Saturday, July 28, 2007

Gifts and Calling Part 1

Have you noticed that there is a lot of confusion surrounding these two concepts? While I'm obviously no authority on the matter, I decided to go back to the authority of Scripture and see what to had to say.

"God hasn't called me to do that, but if He did, I would gladly do it." "I don't know what God has called me to do with my life, so I'm not sure what to do when I graduate from high school." "I would love to go serve the Lord in at ministry in India, but I'm not sure if that's what He wants me to do."

These type of statements are heard all the time, especially if you're around high school or college age young people. I've really been thinking about them lately, and have even needed to encourage some of these kids.

First, what has God called us to do? Well, I did a word search in the KJV, and the word "calling" in the Old Testament typically referred to literally calling out,calling people together, or calling to rememberance. In the New Testament, the pattern continued with one addition. The call of salvation. That's it. Every reference to "your calling," "heavenly calling," "holy calling," "high calling," etc., is a reference to our salvation and its eventual fulfillment in our glorification. It is never in reference to being "called" to a specific work.

Then I also did a search on the word "called." I found a lot of children being given names. The Lord called Samuel, but He was literally calling to him in order to speak to Samuel and give him a specific message. God called Israel as his chosen people (again a reference to God's election/salvation), as referenced in Isaiah 48:15 and 49:1, and in 51:2 where "I called him [Abraham] alone.". Similar references are found throughout the prophets.

Now the New Testament, in Matthew 4 he tells Peter and Andrew to follow Him, and then calls James and John who leave their nets and follow Him too. So the calling, it seems, was simply to follow Jesus. In Luke 6, He called together his disciples and chose twelve, whom He also named apostles.

Finally, in Acts 13, we have the first reference to someone being called to a specific work.

1. Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
2. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
3. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

and later in chapter 16:

9. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.
10. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us [in chapter 15 Paul chose Silas to accompany him after Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark] for to preach the gospel unto them.

and then in Romans 1,

1. Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
2. (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)
3. Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;
4. And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
5. By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:
6. Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:
7. To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Continuing in Roamns 8 & 9, the "called" are referring to those called to believe, the elect. Romans 8:28. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. Romans 9:24. Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? 25. As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.

Paul again speaks of himself as "called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ" in 1 Corinthians 1:1 and in verse 2, speaks of the church there as "called to be saints." Many references continue in that usage. Chapter 7 talkes about continuing in the calling in which you were called. Uncircumcised not seeking to be circumcised or vice versa, slaves not seeking to be free men, or free men slaves, etc. People seeing their position in Christ and not needing to change their postion im the material world. He then states in verse 24, "Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God."

Ephesians 4 seems to be the source of the concept of specific callings [ I recommend reading the whole chapter here], verse 1 says, "that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called," then verses 4-6, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." Then, "... And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine...Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (ESV)"

The beginning of that passage, once again refers to our position in Christ. And it seems relatively obvious to me that only some people would be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, and that there is also a group of people here that are simply "the saints". All of these gifts or callings are specifically related to the edification of the body of Christ.

In Hebrews 11:8 we see that "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went."

I may have missed a few things, but even after consulting a concordance, I'm simply finding very few references of people being called by God to do specific work. However they are told to do specific things - more on that in Part 2. But for most of us, our calling is to be saved, holy, saints, and faithful, among other things.

I like this verse in Revelation chapter 17, "...These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful."

1 comment:

Ben said...

I've been troubled when people claim to be "called" as a teen to do something very specific, often preach, but at some point they did in fact not become a pastor. The unspoken questions are, "so, did God make a bad call Or did you just outright disobey?"

Could the answer to all the teen life questions be as simple as Christian Hedonism?

Like Eric Liddell (for you couch potatoes - Chariots of Fire) who said, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. " Granted, it's a movie quote but... The running isn't his purpose but he knows that it is a God-given skill that he can, and did, credit to God so he does it. He assessed his God given skills and focused on those. Fact is, he went to China instead of basking in the fame from running which would have reversed the praise.

As for an individual calling...just make your calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17).