I’ve always found it a bit dramatic to say I’ve been “called” to something. I have cousins who are pastors, and they say things like that. I know other pastors who say things like that. I’m not too far up the whole pastoral totem pole, so for me, it feels kind of foreign. I’m called to… yeah, it doesn’t really roll off the tongue well for me.
But after my reading in Romans today, and in my desire to spend time with my super tiny congregation of fellow believers tomorrow, I want to re-examine that word “calling.” Is it some super spiritual word that you only get to use whenever you’ve had some kind of mountaintop experience with God, or is it a simple word that is applicable to everyone who calls Christ their Lord and Savior? Can we all be “called,” or do you need to have something special to be “called?”
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Romans 1:1-7 ESV)
Paul knows how to make an entrance. In the opening of his letter to the church in Rome, he establishes why he’s doing what he’s doing and what he’s doing. In short, Paul is describing his “calling.” So, what really IS a calling? In it’s simplest definition, a calling is a summons from God. It could be like Abram’s call in Genesis 12, or Jesus’ call for Peter to follow Him in John 21. It’s a call to follow God, to trust Him, and to do His will. It’s interesting, but often a calling will place us somewhere we have no business (at least in our own minds) of being in, and it forces us to rely on God in a way we aren’t normally accustomed to. It disarms us, it unnerves us, and makes us uncomfortable. Abram had never BEEN to the land God was calling him to. Peter was basically being informed by the Lord that He was going to be crucified just like Jesus was. Paul’s calling was equally unnerving and disturbing of his spiritual/lifestyle equilibrium. In all of these circumstances, it would have been far more personally comfortable to NOT answer the calling. But these men answered their callings, and were able to experience a life led with a closeness to God that we can only hope to come close to. With every beating and calamity that befell Paul after his conversion to Christianity, Paul was able to steel himself for yet more, if only through his focusing of his attention and thoughts on the prize that awaited him; eternity with His Lord and Savior, the Lover of his soul.
When I read Paul’s letter, I realize that we, like he, have been called. We have received a great, encompassing calling that surrounds us corporately:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
And we also are all called to places within that greater corporate calling. We are all part of a body of believer, and just as our body is composed of various cells and tissues, so is the church composed of the sum totality of its members. And just as each cell can have variations in form and function, so to do we have differences in form and function within the body of Christ.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-31 ESV)
I’m usually loathe to use a passage that large to illustrate a point, but Paul is so eloquent in his treatment of “believer as body part,” that I felt it was best to use the entire passage. We, like Paul’s illustration, all have various callings to participate in, as we are called to perform God’s will in the capacity in which we have been called.
“Calling” isn’t such a bad word when you get used to it. It’s just a statement of our summons by God into service to Him and love to our fellow brethren. Our calling is what part God has determined we will play in this grand adventure of His that will finally culminate with our standing before Him, finally witnessing His labors coming to their full fruition, when tears will cease, love will abound, and we will know as we are known by our Lord.