From the human standpoint, Paul’s effectiveness as a servant of Christ stemmed from the fact that he was motivated by one dominating objective, summed up in the words, “Wherefore also we make it our aim (marg., Greek: “are ambitious"), whether at home or absent, to be well pleasing unto him’, 2 Cor. 5. 9 R.V. Writing to the Philippians, he expressed it even more succinctly, “For to me to live is Christ”, Phil. 1. 21.
In several places he speaks of subsidiary objectives which are but facets of the one overriding consideration. All these amply repay careful study, but considerations of space confine us to one: “I press on, if so be that I may apprehend that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus”, 3. 12 R.V.
His thoughts go back to that never-to-be-forgotten experience when Christ apprehended (laid hold of) him on the Damascus road. Certainly this was with a view to his own immeasurable blessing in salvation, the wonder of which never ceased to move him to praise and worship. However, he is here looking at that wonderful experience from quite a different angle. Christ had a special role for him: he was a chosen vessel to bear the name of Christ before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel, Acts 9. 15; 22. 14; 26. 15-18. Henceforth it was Paul’s earnest desire to see accomplished in his service all that his Master had in mind in laying hold of him. In writing to the Ephesians about thirty years later, he still marvelled at the grace given to one who saw himself as the chief of sinners and less than the least of all, and yet was so highly privileged to “preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”, Eph. 3. 8-9.
Ever sensitive to the possible effects of words on his hearers and readers, he realized that among them would be some who had to be content with a lowly life confined to their immediate locality. They would be appreciative of the apostle’s great privilege and his devoted labours in many parts of the vast Roman Empire, but they might be discouraged in contrasting their very limited opportunities and their lack of ability to accomplish much for the One who was no less their Lord and Master. After telling his readers of his prayers for them, Eph. 3. 14-21, he went on to remind them of those monumental truths which apply to all believers without distinction, 4. 4-6. He then assures them that nevertheless each believer has his own particular part to play in the overall purpose of God. His great privilege was not a matter of merit but of amazing grace granted to him; they also were privileged, for “unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ”, 4.7. Each had a sphere of usefulness peculiar to himself, and there was available the grace by which he could use his particular gift to fill that sphere to the glory of God.
None of us has had such a spectacular conversion as Saul of Tarsus. Probably in the great majority of cases, conversion has conformed to a fairly common pattern. This should not be allowed to obscure the real wonder of every conversion; the longer we live, the greater should be our insight into what was involved. It means that by the convicting and regenerating power of the Spirit of God, Christ broke into our lives just as really as He did into the life of the man who at the time was busily engaged in the persecution of those who belonged to Christ.
Equally it was not simply to bring us into the blessedness of personal salvation, but rather that Christ laid hold of us for our particular contribution to the outworking of God’s purpose. That contribution may seem small and insignificant by human standards, but who can foresee what results may flow from the fidelity of even the obscurest believer.
Elisha is the one given public prominence in the events which led to God being glorified in the court of Syria, but it was the simple testimony of an unnamed captive maid in Naaman’s household which set in motion the train of events which brought that about.
It was a lowly nursemaid, of whom very little is known, who won for her loved Saviour the tender heart of her charge, the little Lord Ashley. Before he reached the age of seven, she died never dreaming that as the Earl of Shaftesbury he would stamp his mark for Christ on Victorian society in Britain, as well as initiate a successful outreach to the masses, the effects of which linger on in some places to the present day. Many similar stories could be told.
The Lord’s assessment of His people’s service is based neither on the extent of the area covered, nor on the degree of prominence it brings, nor on the apparent success of their work. His one great criterion is the measure of faithfulness and devotion shown in their appointed sphere, great or small, Luke 19. 15-19; cf. Mark 14. 6-9.
No one doubts that in the great day of review the Lord will commend the mighty apostle of the Gentiles with the equivalent of “Well done, good and faithful servant”. And we may expect to hear the great Earl of Shaftesbury, who did such a great work for Christ, commended in the same way. But what of the lowly nursemaid who would have been completely forgotten soon after she was buried, but for the recorded tribute paid to her by the Earl years later? No far flung “mission field”, no place in high society for her, but her name is indelibly written in heaven. She, too, will stand before the same betna where she will certainly be rewarded with the same commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant".
Happy are they who in early life asked the same question as Paul did, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”. Some will reach distinction in elevated circles where they will be able to accomplish more for Christ than they would have been able to do in any other calling. Some will be a light in some dark corner where otherwise the gospel would never penetrate, content to fill a little space if Christ be glorified.