Growing in Boldness
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 3:8-9 (Holman) This grace was given to me—the least of all the saints—to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of the Messiah, and to shed light for all about the administration of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.
In the best saints, high self-regard is rare. The heaviest stalks of wheat bend the lowest, as do limbs most heavily laden with fruit. As we rise spiritually, we are less satisfied with ourselves. The closer we get to light, the more easily we see flaws.
Whom God advances, He humbles and makes low in their own eyes. Abraham confessed, “I am but dust and ashes” (GN 18:27); Job, “I am vile” (40:4); David, “I was shaped in iniquity” (PS 51:5); Ezra, “I blush to lift up my face” (9:6); Isaiah, “I am undone. . .a man of unclean lips” (6:5); Peter, “I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).
When Paul had to, he could speak very boldly, yea brashly, of his ministry. He was quick to persuade people of his work’s validity, but defended himself only to the extent necessary to convince people of his apostolic authority. Paul exalted his office, but humbled himself, never confusing God’s glory with his own commonness.
His self-evaluating pilgrimage was interesting. About 57 A.D., he wrote to Corinth, “I am the least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9). Three years later he penned our text, lowering his position to “the least of all the saints.” About 63 A.D., he lowered his self-opinion even more, saying he was the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).
Years of walking with Jesus humbled Paul. He came to see that underneath his ministry, revelations, calling, and mission, was a man who deserved none of these things. Beneath all the trimmings, Paul saw “least” as a true assessment of himself.
Humility in us is important to God because it forces His people to depend on Him. Humility is not merely an ornament, but a necessity. Where humility is lacking, all true spirituality is lacking. When humility abounds, God’s benefits are multiplied.
Humility lets us be living examples of the message of grace we proclaim. Paul effectively preached grace because he knew he was an ultimate illustration of it. Proud lips cannot witness well. Humility embodies what we say. Our confession of being unworthy magnifies God’s grace. Our admitting weakness exalts God’s power.
Relentlessly pursuing humility may as much as any other quest be the essence of Christian living. Asked what is the first step in religion, Martin Luther replied, “Humility.” Asked what is the second step, he repeated, “Humility.” Asked of the third step, he said again, “Humility.” Set yourself to the task of acquiring humility.
Do we share Paul’s humility? Preaching on this text, Spurgeon exclaimed, “I sympathize with him in his wonder! My heart cries, ‘Why me, O Lord, why me?'” A man asked Joseph Parker, “Why did Jesus choose Judas the betrayer as one of the twelve?” The famous preacher replied, “I am not able to answer, but the great mystery to me is not why He chose Judas, but why should the Lord have chosen me.”
Eph. 3:10-11 This is so God’s multifaceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens. This is according to His eternal purpose accomplished in the Messiah, Jesus our Lord.
This text returns us to the idea of “heavenly places”, the God-dimension, the unseen universe, the eternal order beyond the world perceived by our five senses. “Heavenly places” is the present, at hand, home of believers, where we are blessed (1:3), Jesus sits by the Father (1:20), believers sit with Jesus (2:6), spiritual warfare is waged (6:12), and where “God’s multifaceted wisdom” is made known (3:10).
As believers, a benefit of living in “heavenly places” is being able to see how God deals with us in marvelous ways. Our text deals with another set of citizens who also share in this benefit. “Rulers and authorities” depicts angels marshalled as an army, in ranks and divisions. These flaming spirits, our fellow residents in “heavenly places,” watch us, the Church, to see manifest the “manifold wisdom of God.” “Heavenly places” is a theater where angels, as spectators, gain a better appreciation for God’s “manifold wisdom” by watching the Church act out its role on Earth’s stage.
Eph. 3:12-13 In Him we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. So then I ask you not to be discouraged over my afflictions on your behalf, for they are your glory.
“Boldness” translates a term linking two words meaning “all” and “telling.” Hence, the word means to tell all. Greeks used this term to signify “the free speech which was the right of every citizen in a democratic state” (Bruce). Believers have freedom of speech before God. We can be totally frank and honest with Him.
We pray, not timidly, but persuaded He wants to hear us, and will answer all our prayers. He responds with yes, no, or wait, but always answers us. We know God listens to us. Thus in His presence, we can relax, open our hearts, and speak freely.
“Access” refers to liberty of approach. “Confident” means we have assurance our access to God will be neither challenged nor denied. If we feel we have to come by stealth, we will fear being caught and cast out. On the other hand, if we feel we have “confident access”, we know God’s gate is always open. No guards interfere.
Don’t come to God hesitantly. A fearful Roman citizen once approached Caesar Augustus with trembling. The emperor, offended by this, asked, “Do you take me for an elephant that will tear you?” God, too, is hurt when we come as if He does not care for us. Doubting God’s love will always leave a believer anemic in prayer.
Our “boldness and confident access” are possible “through faith in Him”, that is, Jesus. Our approach to God is based not on our merit, but on our Mediator’s worth.
Only by our union with Jesus, are we allowed to approach God. Recognizing our need for a Mediator keeps us mindful of our sinfulness as contrasted to God’s holiness. This protects us from presumption, and helps us display proper reverence.
Once we show “faith in him,” once we understand the ground rules, deeming us sinners, and God holy, we then with our Mediator “have boldness and confident access,” the soul of Christian living. Faith changes our attitude about approaching God. Unbelievers seek distance, and want to forget about a holy God, but blood-bought believers seek intimacy. We thirst after God, knowing we have “confident access” due to our Mediator, Jesus Christ. Let us be busy practicing what we possess.
We need to know the full extent of our access, and should exercise our right to the hilt. Jesus gives us access not only to God’s door, but to His house. I dare to venture farther. We can eat at His table, and come to His throne room. I hesitate to press on, but will. We can be familiar with Him and speak intimately. We can lean on His arm and rest in His lap, for He offers us His heart, His innermost essence.
Do come with reverence, do come with a Mediator, but also boldly come all the way, satisfied with nothing less than a straightforward, up close, encounter with God. Covet not only God’s ear, but also His heart. We can have His ear at a distance, but our birthright is, and our desire must be, nothing less than closeness in His arms.
Prayer is hard work, and usually its most difficult part is gaining a sense of truly close “access”. The most critical moment of prayer is often the instant a saint first begins to approach God. God knows what we need before we ask for it. Thus, our requests are not as important as sensing “access”, intimate closeness to God.
At the outset, confront and remove every obstacle to “access”. Never postpone prayer till you feel better or the right mood comes along. If we do not feel the disposition to pray, the sentiment is demonic. Ask God to drive Satan away.
If we sense personal uncleanness, ask for forgiveness. If we feel out of place, remember our entry ticket was bought by the blood of God’s own Son. If our mind wanders, focus on our seat in heavenly places. If we feel weak, ask for strength.
If we know not what to say, ask for wisdom. Whatever blocks “confident access,” have it removed quickly and march into “heavenly places” where we belong.
The extent to which we perceive we have infiltrated the heavenly throne room will have much to do with our spiritual effectiveness. Deep entry is our best support under the troubles of the world, and our best defense against temptation. In battle, do not focus too much on Satan. Know our foe adequately, but know Jesus abundantly, for as we gain total access to Him we are made invincible against assaults of Hell.