I would like to look at the issue of ‘calling’ from God – calling to salvation compared with calling to service. So let’s take a look at some Scripture passages to explore these callings.
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (NASB)
The passage is written by Paul to the Corinthian Church where he underlines to the new people of God their ordinariness compared to the elites of their day – “not many of you were wise…Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” These people were called to salvation by God. That is what this passage is about. It is not about God’s calling to service. When the passage speaks of God choosing “what is weak in the world to shame the wise”(vs 27), Paul is highlighting God’s way of viewing and calling humanity compared with how the world does. These, the Corinthian people of God, were considered by the educated elite Corinthians to be “weak”, “lowly” and “despised” (NIV SB). Also note that Paul says “not many”, indicating that God also calls the elite. So we deduce that there were some elite in the Corinthian Church and so elites have always been in the Church.
Sometimes this Corinthian passage is appealed to as an illustration of God’s calling of unsuitable people to unsuitable service. Christians find themselves more comfortable with some areas of ministry over others and are often called to serve God in ways that they are more “naturally” equipped to serve, whether in acts of charity (helps), teaching, prophecy and so on. I have found over the years that when we find it incomprehensible that other believers won’t rouse themselves to do something particular in service, this is an indicator to them of their particular giftedness and that they themselves should use this gift in service to God and not succumb to pressure to do things that they are neither suited to nor have a desire to do. So the message of 1 Cor 1:26-31 is not about any and every Christian needing to go about serving the Lord in ways that are entirely unsuitable to their inclinations or strengths. By using people’s strengths, another way of saying “gifts”, God often achieves His purposes. He can do so by choosing those without particular gifts but often people with particular gifts will be used in various acts of service for the extension of His kingdom on earth.
Take for example, Moses. When asked by God to speak up to Pharaoh on behalf of the Israelites, Moses claimed that he couldn’t fulfil this request because he was tongue-tied. God was calling Moses to a task. He had been given a royal upbringing with the best of everything, probably including education, familiarity with the elites etc, to use his gifts for God in leading His people towards an end to their slavery in Egypt and the subsequent establishment of their very own land – the Promised Land. Moses, though, was unwilling so God used Aaron for this purpose. Of course this is not to say that Moses was not an extraordinary child of God, called to the most amazing service and fulfilling it to a degree rarely paralleled by any other human being. Other biblical prophets and apostles shared a similar willingness to do whatever God called them to do and I daresay some people of God have continued to do so throughout history.
Another very clear illustration, but they abound throughout Scripture, that God uses people’s gifts, not the “things that are not”, to usually achieve His purposes can be seen in the building of the tabernacle and its furnishings including the ark, the altar, the curtains and all its other fittings. Who did God ask to accomplish the ominous task of building and making all these things according to His clear and meticulous instruction? Let’s look at Exodus which describes the building of the tabernacle, the temporary temple to be used as the Israelites, under Moses’ leadership, crossed the desert following their exodus from Egypt :
1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, 5 and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. 6 And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, and the ark of testimony, and the mercy seat upon it, and all the furniture of the tent, 8 the table also and its utensils, and the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering also with all its utensils, and the laver and its stand, 10 the woven garments as well, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, with which to carry on their priesthood; 11 the anointing oil also, and the fragrant incense for the holy place, they are to make them according to all that I have commanded you.”Exodus 31:1-11 (NASB)
God uses people’s various talents and skills to further His kingdom on earth. Not everyone will be suited to evangelism. Not everyone will be suited to the task of helps. Not everyone will be suited to the task of teaching. But unlike Marxists who seem to think that people are peeved if they can’t be what others are more suited to, I believe that it is always the case that people are not even drawn to what they are unsuited to. It does not interest them. Everything works beautifully if we follow a more natural order in these things for this is an order from God. In other words, don’t beat yourself up and do what you think you ought to be doing. Rather, do such things in God’s service that interest you and that you have even a little skill in because that will be where your gifts are. This is where and how God will use you for the extension of His kingdom.
This was how God used Paul. Before his conversion to Christianity, Paul had raged against the earliest Christians. He was zealous in stamping out these upstarts. He sought out Christians and had them killed. In other words, steeped in killing for religion, Paul was a man of violence. In fact, before the disciples were convinced that Paul had been converted to Christianity, they were terrified of him, fearing that he wasn’t really one of the people of God:
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.Acts 9:26 (NASB)
This man, known as Saul or Paul, God was to use mightily for the extension of His kingdom on earth. Jesus miraculously confronted Saul on his way to Damascus and he was converted in a most extraordinary way. Paul became the great apostle, prophet, teacher, healer and evangelist, all in the midst of the most violent persecution levelled at him. But he was up for it. What did he say when a fellow Christian warned him not to go to Jerusalem?
10 As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”Acts 21:10-14 (NASB)
Paul’s previous experience of engagement in violence became the basis for his future ministry in God’s service. As a man of violence, who would be better placed to receive the violence he received as a Christian? Paul was familiar with this thing, violence. Of course, this does not mean that people who engage in violence are the only ones to receive it. Jesus died a violent death and the last thing He could be called was violent. Nor John the Baptist, although he had been violently killed as had many of the prophets and apostles. What I am saying is that the repeated life of persecution that Paul endured was a part of his former way of life and as he was immunised, so to speak, as far as anyone can be immunised against violence constantly pitted against them, God used Paul in this very special mission.
Using people’s giftedness is how God used many people in biblical accounts. It is how God used the “valiant warriors” whom Joshua was to take with him into the Canaanite city of Ai to capture it :
1 Now the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed. Take all the people of war with you and arise, go up to Ai; see, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land. 2 You shall do to Ai and its king just as you did to Jericho and its king; you shall take only its spoil and its cattle as plunder for yourselves. Set an ambush for the city behind it.” 3 So Joshua rose with all the people of war to go up to Ai; and Joshua chose 30,000 men, valiant warriors, and sent them out at night.Joshua 8:1-3 (NASB)
This was also how God used the skilful artists who built the tabernacle and all its special, holy fittings. This is how God will use you and me in His service no matter what level of skill we are offering.