Ephesians 3:1–7 (NKJV)
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.
Paul sees his calling – to bring the gospel to the gentiles – as a special dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you. In the great plot twist of God expanding His covenant to include the gentiles, He put an exclamation point on it by selecting Paul to carry that message.
No one could have been more ironic for this mission than Paul. He was the leading persecutor of the church. So, of course, God picks him to carry the gospel forth – and, just to add to the irony, Paul doesn’t get to carry it to his people (the Jews) but to the last people on earth he would want to carry it to (the gentiles). Plus, Paul gets beaten, stoned and imprisoned along the way.
So, how does Paul react to all this? He takes to it like a duck to water. He gets it. His conversion on the road to Damascus, along with some of the messages he received at that time, warned him of what’s coming. He suffers a ton, but he knows it’s “for a good cause.”
Specifically, he appreciates that God made known to me the mystery … which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men. That’s a blessing literally worth dying for.
There’s a strange psychological phenomenon where pain is, in a sense, not painful. If you know something is supposed to hurt, and that pain isn’t a sign of something out of whack, then the pain is easier to bear.
The simplest example comes from weightlifting. A super intense “burnout” set can make you sore as the dickens the next day. But you expect that; you literally volunteered for it. You know it’s coming, and you know it’s not a sign that something’s wrong. This makes the pain somehow not “painful,” even if you’re so sore you can’t get out of bed.
Paul seems to be reacting this way to his trials. We wouldn’t say he volunteered for them – it was imposed on him by Christ – but he sees them as appropriate and not mysterious. He also appreciates the gifts that came as part of the deal. So, Paul deals with his deprivations almost as if they don’t hurt at all.
That’s where we come in. Life in Christ isn’t joining a country club. We’re supposed to appreciate things that might look, on the surface, to be anything but fun. They will happen. They’re supposed to happen.
Keep an eye out for those things. They’re clues.
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