“Brethren, as for myself, I do not think it something to attain — but one thing is indeed so, caring nothing about what is past, I stretch forward to that which is ahead — I move decisively toward the goal; to the prize that is the highest call of God in Christ Jesus.”
If you know me well, you know that one of the things that I emphasize is that in God’s economy, there are no higher or lower callings — no higher vocation. If God calls you to serve him as a carpenter, a mechanic, a teacher, a farmer, a lawyer, an accountant, a musician, a doctor, a pastor, a garbage collector, a cook, or a missionary…whatever moral occupation you might pursue, it is a calling from God and is to be pursued to the glory of your savior, Jesus Christ.
So, what, then, does Paul mean when he speaks of the “higher call” of God? In this context, Paul is not so much speaking about calling in terms of an occupation, but in terms of a calling in life. Here there is a Biblical sense of a higher calling for in this context there are only two callings possible: the higher call of God in Christ Jesus and the lower call of this world and self. In this context, Paul is saying that he pursues the higher calling, making nothing of what has gone in the past…he will not be swerved from the goal.
When I was in school, I was a sprinter on the track team. As a sprinter, one must keep their focus only on the goal ahead. One must forget the crowd, one must forget the athletes that are coming up behind you, and one must ignore the distractions of the field events that are going on during the race. If a sprinter turns his or her head to look at something even for a moment, the straight path that they were traveling is no longer straight, but the runner will deviate from his or her lane because of this simple motion. Paul’s desire is not to run a race where he weaves back and forth all over the track, but to run straight and hard toward the goal. Again, not that he earns the salvation Christ offers, but because Christ has saved him, Paul wants to run in a way that honors his master and that makes the most out of his life. The work has been done for us, but we do affect how we respond to that work, will we labor to the glory of God or will we wobble all over the track?
How often we find ourselves in a very different position than Paul. We do care about the things we have left behind and often our hearts wander back to those things. We want praise and recognition for what we do and for what we say not to give all of that honor to Christ, using our accomplishments solely to point the eyes of others toward Christ as well. We wander all over the track and even sometimes go back to the starting blocks where the race began. Friends, let us not do so, but let us walk in newness of life and run the race that is before us without wavering or becoming distracted by the things of this world that cannot compare to the eternal weight of the glory of heaven. If we really believe that is better, why do we wobble all over the track?
“I have made your name known to the people whom you gave me out of this world; they were yours, even so, you gave them and they have guarded your word.”
Note the emphasis that is placed here on God’s having given the disciples to Jesus. This, of course, is nothing new to Jesus’ teaching, as he has said:
“No one has the power to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; then I will raise him up on the last day.”
Yet, while this is not a new teaching for Jesus, in his prayer, Jesus is explicitly driving this point home. Jesus has not made the name of the Father known to all mankind, but only to those whom the Father has drawn to the Son—and those who have been given to the Son have guarded the Word of God. God has elected people to himself from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-4) for the purpose of presenting us to the Son and then for the purpose of conforming us into the image of his Son (Romans 8:29) to be presented holy and upright as the bride of our great redeemer (Revelation 19:6-8). From beginning to end, we are not our own, but belong to our mighty and glorious God—praise be to God Almighty, Amen!
Also, note the logical progression of this line of thought. God gave people out of the world to Jesus—it is to them that Jesus has revealed the name of God. Then, the ones whom the Father has given the Son have guarded, or cherished, God’s word. There is a pretty straight forward linear progression that is being reflected in this language—those whom the Father has given have guarded the Word. In turn, those who the Father has not given, have not done so. There does not seem to be any gap between the giving and the guarding—all who have been given will guard—it is a mark of genuine faith that we cherish God’s word and it is a reminder that the fact that we may genuinely cherish God’s word is given to us as a sign of our assurance of salvation.
But what does it mean to cherish or to guard God’s word? The word that Jesus uses here is thre/w(tereo), which reflects the care of one who has been charged to protect something—in our case, to protect the integrity of God’s word in our lives and in the lives of those of our family, church, community, and world. Just like a guard charged with protecting a famous painting from a thief, it is an active job in which we must not fall asleep. We must also protect the integrity of the whole—it does the curator of the Museum if the guard only protects part of the contents, and not the whole—“Sorry sir, they did get away with the painting, but I saved the picture frame it was in!” Somehow, that does not cut it.
Yet, how often Christians pick and choose what they want to protect out of God’s word and what they willfully will cast aside. Christians are often guilty of saying, I like this grace stuff, but you can have that language that calls me to put to death my pet sins. Loved ones, if we are to guard the good deposit entrusted to us, we must guard the whole—and apply it to our lives as ones who cherish it. We must not become lazy or fall off to sleep in our duty, but must stand upon the Word in truth and with boldness, not allowing a jot or tittle—a yod or a serif, as Jesus would have said—to fall away. Such is what it means to guard the Word that God has delivered to us.
Yet, our failure to guard God’s word is a very old failure. As the serpent approached Eve in the garden of God, we find that she and her husband have not been guarding the word that God has given them. She adds to the command of God by saying that she must not touch, and she also takes away from God’s word by decreasing the intensity of the punishment—“You will surely die” (an emphatic statement) simply becomes, “You will die.” And, given that Adam had the responsibility of teaching the command of God to his wife (she had not yet been created when God gave the command), it shows his lack of attention to the Word as well. It is almost as if Adam said to his wife, “Oh, by the way, here is the rule, don’t break it” and then never went back to it.
We may criticize Adam for his failure to teach in this case, but is this not the same trap that we sometimes fall into as parents? We pay lip service to the responsibility we have to teach and train up our children in the faith, yet do we actively pursue doing just that? Our children will learn quickly those things that we are passionate about and they will typically pursue them. They will also learn quickly what things in which you are just going through the motions and will discard them. If statistics tell a story about how we cherish God’s word, then the story it is telling right now is that the majority of church-going Americans are simply going through the motions, and not cherishing what God has entrusted to us.
Loved ones, hear the words of Jesus. Guard the word of God that has been given to you. Love that word and cherish it in your life. Keep it in tact and do not compromise it. Then, instill it into the life of your children in such a way that they will see your own love and zeal for the word that God has sent down. It is said that children can spot a phony a mile away, sometimes I am not so sure about that, but they will quickly realize what it is in your life that you are being phony about. Beloved, be authentic in the guarding of the Word given to you so that your children will learn to guard it themselves and so that the world will know that Jesus Christ is alive in you and be drawn to Him because of that testimony.