"For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles — if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ." (Ephesians 3:1-4)Paul, like any great preacher, was not immune to rabbit trails and digressions. He starts out saying, "For this reason," but it will be fourteen more verses until he returns and completes this thought. We see the same thing in his letter to the Philippians where twice he says "Finally." How can there be another "finally" after the first "finally"? So the next time you hear a preacher wondering around and following rabbit trail after rabbit trail, just remember good old Paul.
Paul begins to speak briefly of his ministry and how he came to become an apostle. He references a former letter to the Ephesians where he wrote in more detail on this subject. It is a shame and a loss that this letter has not been preserved down to us. However, Paul expounds on three important aspects to his ministry which he received from the Lord.
First he says that he was given a stewardship of God's grace. In our modern world, we may find it a bit hard to accurately understand what Paul means by a stewardship. However, in Paul's day it was well understood as it was in other times past. This Greek word refers to an administration within a large house. In previous times, those who had large houses and estates employed domestics to help with the everyday chores and the running of the household. You can think of them as a butler, cook, maid, or other domestic help. Stewards were entrusted with not only the proper running of the household but with the distribution of goods as needed within the household. Paul was a member and a servant in God's household. He was given stewardship over a measure of God's grace that he might properly distribute it among the members of the household as needed. He was not the possessor of the grace, he was not the originator of the grace, but he was entrusted with grace that he might distribute it to others, in this case, specifically the gentiles.
One time, while I was praying, I saw this image where I was holding a box, and on the box was the label "Grace." As I went about I was reaching into the box and grabbing an item of grace and giving to others as they needed it. To one, the grace of healing, to another the grace of encouragement, and to another the grace of forgiveness. I did not own the grace, I was not the originator of the grace, I was but a distributor of the grace. This is what Paul meant when he said he was a steward and that a stewardship had been given to him.
Secondly, Paul says that his stewardship was a stewardship of grace. Grace can be thought of as the favor of God. Paul was not the steward of knowledge, belief, or a new religion but he was a steward of the favor of God. The goal of Paul's ministry was to being people into, and to dispense unto them, the grace and favor of God. In our own personal ministries, we must be careful in what we are attempting to minister. Some minister in a way to make people agree with them or to make them into their own image, some minister to convince others of their own brand of theology, and others seek only to minister hell-fire and damnation because, at heart, they are really just angry people. We must be careful to always minister in a way, and with the aim, to deliver and bring others into the favor of God. This should be our aim and the end result of our ministry. If our ministry is not doing this, then perhaps it is nor from God.
Finally, Paul says that this mystery which he was to make know was made know to him by revelation. This is key and is at the heart of what it means to be an apostle. Paul writes, "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (1 Corinthians 9:1) What makes an apostle an apostle is that they have received a personal revelation from Jesus Himself. Jesus appeared to Paul and personally taught him His gospel. The message Paul came to preach was not his own but was taught directly to him by Jesus. When we listen to the words of the apostles, we are not listening to the words of men but to the teaching of Christ as He personally taught them to the apostles. John makes this clearer when he said, "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life...what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also." (1 John 1:1, 3) We have confidence in the teaching of the apostles because they themselves were taught by Christ. Their message is not hearsay, it is not philosophy and the thoughts of men, but it is the very word of God delivered to them which they in tern delivered unto us.