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The Caller and the Called

“I exhort you, therefore, as a prisoner in the Lord, walk worthily of the calling to which you are called,”

(Ephesians 4:1)

All too often, we only look to the Bible to apply things to ourselves. Remember that while this passage does contain personal application, this is directed publicly to the church (a church that is made up of individual believers). Thus, just as the individual Christian is called to walk in a manner that is worthy with his or her calling, so too is the church as a body and as an institution. In other words, not only has God called you and me to live in a certain way, he has called his church to function in a specific manner.

This applies to the way we function, the way we worship, and the way in which we set priorities as a church body. The problem we face in America is that we have embraced the mindset that churches can pretty much do whatever they want to do. Yet, is this a manner that is worthing of the calling to which the church was called? 

How do we know what that “worthy manner of walking” happens to be? Well, if there is a calling, that means there is one who is doing the calling. The caller, of course, is God. As the caller, he also has the authority to establish what that calling is to look like and how it is to play out. And so, we must look to the explicit teachings of Scripture to determine what is acceptable and what is not acceptable for worship, for church government, and for church practice. If the church looks to its preferences, it simply will cease to be a church of Jesus Christ. It will become like every other institution in the world around us — and many have. 

To drive this point home, many churches have polled their members to see what their members want in worship and in the life of the church. Should they not be asking God? Should they not be asking Christ, who is King of the Church? As parents, do we poll our children to see what kind of discipline and upbringing that they want? That is insanity. It is equally insane to ask church members what the church should be doing when God very plainly teaches the answer to that question and Paul drives that point home in this section of his letter to the Church in Ephesus. We would do well to pay close attention to what the Apostle has to say while comparing it with what the church you attend happens to practice. If they do not match, will you be salt and light to point them to submission to the Word?

This Strength of Yours…

“And Yahweh turned to him and said to him, ‘In this strength of yours, deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Go! I am sending you!’”

(Judges 6:14)

For those who are still in doubt as to whether the Angel of Yahweh is the Pre-Incarnate Christ, here is one more example where the Bible describes this individual arriving and then calls him Yahweh. Now the charge that is given is probably the thing that raises the most questions. Why would the Angel of Yahweh tell Gideon to go out in “this strength of yours” to deliver Israel? Should the commission not be something like, “Go in the Strength of the God of Armies!”?

The answer goes back to verse 12 and the title that the Angel of Yahweh pronounces with respect to Gideon. There he calls Gideon a mighty warrior. If Gideon were full of himself, one might interpret this as God being somewhat sarcastic and mocking Gideon somewhat to humble him. But Gideon is hiding in the wine press. The warriors of Israel are hiding in the mountain network of caves. Gideon is not a proud warrior, he is a scarred man, eking out his daily bread.

So, what is going on? As we noted above, God has formed Gideon from his mother’s womb and has created Gideon for just this moment. Thus here we find the Angel of Yahweh challenging Gideon to step out in the confidence of faith. Faith that God, as the Warrior of Israel, will deliver his people and that Gideon, relying on the strength that God gives to him (the strength does not originate with him), will become a faithful tool in God’s hand as a delivering Judge.

The key line here is, “I am sending you.” If we go out in our own strength, we will achieve nothing worth noting. But, when we go out in the strength of God and with the call of God, then remarkable things take place.

The Highest Call

“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.”

(Philippians 3:13-14)

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?

Ego Eripiam

The third of our statements deals with the relationship of Satan toward believers—“I will snatch them” or “I will steal them away.” While we would affirm in our theology that the believer is held by Christ and can never be separated from his hand (John 6:37; 10:28; Romans 8:37-39), the reality of Satan’s eventual failure does not dissuade him from this attempt to make us stumble and fall away from our Lord and master. He is a persistent foe. This phrase could be embellished with some of the means that our enemy employs: Ego Territabo (“I will intimidate”) or Ego Onerabo (“I will weary” or “I will oppress”).

In contrast to Jesus, who gives life and life abundant (John 10:10), but the thief, which is Satan, only comes to kill and destroy. He comes to undermine the work of the fellowship and to frustrate our labors. Though he knows he cannot win, he strives toward that end. Peter describes him as a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8) seeking someone to devour. Jesus describes him as a wolf, seeking to prey upon the weak sheep (John 10:12). John describes him as a dragon who deceives the world and seeks to lash out and destroy the followers of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:9,17).

So, what is our response to this kind of wild enemy. Peter says that we are to be sober-minded and watchful. Being sober-minded means that one’s mind must be clear from distractions and from all of those things that would flatter us so as to lead us astray. As the man who is drunk acts in a way that is both unwise and unlike his character, so the man who is sober-minded should act in a spirit of wisdom and in a way that is consistent with the Godly character that the Spirit has instilled in us. It is to remain self-controlled even in situations where threat arises.

And to be aware of those threats, we must be watchful. This is a military term reflecting the guard that we must have on the wall to warn us of the temptation of sin (Ezekiel 3:16-21). We are not to be like the ostrich burying its head in the sand. We must not be found asleep at the post. The Apostle Paul even uses this term of watchfulness as an analogy of being alive (1 Thessalonians 5:10), a reminder that life and death are the matters with which we are dealing; a serious reminder indeed, particularly in a world that rarely takes seriously the warnings that scripture sets before us.

Though Harry Houdini may not be a model example of Christian faith (his heritage was Jewish), he is an example of what it means to be sober-minded and watchful as a Christian. Many of his stunts, from the perspective of an outside observer, were death-defying, reckless, and foolish. Yet, when you realize that Houdini never performed a stunt that had not been planned out and rehearsed many times with many safeguards in place, you must confess that reckless is not a term that can be properly applied. From the perspective of a non-Christian, sometimes the work that Christians do seems equally reckless and foolish. Christians regularly go and minister to people in plague infested areas knowing that they too might contract the disease, but doing so for the sake of the Gospel. My favorite missionary, John Paton, went to Tana Island in the New Hebrides which was populated by several cannibal tribes and his life was at constant risk. Yet, he went anyway. I have worked with inner-city drug addicts in a place where at one time the shelter’s director was stabbed by a man staying there. The Christian goes, though, because the Christian understands that the call of God is more important than the risks. At the same time, the Christian goes knowing the risks that are present and does not ever go until one has bathed himself in prayer and sought the prayers of others. Like Houdini, there are risks certainly, but the risks are approached in sober preparation.

The Devil seeks to snatch you out of the hand of God. That cannot be done, but that does not mean that the resultant tug-o-war on your life will always be a pleasant thing. At the same time, in knowing who the victor will be, it enables you to stretch beyond your limits and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Given our fallen and sinful state, there is a great deal of stretching left to be done to prepare us for God’s heaven—what are we waiting for; step into the call that God has placed upon your life.