A person’s grammar usually tells you much about them. Better education means better speech.
That’s why Paul’s statement in Ephesians 3:8 is so baffling. There, Paul uses a decidedly ungrammatical phrase: “To me, the most least of all the saints, this grace was given.”
In grammar, an adjective in both English and Greek can be one of three things: positive, comparative or superlative. The adjective “good” is a perfect example. Good is the positive degree; better is comparative, and best is superlative.
So why would Paul say “most least”?
Clearly Paul was a well-educated man. The Roman governor Festus even remarks about Paul’s great learning (Acts 26:24). Moreover, Paul knew how to spell the word “least”, and he uses it in 1 Corinthians 4:3 and several other places.
Yet in 3:8, he describes himself as “most-least.” In doing so he is breaking the normal rules of grammar. It is as if he said in English, I am most least[er] of all the Saints.
It is jarring when you read it in Greek. I cannot remember seeing anything like it in any of the Greek texts I have ever read.
Notice even the translations struggle to translate it: I am less than the least (New English Translation, New International Version, King James Version); I am the very least (English Standard Version).
Paul thought that his own salvation was by God’s grace alone given to him undeservedly; Paul thought himself the hardest person for God to have saved (1 Timothy 1:15).
He was much more concerned with what people thought of Christ rather than what people thought of him. He wasn’t putting on airs. He wasn’t trying to sound important. He thought low thoughts of himself and high ones about God.
We live in a me-first culture. If you want to be somebody, just make sure that people know how great you are. Paul’s plan was completely different. Paul was consumed with God’s honor.
Paul knew the true path to greatness was in making much of Christ.
Old Testament saints said it this way, “Not to us, o LORD, not to us, but to Your name be glory” (Psalm 115:1). John the Baptist knew it as well: “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30).
I wonder if God would use us for greater good if we stopped trying to impress other people with our own greatness and started living to bring honor to Jesus.
When Moses stood in the presence of God, Moses’s face began to radiate with the glory of God; Moses did not know it, but the rest of the world did (Exodus 34:29).
Oh that Jesus’s glory would shine forth in us today!