Paul describes himself in different ways here. First, he says he is a prisoner in Rome, waiting for his trial, in the first of two Roman imprisonments. This is a reminder that Paul faced up to the reality of his situation.
Yet Paul was also aware that his imprisonment was causing concern among the churches (v. 13). So he affirmed that he was not a prisoner of Caesar but of Christ Jesus. Paul realised that it was his Lord who was in control of the situation.
Paul also knew that his situation was not merely one with personal consequences, for he realised it was for the benefit of the Gentiles. In what ways was his imprisonment a benefit? One was that he had time during it to write important letters and four of them are in the New Testament (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon). Another was the spread of the faith through him, even into Caesar’s palace (Phil. 1:12-14). A third benefit was that it gave Paul time to pray for the churches.
Second, Paul was an apostle. To him had been given unique revelation by Jesus Christ. But he was not to keep this revelation to himself, for he had been given a commission to take it to the Gentiles. And the Book of Acts and his letters reveal how determined he was to take the message to as many as he could.
Third, Paul described himself as a humble servant. In saying that he was a servant, he probably still has in mind the idea of the church as a household, which he mentioned in 2:19. The word he uses is the term used for deacon, which was originally used of a person who waited on a table. What Paul has in mind is that his role is to feed the members of God’s household. This he does by feeding them with Christ, either by word or letter.
Paul also reveals his humility when he describes himself as less than the least of all saints (v. 8). Linguistically, he is describing an impossibility because one cannot be less than the least. But Paul, despite his privileges and successes, saw himself as nothing. In this he was like his Master who humbled himself and made himself of no reputation (Phil. 2:6-8).
Fourth, Paul described himself as an equipped preacher (v. 7). When we think of the task God gave to Paul, we should be staggered by its immensity. He was to tell all people about God’s plan of grace, his good news. But God empowered him by regeneration (when he gave him new life), by gifting (when he gave him a specific role), and by suffering, because it was when he was weak that he experienced divine strength (2 Cor. 12:7-10). God does not give a purpose to a person without giving the enabling.