Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 3:8d-f Introduction
Paul recognized his weakness (3:8a-c), and often regretted his past, but three things never troubled him. He was never perplexed about what he was to do (preach), to whom he was sent (Gentiles), and what the content of his message was to be (Christ). Paul recognized his threefold responsibility: preach, preach to Gentiles, preach to Gentiles about Christ.
Eph. 3:8d “. . .that I should preach. . .”
Preaching! Though some of its practitioners have besmirched it by their sordid lives, and though the world looks upon it with disfavor, preaching remains the highest calling of earth, and continues to be the most important activity in the corporate gatherings of any local church.
The fortunes of the Church have always risen and fallen based on the strength or weakness of her pulpits. The greatest centuries of Christian history were, far and away, the first, fourth, sixteenth, and nineteenth. The greatest centuries of Christian preaching were, far and away, the first, fourth, sixteenth, and nineteenth. The act of preaching has ever been, and continues to be, the vital heartbeat of the Church. When the pulpit wanes, a church wanes. When the pulpit blazes, a whole church ignites.
Whitefield was an humble man, but knew the significance of his work. He would not promote himself, and told his followers not to wrangle with the followers of Wesley. Whitefield pleaded, “Let the name of Whitefield perish.” He was humble in his person, but knew his work was exalted. He called his pulpit his throne, and when he preached, power came upon him, enabling him to rule men’s hearts more gloriously than any king could. Even the skeptic Ben Franklin fell under his sway. Hearing Whitefield preach for the first time, Ben emptied his pockets into the plate. From then on, when he went to hear Whitefield, Ben left all his money at home.
Preaching is the noblest calling. When Carey was laboring in India, his son Felix became ambassador to the king of Burma. Carey wrote, “Felix has drivelled into an ambassador.” He deemed the highest earthly office as utter degradation if for it a minister forsook his lofty calling of preaching.
Eph. 3:8e “. . .among the Gentiles. . .”
Paul knew what he had to do, “preach.” He also recognized to whom he was to speak, “Gentiles.” Some Jews called us Gentiles uncircumcised dogs, but Paul truly loved us, and mentioned us fondly and repeatedly in his letters. We were crude, pompous outcasts, ignorant idolaters, but Paul valued us and came to preach to us. When few cared about us, Paul did. Paul succeeded because he loved the people for whom he was responsible.
The outreach of many churches is inhibited by a lack of love for a lost world. More of us should be going to the mission fields, but–“out of sight, out of mind”–we tend not to think, pray, or agonize about people far away. I bring the challenge even closer to home. Many churches do not earnestly contemplate people in their own communities. When was the last time we awoke in the night, burdened for people who live on the north side of Fort Smith? When did we last breathe a prayer for people on the west or south end of town? Dare I press farther? When did we last grieve over a soul in our own east side of town, or over someone beside whom we work daily?
Our task is not frivolous. We are not to be playing Sunday morning church-games. Our assignment is of the utmost gravity. People truly are lost and going to Hell, yet we often seem oblivious to it all. We must win the lost, but will do so only when we love them. Providence has placed us in Fort Smith. We are responsible for every everlasting soul here.
Love for the people assigned us is our only hope of success. Moffat spoke of the Bechuanas and Hottentots as if they were the only people on earth. Livingstone spoke of Africa as if no other continents existed. Brainerd spoke of the American Indians as if speaking of his own soul. These men loved the souls assigned them. God help us to do the same.
Eph. 3:8f “. . .the unsearchable riches of Christ;. . .”
Paul knew his task, his audience, and also his assigned topic, “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” This is the strong burning language of one deeply in love. Paul loved Jesus with a contagious enthusiasm. “His words burn on the page, and our hearts take fire as we read them” (Dale).
Paul never was at a loss for subject matter. He never stumbled or fumbled for words. He had mastered one subject and preferred it above all others. At the drop of a hat, anywhere, in any given situation, Paul was eager to say, “Let’s talk about the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
Paul never tired of speaking about Jesus because the subject was inexhaustible. The “riches of Christ” are “unsearchable.” The word, taken from the sport of hunting, refers to what cannot be fully tracked by human footprints; one begins the hunt, and starts on the trail, but does not reach its end. In this life, believers only begin to enjoy Christ’s “riches.” Insofar as we assimilate them, they are ours to enjoy, but we do not exhaust them.
Christ’s “riches” are past finding out fully, and cannot be totally comprehended by men. Calculations are unable to compute this treasure-store, imagination cannot estimate it. Any attempt to measure the “riches of Christ” will end in failure. No line is long enough to fathom this ocean-depth, nor any mountain high enough to attain its height. No sextant can determine its scope, nor any surveyor discern its boundaries. Trying to measure it we find ourselves like a man who tries to measure the size of a lake, only to discover it is no lake at all, but an arm of the ocean, and thus boundless as infinity, and immeasurable. Try to measure the “riches of Christ.” Begin the hunt. Start the trail. Be content, though, to end up next to Charles Wesley, “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”
I hasten to say that Paul’s emphasis here is not any particular trait of Christ. In other places Paul talks about the “riches” of God’s “goodness and forbearance and long-suffering” (RM 2:4), “glory” (RM 9:23), “wisdom and knowledge” (RM 11:33), “grace” (EP 1:7), and “mercy” (EP 2:4). In our present text, though, Paul presses beyond any particular trait and highlights the Source itself. The emphasis is not the “unsearchable riches” Christ has to give us, but the fact that Christ Himself is the “unsearchable riches.”
Paul stood in absolute reverence before the Lord. In teaching the doctrines of Christ, Paul never lost sight of the Christ of the doctrines. The most important thing to emphasize is always Jesus Himself. What Jesus bestows, though important, takes second place to Himself.
In this one phrase, “unsearchable riches of Christ,” Paul has summarized the simplicity and the infinity of the Gospel. Our message has a focus which is simple to pinpoint. All is centralized in Christ. Once we reach this center, though, we diverge into countless avenues of fascination.
Let me illustrate. The old saying is, “All roads lead to Rome.” This being the case, we can also say, “From Rome roads go everywhere.” The same is true of Christ. Everything focuses in Him first; then through Him our thoughts fly into infinity. Limiting ourselves to one solitary subject does not restrict us. Jesus is the funnel through which all must flow, the isthmus all theology must traverse, but from this point of seeming constriction one launches onto a boundless sea. In concentrating on Jesus, we feel waves from an endless ocean of grace and glory always lapping at our feet.
Ours is no stinted Savior. We do not preach merely a noble man among men. We speak of the God-man. Some deem Jesus a mere man, but we see in Him deity. In Jesus, God was clothed in human flesh. Herein we see “the unsearchable riches.” While in the human veil, Godhead shone through. The wind recognized Him and stilled at His command. The waves knew Him and kissed His feet. Angels acknowledged Him and ministered to Him. Demons recognized Him and fled from His presence. At the touch of His hand, disease turned to health. At the sound of His voice, death lived. At the sense of His presence, water blushed and became wine.
In the person of Jesus, we find “unsearchable riches” a mind cannot grasp, a tongue cannot tell, a pen cannot write. Even imagination is too frail to plumb this theme. In viewing God’s gifts, keep sight of the Giver. Our peace “passeth all understanding” (PH 4:7) and our joy is “unspeakable” (1 P 1:8) because Jesus passes all understanding and is unspeakable.
All the riches, riches, riches we enjoy exist because Jesus the Source is in and of Himself riches, riches, riches. The gifts are rich because He is rich. In having Jesus, we have everything. He is, as Bernard put it, “honey to the mouth, music to the ear, and heaven to the heart.”
Since the Source is infinite, the supply is infinite. Only of Christ’s “unsearchable riches” can it be truly said, they never fail. In the hour of death, a rich man clutched his bags of money, and laid them on his heart, but murmured, “They will not do, they will not do; take them away!” If one has the “unsearchable riches” of Christ, though, they will always do.
Do you know the Christ of “riches,” and thus have the “riches” of Christ? Be assured, Christ never detracts from life, or lessens its quality. He always enriches life. We preach Paul’s Christ of “unsearchable riches” to you, but cannot preach you to Christ. We cannot force, but will implore, you to come. Come as you are. Do not insult Jesus by trying to earn His favor, as if you have something to contribute to His reserves. Bring emptiness and sin, He provides fullness and forgiveness. Bring stains, He cleanses. Bring hunger and thirst, He is the bread of life and the living water.