physical or chemical laws. People have vainly made 'facts' their religion and then had that 'religion' demolished. I could give you hundreds of examples. About a century ago scientists believed that if you travelled more than about 30 m.p.h. that you would be crushed to death. Certain mathematicians and physicists had come up with some equations to prove this was so, and others had believed them. But those equations were based on certain false assumptions. Their faith in the 'facts' was in vain.
Like it or not, everyone is religious, including atheists. What do I mean by that word? Well, the word 'religion' comes from the Latin religio meaning 'awe' or 'veneration'. I have heard many atheists tell of experiences where they have felt this 'awe' because they sensed something greater than themselves which they could not explain. It is a human reaction placed there by the Creator. We were made to reverence that which is greater than ourselves. Awe is an 'overwhelming wonder' which I defy any mathematician to turn into a set of equations. It can also mean 'respect' or 'dread'. Scientists venerate or stand in awe of the Theory of Evolution, that 'mystery' by which all things were supposedly made. They don't understand it but they believe in it. So they stand in awe of it, reverencing it. It is a religious thing for them. It is their religion, their god, something which is greater than themselves ... or so they believe. We have to have something greater than ourselves to live, true or false.
I once used to look up to some teachers at school with awe and veneration. They were surrounded by a mystique of greatness. They seemed to know everything. Yet as I grew older and began to question much of what I had been taught, that 'mystique' slowly disappeared. They, and the culture which had formed them, had cultivated this mystique which was pure illusion. We were taught over and over again that science had all the answers. It was a lie. Science does not have all the answers. I bowed in reverence before science, became a scientist, and found that science was groping in the dark trying to explain things greater than itself. Science is not my god anymore. It may have a few pieces of the jigsaw of life but most of it is unassembled and huge areas of the puzzle are missing. I have faith in science up to a certain point, in those areas it is equipped to examine and explain. But it is limited. It is not the infinite kind of knowledge that I had initially been led to believe that it was.
So you see, we all live by faith. None of us has a clue what is going to happen tomorrow. If we are honest, we will admit that our belief in life and its purpose it based on a great heap of untestable assumptions. And that's quite scary at times, especially as we all have this deed-seated need to have certainty in our lives. Yahweh built that need and has also given us the means to have that need fulfilled - that adequate certainty, the certainty that He is in charge and that we are not just aimlessly drifting through life.
Yes, we all live by faith - but there are two kinds of faith: there is faith in that which is true (which is stable and strong), and there is faith in that which is not true (which is unstable and weak). What have you put your faith in? Are you trusting in truth or in lies? There is no more important quest in life than in finding out the answer to this question.
Now Paul was not a scientist but he was undoubtedly one of the leading Hebrew intellectuals of his day. This was a man not given to either superficiality or carelessness. He had a passionate belief and interest in the truth. His life began by believing a whole stack of lies mingled with truth, the condition of most of us, so that when pure 100% Truth faced him in the person of the testimony of regenerated Christian believers, he persecuted it like a maniac. He was full of zeal but not too much wisdom. He had a lot of 'facts' under his belt - he knew the Old Testament scriptures - but he didn't know what they meant. His, like the majority of the religious leaders of his day, was a kind of dead, outer, legalistic religion. He was alive biologically but not alive spiritually. And religious people who are dead inside are amongst the most dangerous species of human being you are ever likely to meet. They would willingly kill you in order to prove themselves right or defend their lifeless faith.
Paul felt himself less than the least of the believers. He not only felt it, he knew it because he was measuring himself not against other believers but against Yahweh Himself. He had met the resurrected Christ personally and discovered his true insignificance relative to all the pompous beliefs he had previously had about himself. He was no superstar Pharisee. He was no giant intellectual. He was no mogul in the religious world. He was - nothing ... and yet he was everything. The first revelation he got about himself was that he was nothing more than a lump of faeces relative to God, but the moment he got that revelation, he received another much more important one - that he, the man, meant everything to the Most High! Which introduces us to a third, vitally important, principle which I wonder if you noticed when I read the passage of scripture to you. Let me read the first sentence again: "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given" ...
Grace - the undeserved, loving kindness of God - the greatest mystery of all. False religion says you must earn your salvation through good works. But God says - no, your salvation is free. That is grace. We don't deserve it, not remotely. It is a free gift. All we have to do is come to Him and accept His truth by rejecting and repenting of the lies we have believed in. Turning away from sin is turning away from believing, and doing, lies. He just wants you to accept reality, the way things really are, and for you to ask Him to get you out of the self-made mess you have created for yourself.
It was by virtue of this gift - the gift of grace - that Paul was able to stress time and time again, yet in all humility, the extraordinary nature of his apostleship and ministry. What was his motivating power? What was it that drove his life to manifest such power and greatness? Was it a sense of his own self-importance? Was it the sense of his own power? No, not one bit! He knew that he was "less than the least". What drove him was this amazing grace - this incredible undeserved love, pardon from sin, and infinite care that makes of everyone the most precious object in the universe - and what did it drive him to do? - "that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ". It is that same motivating power which drives all true believers to share the Gospel of the Redeemer with those who do not yet trust in Him. This is the mystery of being a regenerated Christian.
These "unsearchable riches" are not abstract, untouchable things, but an integral part of a living, moment-for-moment, experience. My wife mentioned to me yesterday a passage which talks of the "continuous peace" which comes in Christ - not a haphazard, now-and-then peace, but something which is constant. If that constant peace is not there, then somewhere in your system there remains one or more destabilising lies. What are these riches? These riches are all tied in to redemption, with hope for the future, and with the glory of the future ages to come. In Christ you see very clearly - however painfully at times - that there is no glory in this life, because this world is but a temporary world, a staging ground for us to learn and develop faith. We are not here to make a permanent home. Everybody knows that deep down otherwise we would be immortal and not die. Yet we are mortal. We do die. This place is only temporary.
Paul describes these riches in Christ as "unsearchable". Don't try to analyse or dissect them on the laboratory table - you won't succeed. These riches are as unsearchable as is Yahweh Himself. Moffat calls this the "fathomless wealth of Christ" which means it is past finding out. Don't try to understand it because it is futile (Job 5:8-9; 9:10). Simply accept it and embrace it as the free gift of God to you. If you are a person who prides himself in his intellect, you are going to have to let your intellect stand aside over this issue - it is something you must apprehend through your spirit, through faith.
This is called the "dispensation of grace" (Eph.3:2) and we become ministers "according to the gift of the grace of God given... by the effective working of His power" (v.7). If grace is the 'undeserved loving kindness of God', what do we mean by 'dispensation'? The word 'dispense' means 'to give out or distribute in portions'. It comes from the Greek word oikonomia from which we get our English word 'economy'. It is used biblically to mean the ordering of life and events by Yahweh. Thus, since Christ, our lives are ordered by the undeserved loving kindness of Yahweh. It is the spiritual economy of God. Thus we may say that our ministry is of, and by, grace that guarantees equality of inheritance, membership in a unitary Body of Christ, and partaking of the same Ruach (Spirit). There is no favouritism in grace, no favourites in salvation! All are saved on exactly the same basis. Everyone is both levelled and exalted from, and to, the same low and high ground of the Kingdom, so that there is nothing that we can ever boast about except in what Yah'shua (Jesus) has done for us. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph.2:8-9, NKJV). We all restart life as equals when we come to Christ - what we do thereafter is up to us.
Next week we shall conclude this study of grace by seeing how we can come to the fullness. Until then, may grace be yours in abundance, pressed down and overflowing. Amen.
Click here for Part 2
Charles H. Welch, In Heavenly Places, The Berean Publishing Trust, 52A Wilson Street, London EC2A 2ER: 2003, p.360ff.
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