Calling: How the Who and the How Define the What



When most of us consider “calling” in the modern Christian sense we think vocationally.  As in, “God’s calling me to be a pastor… or teacher… etc.”  We normally and subconsciously think in worldly terms that, “what you do defines who you are.”  Yet in scripture we find that “who you are in Christ, defines not only what you do, but even more importantly HOW you do it.”  What’s of preeminent importance is the how, defined by the who, not the what. Confusing?   In 1Cor. 7, Paul endeavors to put the Corinthians “on the same page” as to the issue of calling and hopefully us as well.

            Live as You Are Called

17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a slave  when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

Paul in this chapter is turning a corner and beginning to address issues that the Corinthian’s have written to Him about.  In vs. 1-16 He addresses sex and marriage and begins to address singleness. But before going on in singleness Paul breaks the discussion in vs. 17.  Almost as if to say “Time out, let me make sure we’re all on the same page here.”  You can’t read vs. 1-16 or vs. 25-40 without seeing it through this general exhortation to “live as you are called”.   I believe there are four things Paul desires to make clear to His readers and ultimately to us.

  1. The Spiritual “Equivalence” of God’s callings:  Throughout the New Testament Paul fights for and is adamant that the gospel is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  Christianity isn’t the gospel plus, (singleness, circumcision, freedman, etc.) One person’s station in life isn’t inherently more spiritual than another’s.  In Gal. 3:28 Paul would ultimately say “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Being a man, or Jew, or free, doesn’t make you more spiritual than a woman, Greek, or slave. (and vice versa)  For example a pastor’s calling vocationally isn’t in and of itself more Godly or “spiritual” than a student’s or tradesman’s calling.  All are instructed to “work as unto the Lord”.  The “how” is more important than the “what”.  Now to illustrate this further, I have to enter dangerous territory.  I have to break “man law” and trust that I won’t lose every woman here in saying this.  But here goes, I haven’t learned too much when it comes to guys and girls relating to each other in a group context, but this is what I’ve observed.  Girls for the most part, (not always) look at events in an experiential way.  Almost like a girl “paints” her evening or event and asks the question, “Do guys fit in here?  Hmmm, I’ll put some ‘Happy guys’ over there… Now how do I feel about this picture?  …On second thought…  Forget the guys.”  (Ladies, seriously am I wrong?) Guys on the other hand, are objective oriented. We’re on a mission, and the mission?  To hang out with girls.  It’s Mission Impossible, “Your mission should you choose to accept, is to be around, and possibly even TALK to, GIRLS.  Without self-destructing in five seconds. Good luck Mr. Phelps.”  Now WHAT we happen to be doing on this mission is secondary.  If it happens to be something we’re interested in, bonus!  Evidence?  If given the personal choice guys wouldn’t do most of the things you ladies encourage us to do.  If given the option (without girls) A: Pool, watching a game, and playing videogames at Dave and Busters.  And B: Spending the afternoon at The Getty.  Guys will choose option A every time.  Now before I completely lose you girls, (some of you are already thinking, “They really didn’t want to…”) to those guys YOU were more important than the event.  Being with you, around you, being able to talk to you, was more important than the event you were possibly just thinking about.  (And before you get creeped out…) For all of us as Christians it’s the same thing.  The “who” is Christ.  The “how” is getting to know Him, talk to Him, follow His commands, glorify Him.  Why do we spend more than 30% of our lives in the corporate context of church? Is it that we REALLY like each other?  Or that, “This is just what we’re supposed to do?”  Or is it that Jesus promised, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I AM in the midst of them.”  Jesus promises that He’s RIGHT THERE when His people come together.  We like coming together because we like “being around”, Jesus.  The “who” and the “how” completely transform, and are so much more important than, the “what”. 
  2. The Immediacy of God’s Callings:  Paul couldn’t be more clear, “in whatever condition he was called, let him remain with God.”  What Paul is addressing is the notion that God’s will for you and me is “out there” that it’s something we have to “attain”.  That when I “get there” THEN I’ll be who God wants me to be.  God’s “call” upon our lives is right now, right here, in whatever circumstances and stations we find ourselves in.  I know how much of a struggle this is especially for younger singles because it seems that so much of life is ahead over the horizon.  Personally I struggled for the first five years of my adult life under the impression that God’s “call” on my life was to “be someone” “somewhere”.  I remember agonizing, even taking “calling tests”, trying to determine who God wanted me to be.  I even remember experiencing false condemnation thinking that somehow I had missed God.  That I should have turned left instead of right, and now I was “out of God’s will for my life”.  Thankfully God gave me a father in the faith Sandy Napier who said to me after listening to my struggles, “Jay, you couldn’t be in a place where you could be more effective for God and His kingdom.  And you couldn’t reflect who God wants you to be more to those around you than who you are right now. (this didn’t mean I didn’t need to grow, His point was this)  How do I know this?  If you could glorify God more as someone else and have a greater impact for His kingdom somewhere else, God would’ve put you there by now.”  What Sandy was reminding me of is something we hear almost every Sunday said to newcomers to the church, “We believe God brought you here.”  Weather you’ve traveled 2500 miles to get here, or you’ve been coming to this church all your life it doesn’t matter, God brought you here.  He put you in this room, with these people and He means for you and me to glorify Him.  Another reason I know that only God brought you here?  Only God would have put this group together.  Example:  Aaron and I took a personality test last year.  The results were hilarious because we found out that not only were we polar opposites in our personalities, but we were as extreme as you could get in our particular personalities.  Aaron was a 9 out of 10 in his profile and I was also a 9 out of 10.  The great thing is that we’ve been co-workers for five years and friends for much longer.  Only God puts people together like that. 
  3. The Particular Nature of God’s Individual Call:  “Only let each person lead the life the Lord has assigned to Him…”  Paul assumes that the “callings” of God extend beyond the four individuals He offers as examples.  In reality God’s callings are as varied and as particular as each individual He redeems.  Maybe a little clarification would help- each of our particular and individual “callings” never supersede the general call on our lives.  In the greatest sense we’re called to “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and spirit. And love your neighbor as yourself.”  But how that works out individually, and particularly varies.  We are at times called to be, employee and manager, husband or wife, brother or sister, son or daughter, and member of both the church universal and local.  Aaron and Bethany’s story of becoming leaders actually illustrates this well. God has given Aaron a gift for music, and he’s serving on the worship team. However that’s not ALL God has called Aaron to be.  He’s also a husband and father of three small children.  So when Bethany says, “Hey I need a husband and father on Sunday mornings not a guitarist.”  There’s a conflict. Now here’s the crazy thing, the Bible actually has something to say about this particular situation.  Clearly in scripture Aarons “call” to be a husband and father outweigh the call to be a musician.  BUT that doesn’t negate both Aaron and Bethany’s command to serve the church.  So they ask the question, “Where has God put us right now?”  Low and behold they’re friends with singles.  And Aaron has a vision for the singles ministry.  So through prayer, they take a step of faith and the rest is history.  Here’s the point, God didn’t set Seth and Jude’s tree fort aflame and speak to Aaron and Bethany, “LEAD MY SINGLES”.  It was walked out in life.  Kind of like lives submitted to God as sacrifices of worship proving His will. (Funny how that works)  But there’s another side to “particular calling” and I’d like to call it the “Jose’ factor”.  If you go to Sovereign Grace Chesapeake you’ll eventually run into Jose.  Nobody knows how Jose found us or who brought Him the first time. (Believe me we looked)  The closest diagnoses we could make for Jose was that He was a barely functional autistic.  To give you an idea of how difficult Jose was, I was in the unofficial committee that met to ask the question, “Do we allow Jose to become a member?”,  because you couldn’t get a coherent statement of faith from Him.  We finally came to the consensus to extend membership based on the simple fact that Jose wouldn’t have stuck around or loved the church as much as He did if God’s grace wasn’t in His life.  But it wasn’t because one of us heard Jose ever profess Jesus as Lord.  Jose became a member and was placed in MY caregroup.  Jose was loud.  Jose was disruptive.  Jose couldn’t follow along in the discussion.  If you were in a private conversation and Jose wanted to talk to you He would just interrupt and begin talking about whatever He wanted to talk about.  Jose had a thing for girls.  It was AWKWARD, it was UNCOMFORTABLE.  Sean Thomas, my caregroup leader pulled me aside shortly after Jose started coming and asked me, “Hey can you bring Jose to caregroup?”  “Next week?” I replied.  “No like forever.”  “Ha! That’s a good one.”  “I’m not joking.”  (At this point it was weird cause it felt like there was a joke in there)  The only thing I could think to say was “Why?”  Sean replied, “Because I think it would be good for you.” (Honestly how do you respond to that?)  So because I felt a burden for the “group”, I began to suggest that, “You know Jose really is disruptive.  I don’t know if this context right now is beneficial…”  Sean stopped me with this, “Really, I’m excited about Jose coming here, because we are all going to get a crash course on what it really means to lay down our lives.  And that’s what I’m asking you to do.  I’m not asking you to become His best friend Jay, I’m asking you to lay down your life for thirty minutes each week.  Can you do that?  Can you just pick Jose up and bring Him to caregroup and take Him back home?”  And so for something like six months I brought Jose to caregroup every single week.  Here’s the point, if you and I don’t have a “Jose” in our lives right now, watch out incoming.  Mark Dever in his message on the church put it this way, “It’s easy to say you love everyone all the time.  And in a general way that can be true.  But I challenge you to commit to a church for say, five years and then see if you can make that assertion.  There’s a big difference between saying ‘I love everybody’ and saying ‘I love insert name’.”  God it appears, loves to put people into our lives and it’s almost like Jesus looks directly at us and says, “You love those that love you. What benefit is that to you?”  And all of a sudden you are forced to answer the question, “What does it mean for ME to love, lay down my life for, serve, insert name and face here.”  Even best friends can become “Jose’s”.  If you’ve ever corrected a friend you know what I mean, it’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable.  But sometimes that’s how God calls us to love them.  The story of Jose” actually has a happy ending.  Of all the caregroups I’ve been involved in over the years (8 or 9) I’ve never been involved with a tighter knit group of people.  And I blame Jose.  Learning to be patient with Jose made us patient with each other.  Learning to listen to Jose in conversation, made us listen more intently to each other. (And this is the funniest part)  You know how I said that Jose couldn’t understand the discussions?  Jose ended up being the greatest instigator of discussion because if Sean ever asked a question and there was that “uncomfortable caregroup silence” He’d just turn to Jose and say, “Jose what do you think?”  And Jose would reply, “Oh PLEEEZZEE, get out of TOWN!”  (Which was Jose’s answer to EVERYTHING) It was like, “How can whatever you could say possibly top that?”  You and I never know how God can use something to grow us.  And that leads me to the last point…

4. That callings can and do change:  Paul admits that if slaves can obtain their freedom they should do so.  He also states in vs. 36 that to marry isn’t a sin.  The exhortation to “Lead the life God has assigned Him…” isn’t “Set it and forget it”.  I love Rich’s illustration from the Singles Retreat.  And as I’ve thought about that since then I’ve come to realize that I don’t just “Set and forget” with the world.  I do that with everything.  Insert category here, church, friends, job, etc.  I “set the dial” and that’s it.  It’s almost like I’m building a house of cards and just when I’ve placed the cards where I want them, and have everything where I’m comfortable, God comes along and pulls a card out.  All of a sudden we have a singles ministry.  God calls me to challenge a friend.  God calls me to reach out to my brother in Iraq.  And the same is true of us as a group as well.  How do I know this?  I have my venerable Dell X5.  In that old PDA is three years of my life in Sovereign Grace Chesapeake.  I can look back starting in 2000 at Caregroups, church meetings, single’s meetings, Celebrations.  I moved to Virginia Beach in February of 1999 and joined an awesome singles ministry.  (I know that Aaron’s vision for this group is modeled after that ministry)  But as I look over those events two things affect me.  One is that change happened sooner than expected and in ways I didn’t expect.  In June 2000 when the entries begin, I know I just presumed that things would stay like that.  I never could have imagined that I would be in California nine years later and that everyone I knew would be married or moved.  As I look back I see friendships strengthened, and in some cases diminished.  I see “relationships” happen both to disappointment and marriage.  I see me and others deal with both, walking through the awkwardness of disappointment, and having to deal with friends who just found their “best friend”.  And I even see in 2003 as the entries end, God beginning to draw that ministry to a close.  Things didn’t “stay the same”.  “Stuff happened” The second thing that affects me is that I don’t remember so much of that time.  It’s kind of like, you know how sometimes you “wake up” and notice the date?  And you realize that a summer went by and for the life of you, you can’t remember what you did?  You know you did stuff.  You know events took place.  But it seems that it was… uneventful.  At best the last few months were… inconsequential.   It’s one thing to look at that period of time if it just happened.  It’s another to view it after nine or ten years.  And as Rich exhorted us, a day is fast approaching when Christ will return and we will be judged.  Thankfully, not to condemnation, but for of all things reward.  In 1Cor 3: 12 Paul states that, “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”  Sometimes I wonder how much of my life is wood, hay, and straw.  Fortunately God uses even these things to build His church.  You need things like mortar and scaffolding to build a building.  God wastes nothing.  However, when on that day, when the some months and years get burned up, I’m afraid that what will come out are a few lumps of silver and a ¼ carat cubic zirconium.  By God’s grace I don’t want 2009 to be for me a year that I look back and ask, “What happened?”  I don’t (and Aaron doesn’t as well) want a bunch of “uneventful” events.  That we would look back and say, “It was a good time, but really inconsequential.”  But I know for me (and all of us) that means seeing the “How” as being more important than the “what”.  Going out to lunches, dinners, hanging out, HOW we do these things are more important than WHAT we do.  Seeing that I (we) couldn’t be more effective for God than where I (we) am right now.  Looking at those God has put into our lives and asking, “How does God want me to love…”  And, living as if I (we) don’t have all the time in the world.



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