(Continuing our series on Second Timothy.)
“…who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity….” (Second Timothy 1:9)
All disciples of Jesus are called. Some disciples of Jesus have received a special call.
Paul said “I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher” in Second Timothy 1:11. Even those who insist that “every Christian is called” do not dare say we are all called as preachers, apostles, and teachers. Again, there is a uniqueness about these “special’ calls.
In Second Timothy, we must remember that what we have here is a veteran preacher writing to a young preacher, while the rest of Christendom is eavesdropping. Keeping that in mind will help us guard against the tendency to make everything Paul says apply to us. The fact that that “veteran” lies in Caesar’s jail with another court date looming before him and the Holy Spirit telling him that the end of his earthly ministry fast approaches adds a dramatic poignancy to the epistle.
“(He has) called us with a holy calling.”
Whatever is holy has been set apart for the exclusive use of the Lord God. Our calling as ministers, for instance, may be to serve humanity in general with the gospel and the church specifically with our gifts, but we do not belong to our target audience, are not to hand over the reins of our lives to them, do not have to respond to their every wish or need or command. We belong to Him. We take orders from Him. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “We do not preach ourselves, but ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (II Corinthians 4:5). We serve them as He directs.
One thought about being “set apart.” A lodge building in your city may be rented out to any group with the money. A banquet hall likewise. However, city hall or the town jail may not be rented out. They are set apart, reserved, holy, we might say, for exclusive purposes.
Christians–those redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and devoted to following Him–belong to Him. We are “bought with a price” (I Corinthians 6:20). We are His servants, His to command (see Romans 14:4 and Luke 6:46).
When a church invites me to preach, I ask the Lord. When a pastor search committee says I am their choice as their new pastor, I consult with the Lord and do what He says.
My calling is holy. I am His.
“…a holy calling not according to our works…”
So, why did the Lord call Tom and not Bill? Why did He call Sally and not Sarah?
The wrong answer is that Tom and Sally deserved to be called, that they earned it.
They did not.
We were not saved by our good works (because we earned it) nor were we called into His service for that reason either (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5, and here).
“…but according to His own purpose and grace….”
Why did the Lord call one and not another? Two answers: 1) He has His own reasons and purposes, and as a rule, He doesn’t tell us what they are; and 2) He’s gracious.
To put it another way, the Lord calls a person into His ministry because He has plans for them and simply because He is a God of grace who does generous things.
In the late 1980s, I heard on the radio the voice of the man who, while working on the Graham dairy farm in Charlotte, NC, had brought 16-year-old Billy Graham to the Mordecai Ham crusade one night, an event that changed the youth’s life and the lives of countless others. He said, “You could have put Billy in the mix with a group of 16-year-olds and never have picked him out as the one God was going to use as He did. It’s like the Lord said, ‘I think I’ll show you what I can do with this one.'” The purpose of God, the grace of God at work.
Patricia Prechter is retired now, but in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina roared through our part of the world, Pat was the ranking medical officer of the Louisiana National Guard (she was a colonel with a doctor’s degree, as well as a veteran nurse) in charge of the team assigned to the Superdome to care for thousands of needy patients being sheltered there for nearly 10 days. Most of us heard only the horror stories coming out of the Superdome, but a few months after the hurricane, Oak Park Baptist Church in New Orleans turned over their pulpit on Sunday morning for Pat to tell her story. “God was present at the Superdome,” she assured us, and gave story after story of what He had done.
The clincher for me was toward the end of her presentation when Pat said, “I became a nurse in 1978 and immediately joined the National Guard. My family could not believe it. They said, ‘Pat, you are the least militaristic person we know. What in the world are you doing joining the National Guard?'”
Pat said, “I now know that God led me to join the National Guard in 1978 so I would be at the Superdome for 10 days in 2005.”
Think of that. Twenty-seven years before the hurricane, the Lord was calling people and getting them in place for what He would do in our city.
He has His purposes. He is good.
Those are reasons enough for all He does.
“…His own purpose and grace (were) granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity….”
We know God’s purposes and His grace in Jesus.
Those purposes and His grace are not new. God did not start loving us when Jesus came. He did not begin to have plans for us when the Baby was born in Bethlehem’s stable.
We have been in His heart, in His plans, on His mind from the beginning. Anyone questioning that should read His call to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Reaching the world was in the plan of God from the start.
I find all this too wonderful and amazing to comprehend. When David reflected on the grace of our Almighty God, he said, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it” (Psalm 139:6).
“…but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus….”
God’s purposes and His grace have been there all along. We can trace both throughout the Old Testament, and I recommend readers who wish to be amazed at the integrity of the Scriptures and the fullness of God’s purposes do just that.
But, in Jesus Christ, the purposes of God and His grace are no longer a subdued theme or minor note of Scripture but are on full display. The Apostle John said, “Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:27).
It’s all out there now, on full display. Want to know what God is up to? Look at Jesus. Listen to His words. Pay attention to what He did. The subtlety is gone. Major chords are being played now.
Want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. Listen to Him. It’s all there.
“Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us,” said Philip. Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you and you still do not know who I am, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8-9)
How much clearer could He make it?
“…by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel….”
In the death/burial/resurrection of Jesus, we see the fullness of the purposes of God and the grace of God.
Do not miss that or take it lightly.
This is why we make so much of the cross. The cross is (literally) the “crux of the matter.” It’s all about what Jesus did there.
Anything that ignores or makes light of the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus for us and His victory over death, hell, the grave, and the devil, is not of God.
Any gospel that omits the blood of Jesus and His victory over the grave is a corruption, a perversion, and a travesty.
Any church that emphasizes everything else Jesus said and did but skips over Calvary is betraying the Lord and abandoning their people.
Paul said, “I delivered unto you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve….” (I Corinthians 15:3ff.)
So, it all comes down to the cross.
“God forbid that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
“When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:1-2).
So, that’s our calling, my friends in the Lord’s work. Ours is a holy calling in accordance with whatever the Lord has in mind and is all about His grace, not because we were gifted or talented or worthy or “destined for greatness.” We center on the cross of Jesus, from which we draw our identity and purpose; it is this core message which we preach and teach.
Anything less and anything more is to miss the mark.