(Vs. 1.) This epistle was written when Paul was a prisoner in Rome. He called himself "the prisoner of Jesus Christ" because he was in prison for preaching Christ and his gospel. The only crime of which he was guilty was preaching the gospel of Christ and that to the Gentiles. He taught them that circumcision and the rest of the ceremonies of the law were not binding on them, that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to all who believe. This stirred up the Jews against him and led to his imprisonment. "Therefore I am a prisoner for the sake of you Gentiles." Another thought to comfort is that the forces of evil only have power over God's people as the Lord permits them (and it always works our good and his glory) (Gen. 50:19,20; Rom. 8:28).
(Vs. 2.) The word "dispensation" is stewardship or administration. The apostle Paul acted by divine authority. He was a steward or appointed ambassador of the mysteries of God to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 22:14,15).
(Vs. 3, 4.) The gospel of Christ is often called a "mystery" (Eph. 1:9; 5:32; 6:19; Col. 1:25-27). The Trinity, the union of two natures in Christ, the whole doctrine of salvation by grace, the union of Christ and the believer are all mysteries which the natural man does not know, understand, nor love. They must be revealed by God's Spirit, even to Paul (1 Cor. 2:7-11; Gal. 1:11,12).
(Vs. 5.) The mystery of Christ (his incarnation, imputed righteousness, sacrifice, resurrection and intercession) certainly was not known nor understood by men in general; nor was it revealed to the prophets and men of God in the Old Testament as clearly and as plainly as it is now revealed to the apostles and to us. Some hints were given to Adam; and the gospel was preached to and by Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Isaiah; but it lay hidden for the most part in types, shadows and prophecies. One thing we know whatever they understood about his person and work, it was not to the extent that we know and understand by his Spirit (Luke 24:44-47).
(Vs. 6.) This was especially not understood by the Old Testament prophets: that the Gentiles should be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ right along with the Jews that the Gentiles should be one with them in the same body, under one and the same Head (Jesus Christ), partakers of the same grace, and enjoy the same privileges in Christ. Even the apostles had difficulty with this mystery (Gal. 2:11-16).
(Vs. 7.) He is a true minister of the gospel who is made a minister (not by men, but by God), called of God to the work of the ministry and given the gifts and grace which are required to fulfil his responsibility. The true minister can use natural capacity, education and acquired learning; but the gift of interpreting the Scriptures, presenting the gospel of free grace, leading men in the true worship of God, and taking oversight of the church is a distinct thing from natural ability, human learning, or even internal grace; it is given by the effectual working of God's power.
(Vs. 8.) "This grace to know Christ, to understand the mysteries of redemption in Christ and to preach Christ is given to me. I am unworthy of this high honour, for I am less than the least of all the saints, the chief of sinners." The greatest saints are generally the most humble. They have the lowest thoughts of their works and are the greatest admirers of the grace of God. The reason for their humility is an awareness of their sinful natures and a discovery of the love and grace of God to them in Christ Jesus. Their subject is now and will always be the "unsearchable riches of Christ" (Rom. 12:3-5).