Ephesians 3:7&8 “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
Paul is telling us about God’s dealings with him, how he had made known to the apostle this mystery that from now on believing Gentile Christians were on an identical footing with the Jewish Christians before the Lord, heirs together, and members together, and sharers together of all God’s great provision. There was to be no longer a special Jewish congregation apart from Gentile congregations. One church for the one new man in whom Jew and Gentiles were united.
So that is what God has told Paul, and then Paul refers to what God has done for him, how he had made the apostle a minister. You know that the word ‘minister’ means ‘servant’ and here Paul is going to tell us how he became a servant of this great gospel. He tells us also of his own self-image, and finally he speaks about the theme of his ministry. This is a most important passage for one of the debated issues in the church today, the calling and work of the minister.
1. HOW DO MEN BECOME PREACHERS?
Paul tells us that it comes about by a divine action, by the gift of God’s grace. No one makes himself a preacher. The apostle is typical; there was a particular gift which he received which other Christians were not given. It was a personal gift, and a distinguishing gift which fell in all its loving particularity on Paul. As a result he was set apart in the church for a teaching, preaching and pastoral ministry which had been authenticated by the call of God to this office and the entire church recognised it to be so. Of course Paul is not unique in this regard, except that he also was an apostle; all others like him who have been called by God into the ministry also have received from God this charisma. Some of you do not believe this. You are three-quarters Plymouth Brethren in your coolness to the office of the minister, but there is this gift which the New Testament speaks about here. It is not like the fruit of the Holy Spirit which is found in all Christians, men and women, novices and elders. Having this fruit makes us all like one another and like the Lord Jesus Christ. The gifts of the Spirit are different; they are not distributed universally but some are given to some, but they are not given to others. Are all leaders? No. Are all preachers? No. Are all elders? No. Are all deacons? No. Are all called into the ministry? No. As Paul says in the next chapter and the seventh verse, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” (Ephs. 4:7). Every Christian has gifts of grace, but not the same gifts and the reason for the differentiation is the will of the Lord who is the head of the church. Paul goes on to emphasise that in verse eleven in that same fourth chapter; “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers” (Ephs. 4:11). ‘Some,’ he says, not ‘all,’ some given one gift and others given another.
So Paul was given this gift of God’s grace to be a servant of the gospel; elsewhere he tells us that the result of having that gift. It was this: “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (I Cors. 9:16). There are three elders in the church, but not one of them has any desire to make that confession. They have all had distinguished vocations which they have pursued to the glory of God. They all have an aptitude to teach, as have others in the congregation. All Christian men and women should be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them to anyone who asks them. All of us should be able to defend the faith. I preach you the word of God week by week that you might become stronger and more able to speak to others, but it is only I in this congregation who have a gift of God’s grace given me to make me a servant of this gospel. There is no reason why there should not be others, but in the situation in Wales today it is a luxury for one congregation to have more than one preacher when there are hundreds of congregations which lack anyone to preach to them.
This, then, is the staggering claim every true minister of the gospel makes, that the God who made the universe, the mighty Creator of the heavens and the earth, the one who sets the stars, those immense galaxies, in space, that he has called and gifted these Christian men to proclaim his word to the church and the world, and that it is by this means God saves those whom he has determined shall spend eternity with him. When such a doctrine of the ministry was more widely believed can you understand why there was respect given to those who held the office of minister? Can you appreciate our despair at human foolishness and error and ungodliness that has caused this office to become so discredited in the eyes not only of the world but of gospel Christians? You read the Victorian classic novels, Jane Austin, and Trollop, and Dickens, and George Elliot, and Thomas Hardy and so on, and you meet there such an array of despicable clergymen, hunters and scholars and hypocrites, merciless arrogant schemers and politicians. Those writers ignored all the godfearing ministers around them and caricatured the preacher by setting before their readers this array of monsters. “This is what ministers are like,” they were saying as they set out on their course of rejecting the Lord whom true ministers served. How cleverly they did their task, so that we are now living in an utterly secular society which desperately needs to hear the voices of ten thousand men who have become servants of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace.
Today the concept of a man set apart by the Mighty One and the Holy One to speak out for him to church and world is struggling to survive. Surely most of the men and women occupying the pulpits of the nation have never been called by God. How dare I stand in such judgment on them like that? Simply because the message of the Book of God they do not believe and certainly do not preach. Then who is the god whose message they are delivering? Let me hasten to say that believing the orthodox Christian message is not the sign of a call from God. You believe the Apostles’ Creed you say, and you are fascinated with it? Well, do not give up your day job and announce to the church that you are going to become a minister because of such an interest. This is not something to do to while away our retirement years. The question must be asked of anyone who hints that he thinking of entering the ministry, when he preaches the word of God can he say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news” (Lk. 4:18)? Is there something heavenly about his ministry? Does he appear to the congregation as a man sent from God? Is there an authority and unction about him which can only be attributed to the authenticating ministry of the Holy Spirit? Does he have any concept of such a dimension, and does he cast himself upon God for such help? Does he grieve when such assistance is denied him? Would he rather die than use the tricks of the world to amuse his hearers? Would he groan at someone telling him he was a ‘good communicator’ if he knew that it had been gained by going through his favourite illustrations, the congregational manipulation, the appeals, the wisdom of this world and so on and that he had lost his vision for serving the high and holy one who inhabits eternity whose name is holy?
You think of the schoolteacher or college professor who often itinerates and preaches, parading his casualness, a laid-back totally informal man, his whole manner saying, “We don’t believe in this heavy approach to the pulpit do we. It’s time men got rid of that and just shared things together.” That is what his manner is saying. Then he prays, “Lord, we just want to . . . we only want to . . .” and so on. It is the Agatha Christie approach to preaching. That detective writer exalted the marvellous amateur, Miss Marples, Hercule Poirot, etc. The policemen were portrayed as solid, flat-footed, dutiful, boring men. For flair and getting things done bring on the ‘personality.’ I think of a Pennsylvania professor much sought after as a conference preacher in England, loud, funny, outrageous, not a shy bone in his entire body. “That’s awesome. That’s preaching,” people say when they’ve heard him. No, that’s show biz. He doesn’t have to take a group of people with him to glory. He’s never around anywhere long enough to know a group of people. The pastor-preacher has to gather and feed and strengthen a whole cross-section of believers by the big Word of God, bearing and forbearing week after week
Isn’t one of the needs in the church today for the congregation to have a real understanding of what a minister is, that he is not supposed to be George Whitefield. He pastors a people year after year by bringing the whole word of God to all of them. Understanding that will help restore a regard for the minister, and a longing that God will give such gifts to churches again? It is part of the judgment of God on the church and the world that the flow of such men to our nation’s pulpits has been reduced to a trickle. It is the happiest reality when one of our graduates can say these words of our text, “I have become a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me” and we can all say our Amens, and thank God for this gift to the church. We are seeing Keith Underhill, or Austin Walker, or Chris Pegington, or Graham Heaps, or Keith Hoare, or Derek Thomas, or Malcolm Firth, or Timothy Mills, or Mark Vogan, or Olie Gross, or Ian Middlemist and all the rest. How does a young man make that claim? Shouldn’t he wait to become an elder first. No, no. He would wait until he were an old man for that. Life is too short and the needs are too great to wait. We are not talking about the gift of rule but the gift of the servant of the gospel. How could a man the age of Spurgeon or Whitefield preach the word of God? By the call of God and the working of his mighty power. Was the apostle Peter twenty years of age on the day of Pentecost? Probably around that age, maybe younger. Paul tells us here how that was done, “through the working of his power” (v.7). The God who calls is the God who enables. He creates in a student a hunger for holiness; he gives him a love for the souls of men; he trains a man in the theological disciplines; he strengthens and builds him up; he gives him evangelistic concern; he gives him victory over the sins that beset him; he enables him to get on with people and builds up those skills; he gives him courage, a single eye; it is by God’s enabling he can beat his body and make it his slave so that after he has preached to others he himself is not disqualified for the prize. In other words he turns a boy into a man. Such men have a growing relationship with God, increasingly dependent on the Lord, overwhelmingly conscious that without him they can do nothing. They say, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” Such men are set apart by the congregation: “Don’t spend your life in business, in the office. Put that behind you and never look back. We will put our hands in our pockets and we will give you money to support you year by year.” Churches will do that for men in whom is evident the working of God’s power. No works of God suffer for lack of money. The God who gives the gifts of spiritual enabling will also provide daily bread. So men become preachers through receiving the gift of God’s grace given to them through the working of God’s mighty power.
2. HOW ARE SUCH MEN TO REGARD THEMSELVES?
Paul acknowledges himself to be “less than the least of all God’s people” (v.8). All that Paul was he owed to the enabling of God. He wasn’t the one seeking after God when he was on the road to Damascus breathing out threatening and slaughter against the church. It was the Lord who came there seeking him, finding him, and calling him to spend the rest of his days serving him. The initiative was all divine. The gifts were all divine. What a change in Saul of Tarsus from that self-righteous merciless bigot to the man who writes these words that he is “less than the least of all God’s people” (v.8). This is greater than the change that took Nelson Mandella from a cell on a prison island to the presidency of South Africa. Mandella ascended, Saul of Tarsus descended in his whole estimation of himself, from persecutor to persecuted, from a man of status to a castaway. Like his Saviour Paul humbled himself. What about this for a good self-image – “I am less than the least of all God’s people”? Those words are by no means untypical of the New Testament; Paul elsewhere calls himself the chief of sinners and the least of the apostles. Those words destroy that insistence of popular psychology that people all need to enhance their sense of self-worth. Listen to Abraham, “I am but dust and ashes.” Hear Jacob, “I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies.” Hear Job, “Behold I am vile, what shall I answer thee?” Listen to Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips.” Listen to Peter, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man O Lord.” Listen to John the great forerunner of our Saviour, “The latchet of his shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.” When we know we’re in the presence of this mighty and glorious God we are constrained to pray, “Make this poor self grow less and less.”
Understand what Paul is doing in the words of our text. He takes the superlative form, ‘the least’ or ‘the smallest’, and then, as John Stott says, the apostle does what is impossible linguistically but is possible theologically, he turns it into the comparative form – shall we invent the word ‘leaster’ or as the NIV translates it, ‘less than the least’? You know that you cannot conceive of anything less than what is already the least of all, but Paul is making a certain point very forcefully and effectively and he is bending the rules of grammar to do so. John Stott writes, “Perhaps Paul was deliberately playing on the meaning of his name. For his Roman surname ‘Paulus’ is Latin for ‘little’ or ‘small’, and tradition says he was a little man. ‘I am little,’ he may be saying, ‘little by name, little in stature, and morally and spiritually littler than the littlest of all Christians'” (John Stott, “The Message of Ephesians,” IVP, Leicester, 1979, p.119).
To us Paul is a giant, but that is because he had such a low view of himself and a vast view of the Lord. We consider Paul to be the greatest of all Christians, and we know that he was called by Mighty Jehovah to speak and write for him, but when Paul looked at his own heart he said to himself, “What a pathetic servant of Jesus Christ you’ve been.” Paul wasn’t happy with the progress he had made as a Christian. He was not contented with what he had done for Jesus. He did not consider that he had loved God as he should have loved him, nor loved his neighbour. He did not know the Bible, he did not pray, he did not trust God, he did not witness confidently and sweetly as he should have done. The good that he would he did not do, and the evil that he would not have done that he actually did. He judged himself to be a wretched man and his sense of his own sin really hurt him. Paul considered what he had been before his conversion and the harm he had done at many levels, not least the actual physical harm, to the people of God. He had forced some of them to blaspheme the name of Jesus. He had been party to their cruel judicial murders. “Less than the least of all God’s people,” is his verdict upon himself.
I want to emphasise that that is an essential attitude for the preacher, a deep consciousness of our own unworthiness and the vastness of God’s mercy towards us. This is no sham humility, nor is it a morbid attitude. Only God’s grace can create this in a Christian. It does not prevent a man speaking with authority. It enhances it! It didn’t weaken Paul’s sense that God had called him to be an apostle. He will protest, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the risen Christ?” Notice how Paul begins this third chapter with these words, “I Paul,” and the next chapter again begins with the personal pronoun ‘I’. There were times when Paul had to vindicate himself – “I’m speaking like a fool” he might say – but Paul would claim his position among his fellow believers. What we have here is this Christian combination of personal humility allied to ministerial authority. Paul minimises himself and magnifies his office. I know how easy it is for a preacher to drop hints at what a humble man he is. I can do it as well as anyone – to my shame. The Puritan Thomas Adams writes in his diary, “O, Lord, I want more humility, and why do I want it? To be noticed and admired for it. O God, I see that my ‘humility’ is very little better than pride.” It was not thus with Paul. These words of his are transparent words of godly sincerity.
You consider the price of your redemption, that the mighty God of heaven, moved by compassion alone, sent his own beloved Son into this world, born of Mary, living amongst sinners, dying the accursed death of the cross. That anguish which he endured, the pain and agony, physical and spiritual, was the only means by which you could be redeemed for your sinning with a high hand against the Holy Creator. Redemption became yours by his blameless life laid down in that shameful death. That is why God has been reconciled to you. It is all through the dying obedience of Jesus for you, and nothing else. Then what do you have to be proud of? Where is boasting? Your whole posture must be one of amazement that so great a God should have loved a sinner like you and saved you. Your richest gain you count but loss and pour contempt on all your pride.
Paul had had wonderful blessings. He had often preached the gospel with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. Many had been converted under his ministry. He had planted strong growing congregations. His letters were read and loved everywhere. He’d had rare experiences of God, caught up into the third heaven, seeing glorious sights and hearing unrepeatable words, and yet he knew that every single part of that he owed to the working of God’s power. It had pleased God to bless him like that, and Paul’s whole consciousness was taken up with God and his goodness and mercy to him. Paul had very little self-consciousness. “Me? I am the least of all God’s people.” That is what he thought of himself. Think of a baby girl carried into a room by her father. She gazes about at the people gathered there; she looks about for her mother; she notices a dog, another child, and a toy. Her eyes go here and there with curiosity. She’s not thinking of herself at all, but when that same girl has become a teenager then notice how she goes into a room full of people. She takes a deep breath before she goes in. She is making an entrance. Her manner has lost all its unconsciousness. What we call being bashful and shy is really rotten to the core. It is self-consciousness and it corrupts everything; it perverts the imagination and defiles our morals. It is that whole attitude that Paul had mortified so successfully. He had a voice saying in one ear what a great man he was as an apostle of Jesus Christ, and then he had a voice in the other ear reminding him how great had been his wickedness, that he was the least of all God’s people, the chief of sinners, and how much he owed to the grace of God. That is the conviction which Paul fed and strengthened day by day as he looked to Jesus Christ.
There can be no real ministry, no God-exalting ministry, where such humility is lacking. A young preacher spoke to me about the baptism of the Spirit, and he talked about it everlastingly. He wanted to tell his own experiences and feelings. I told him, “Well, get the anointing of the Spirit and then preach to us in the power of the Holy Spirit,” but he didn’t do that. He simply told us that we ought to be restlessly itching for the experience just like him. He spoke about Christian hedonism, and I told him that he must forget himself, not think of whether he was enjoying God or not. A man talking about his enjoyment of God has no enjoyment of the Lord. The man talking all the time about his faith has no faith. The two things cannot go together. When you love, what are you thinking about? You’re thinking about the object of your love. When you believe, what are you thinking about? Why, the glorious truths themselves that you believe in. Suppose you ask yourself, “Am I believing?” Why, of course you’re not believing when you are thinking about believing. No human being believes except when he thinks about Christ. Am I loving? Of course I am not loving when I am thinking about loving. No Christian loves except when he is thinking about Christ as the object of his love.
When Paul thought about himself he thought, “O God have pity on me. O Lord forgive. O Lord don’t hold my sins against me. I am the least of all God’s people.” There can be no usefulness in the work of the ministry without such an attitude that the grace of God has taught us.
3. WHAT ARE PREACHERS CALLED BY GOD TO CONCENTRATE ON?
“To preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (v.8). Christ has riches that are ‘unsearchable’ – this adjective is found in the book of Job describing the glories of the heavens and the earth that are beyond our understanding. The riches of Christ are similar, too vast to explore, and too deep to fathom. Men have suggested other words to translate this word. The riches of Christ, they suggest, are ‘inexplorable,’ ‘untraceable,’ ‘unfathomable,’ ‘inexhaustible,’ ‘illimitable,’ ‘inscrutable,’ ‘infinite’ and ‘incalculable.’ We get the picture. Now why does Paul choose this word? Why are Christ’s riches unsearchable?
i] His riches are unsearchable because of the poverty of the vast multitudes who needed them.
One millionaire giving another millionaire a 28 carat diamond receives little attention. Love between equals is not surprising. One of the European royal princes, an heir to that throne, falls in love with one of the European royal princesses, and no one is surprised. It is pronounced a ‘suitable match’ by all and sundry. But should that same royal prince rather fall in love with a Welsh librarian and there is extraordinary interest. That kind of romance is the exception, for generally speaking the high despise the low in all walks of life. The learned despise the ignorant. The cultured despise the uncultured. The left-wing residents of Hampstead pity a president who comes from Texas. The wealthy despise the poor, but suppose a London man of wealth should care for a poor handicapped child from China all for no other reason than sheer goodness and compassion, then that would be noticed. Moses, a slave-child, taken by the daughter of Pharaoh and raised as a prince in the royal palace, is an example of this.
Let’s consider for a moment this royal prince with his millions, his castles, and hunting lodges, and villas on the French riviera, and this Cwmtwrch librarian that he has fallen in love with. Contrast the distance between the prince and the librarian on the one hand, and then the distance between Christ and sinful men on the other. A librarian is a sinner, so is a prince; a librarian is born of a woman, so is a prince. A librarian is subject to the activities of superbugs and viruses and cancer, and so is a prince. A librarian will one day die, so will a prince. A librarian will one day stand in judgment, so will a prince. A librarian can be saved by grace, so can a prince. In the essentials a prince and a librarian are exactly the same. The difference between them is only a difference of human esteem and human relationship. So if a European royal prince marries a Welsh librarian he has not stooped very low at all.
Consider the riches of Christ, that he is infinitely, in every way, far above us. He made the sun, he designed the moon, he made the galaxies also. He made heaven and all the host that inhabit heaven – the innumerable company of angels. By him was everything made, and without him was not anything made that was made. By him all things cohere, the comet in its path, the atom and the molecule in their every movement. He was in the beginning and he made the angels. He will be the glorious Son of God to all eternity. He governs the ages, the rise and fall of civilisations and the rulers of the world. He is the King of such kings and he turns their hearts as he sees fit. This is he of whom we speak, the one of vast riches, who has been moved with measureless love for Welsh librarians, and Chinese rice-farmers, and prostitutes from Corinth, and a much married woman of Samaria, and lepers, and millions of sinners like them, all this world over. From heaven he came and sought them to become his holy bride. With his own blood he bought each one whom he loved, and for their life he died.
What did Jesus stand to gain from all his generosity? He didn’t need the friendship or the love of the people he was helping. He himself was beyond all need. He lacked nothing; he had deity. What more could he have had than that? Absolutely nothing. He had eternity and glory without limit, riches that couldn’t be extended nor exhausted. The newspapers have their lonely hearts pages where both men and women describe themselves and say who and what they are looking for. It is certainly not good for man to be alone, but our Lord had the happiness of heaven and the glory of a perfect relationship with his Father and the Spirit. He wasn’t lonely. His own blessedness was already perfect and entire and complete and had been eternally so. What did he stand to gain from his liberality to rebel sinners? Nothing! And yet he loved us. What did we have to give him in return for all his riches? Nothing, and yet he gave himself for us. He stood to gain nothing but our guilt and shame, yet he gave us his life, his love, his home in glory for ever. He gave as he did not because of any need whatsoever. He had the fulness of love to overflowing, and in that loving he gave himself. Never were such riches bestowed on those who were so utterly powerless and incapable of benefiting the lover as in the redeeming love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There was never such a love as Jesus’ love. It is utterly unsearchable because of the great stoop involved. There was never such a coming down, never such condescension, of sheer, matchless affection. He would have her as his bride. He would take her to himself to live with him for ever. What love he would show to her. There was never such rich love from one so high and lifted up, utterly glorious, for those so far below him who can only respond in mute wonder, “What am I, and who am I, that one in such heights could come down to me in such a pit because he loved me. Why, O Lord, why such love for me?” Isn’t this unsearchable riches?
ii] His riches are unsearchable because of the evil of those who received those riches.
Why do we give money to people? Because there is something about them that is attractive and good. They are not muggers; they are not going to shoot off round the corner to the drug dealer and the prostitute and spend it on wickedness. They are not going to buy a crate of whisky and call all the most disreputable people in town to come and get drunk with them. No. We are not going to give our hard-earned money to cheats and liars and prodigals. Rather, we see some integrity of character in a man or woman; they possess some initiative; there is a potential for good that we’ve noticed; there is something in them that draws out our confidence, affection, esteem and love. So we write a cheque; we withdraw money from the bank and we make them a gift. Sometimes, of course, we’ve been taken for a ride. We’ve been told a yarn and naively we believed it. We thought the man was poor and destitute. He needed to catch a train somewhere. He had nowhere to stop the night; it was cold and wet. He hadn’t eaten a meal for two days, but we later discovered that he was a consummate liar. There were others whom we thought worthy of receiving our financial backing, but we didn’t know them either and we discovered to our cost that they were crooks.
When Christ came to give us his riches he knew perfectly well our characters. He didn’t give in ignorance or hoping against hope. He had no misapprehension that we were really honest people. Our hearts were wide open to him. He knew what was in man from the beginning. He knew what was in Judas that he would betray him. He knew that Peter would deny him three times and he told Peter to watch and pray. He knew that all the disciples at the last would run away and leave him all alone. He knew about all your future falls into sin after he had been so rich to you. He gave to you not because he thought you were good, or that he hoped you’d be better than you’ve been. It was all his pity, and his grace, and his compassion that moved him to give, not anything in us. The motive to give his riches to us was all from him and nothing in us at all. He saw us vile and objectionable men and women like a sepulchre of dead bones. He could see everything in us that was loathsome and filthy. If he were fair he’d have turned away from us with abhorrence – abominable creatures! He’d have pronounced sentence on us, and condemned us to outer darkness where he didn’t have to look at us. But he did no such thing. He so loved us that he gave himself for us. He carried his cross for us until he was too weak to carry it any further. He was meek and silent before his tormentors that he might go to the cross and suffer for us. What riches he offers to undeserving thankless paupers.
iii] His riches are unsearchable because the cost of giving them to us was immense.
Bill Gates is the richest man in the world. It would cost him little to give away a million pounds, or ten million. He wouldn’t lost sleep that night about his bank balance going down that much. There are many like him who give from their riches and it costs them little because they have so much more in the bank. But think what it cost Christ for us to receive his riches. He left the bosom of the Father for our benefit, not his own. He who was rich yet for our sakes became poor. He laid aside the insignia of his eternal glory and became a child living in a workman’s home in an insignificant village without any running water. Surely that was wonderful. We occasionally put ourselves to a little bit of inconvenience for others. We give up our own bedrooms for special guests, or we live in a camp and sleep in a dormitory with some young people for a week, or we drive for two days and nights to eastern Europe to deliver some materials to a church there and sleep in a sleeping bag on the church floor. Those are little deeds of love, but how paltry compared to his thirty years sentence to Nazareth surrounded by sinners.
But that was only the beginning of his love. He didn’t just live amongst us for decades, he came to lay down his life for us, not for his friends but his enemies. That we might receive his riches his sufferings were immense – scourging, and being spat on, and punched in the head, and the horrors of crucifixion, and being yelled at for hours while he hung there. Think of it! That was the price he chose to pay that he might be able to offer us all his riches. You cannot think of it. You don’t have the capacity to put your mind on what all those terrible experiences meant to someone who was eternally with God and eternally God. We can’t think what it meant for him to endure all that, but he’d made up his mind to enrich us, to end our sinful poverty, and all the pains that he endured wouldn’t thwart his love for us. For a man to lay down his life that a good man may know riches is a concept we can cope with, but that a man died in order that prodigals might have riches is inconceivable. He gave his riches to those who hated him, and that is why it is unsearchable.
iv] His riches are unsearchable because of the effect they have on those who receive them.
We read of those who suddenly received great riches through winning the lottery, or through a vast legacy, and the effect on some of them has been devastating. Families have been divided; they have been spurned by their old friends; begging letters have overwhelmed them. Some of them curse the day they suddenly receive these riches, but not one person has ever done that who has received the unsearchable riches of Christ. Those riches have transformed their lives for good. Their whole status has been affected. The price of all their sins has been paid. They have been discharged from the sinners’ debtors’ court. They have been clothed in the rich garments of Christ’s own righteousness. They have been made the sons of God and his heirs, joint heirs with his Son. Think of it.
Christ’s riches have enthralled their hearts, laid claim to their affections, and they gladly and willingly have it so. His riches have won their love, their loyalty, their esteem and reverence. They have the utmost confidence in Jesus. The more they know of his riches the more they trust him; the more they trust him the more they are at peace with him. The more they are at peace with him the more they are at peace with God and with themselves. These are the effects on a man who receives the riches of Christ. He has such riches, and yet he longs for more and more. There is a thirst, a hunger, an appetite for more of the riches of Christ. One man will display some faculty which is now blossoming under the riches of Christ. Another will show another gift developing, but whatever they have received from Christ they long for more, and it is certain that they will not be put off with anything less. If you can accept substitutes in place of Christ then you’ve never received his riches in the first place. If a baby is crying for milk and you offer it a gold sovereign then that won’t satisfy him. There is only one thing that will stop its crying. That is the picture of the one who has received the riches of Christ. He has received love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control, but he has only received them thirty fold and he wants them a hundred fold.
You may have home comforts, and money comforts, and the comforts of friends. What great blessings. You may hardly have known the meaning of trouble in the ordinary sense of that term, but if you have received of the riches of Christ you will want more and more of them. Your soul will refuse to be pacified with anything less. You will demand the living Christ. “Give him to me or I shall die.” Nothing else will satisfy you. You will frequent those places where he is to be found, where his word is declared and he is exalted. You will seek the fellowship of his people. You will search the Scriptures daily and find in them much fine gold. The richer Christ makes you then the richer still you will desire to be, more like Jesus Christ, more holy and harmless and undefiled. The more you discover of him the more you discover yourself to be ignorant of him. The life of the disciple is like climbing a mountain. You think you have come to the peak, but you find that there is in fact a little valley, and then another rise to another ridge, and so it is repeated on and on. This is the most satisfying hunger, like the longing for a drink of cold water and a meal of good food. You’re satisfied, yes, but then you want more. It is not like the craving for drugs, or the dependence of alcohol, or the lust for sexual license. This hunger for more of the riches of Christ is marvellously satisfying.
What a change has been wrought in all who have tasted the unsearchable riches of Christ. Once we lived for such things as money, and possessions, and bigger cars, and more exotic holidays, and expensive hotels, but they have lost their charm. We’ve been there, and we’ve done that, and now our desires have changed. We want these lasting treasures that come from heaven, and so are eternal, unchangeable and never fail to satisfy. “Give me more and more of yourself with every passing hour,” we cry.
27th June 2004 GEOFF THOMAS