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Sunday, October 25, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "Called to Work"

“Called To Work”
Working for the Lord - Fall 2015
October 25, 2015 :: Ephesians 4:1 

I read "Dilbert" everyday online and thank the Lord that my life is not like his!

Here’s the strip from last Thursday, the 15th of October.

Dilbert is sitting at his desk and thinking, “I like to start each workday by visualizing how my work will make the world a better place.   GAAAA!!!! My life is meaningless and nothing I do will ever matter!!!! ... Okay, good. I like to get that out of the way early.” And he goes back to work.

Ever feel that way about your work?

Every since Labor Day, we’ve been studying together what the Bible says about work in a series called “Working for the Lord.”

And we started with some big questions like:

Is Work – Good or Bad?  Dilbert would say, “very bad.” Meaingless!

But the Bible says that work was intended to be good but then turned difficult and in someways bad when we sinned. But it also says that Jesus Christ is reworking work to be good again and one day He will make work perfect.

Another question we asked was “Why Work?

And we learned the Bible teaches that we work NOT to be saved or to bring glory to ourselves but BECAUSE we are saved and to bring glory to God and serve our neighbors in love.

That’s big! That kind of work, no matter what the job, will bring meaning to your life. Dilbert is missing that.

After those opening messages in this series, we started to get even more practical. Pastor Kirk Albrecht talked about our witnessing at work and our witnessing through our work.

And we did two messages on both working hard and resting well.

Remember these questions for those tempted to be slackers, sluggards?

“Did you work hard this week? Or did you hardly work this week?”

But here was the follow-up question:

“Have you rested well this week? Or have you hardly rested this week?”

Because God cares about both. And some of us need to repent of laziness and some of busyness. A probably we all need to repent some of both.

God cares about our work and our rest.

Here’s the two questions for today.

What do we normally ask kids about work?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  Right?

Not a bad question. It’s a good question to ask! Very important for kids to be thinking about as they grow up.

But here’s a more important one to add to it.

“What do you think God wants you to be when you grow up?”

When we start to ask that question, we’re talking about the idea of “vocation.”

Vocation. Or “Calling.”

Today’s message is entitled, “Called to Work.”

We have all been called to work.

And I’m talking about “calling” with a capital “C.”  Not just that interrupting phone call you get that they need you at your workplace.

But a Call from God to do some job or jobs.

Vocation. Calling.

Now, this message today is going to be different from most of the sermons you hear from me. And that’s because vocation or calling is a very different and difficult topic to preach on from the Bible.

For one, it’s a very complex topic. There are a lot of related concepts that flow into and out of this theme in the Bible. On one level, it’s a very big theme in the Bible and appears all over the place.

And yet on another level, it’s not a very big topic in the Bible. There aren’t that many passages that specifically teach about how God calls people into their normal every day employments.

One of the reasons for that is that in the time of the Bible (and really for most of the rest of human history) people didn’t have much choice about what they did for work.

Most people just did what their parents did. I mean, Jesus was a carpenter because Joseph was a carpenter, right? You were born into your work.

Our “Hide The Word” memory verse is addressed to whom?  To slaves, right? They didn’t have much choice of their careers. And yet they were called, weren’t they?

They had vocations.

So, on one level, the Bible is full of the idea of “calling,” and on another level it’s not really. There aren’t a lot of Scripture passages about “finding your calling in life.”

But there are a lot of passages about how to live in our callings.

Do you see the difference?

Yesterday, I looked up and read every verse in the New Testament that had the word “call,” “called,” “calling” or anything like that in the NIV.

I came up with 292 verses in just the New Testament.

I didn’t read every one in the Old Testament, but there are 739 verses in both testaments together.

That’s a lot of “calling.”

Now, most of those callings are naming things. “He was called Matthew.” That sort of thing.

A bunch of the rest of them were someone gathering a group together. Jesus called the disciples or called the crowd to hear some teaching. Or someone called the Elders to pray for them. That kind of calling.

Most of the references to “calling” in the New Testament are basically like that. They aren’t about diving “calling” to vocations or roles or jobs or anything like that.

They aren’t very theological, we’ll say.

But a number of them are very theological. They are God calling someone and giving them something important to do.

But most of those callings, it might surprise you to hear, are still not to what we might call a “job” but rather to a relationship.

And that’s the case in our key verse to start with this morning. Ephesians chapter 4.

Paul is opening up the second half of his letter to the Ephesians. He’s been very theological, talking about God’s grand plan for the universe. Now he’s going to get very practical. V.1

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

The Old King James says, “I...beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.”

The New American Standard brings out the extra-callingness in the Greek. “I ... entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called...”

There are actually two “calling words” there in the verse. And the Greek word sounds like our English word.  “Kalleo” is the Greek word.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

What is that calling?

It’s salvation. It’s a relationship with God through Jesus Christ isn’t it?

Here’s main point #1 this morning.

#1. CALLED TO HIM.

In the Bible, the primary call of God on each believer is a call to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

It’s a call to salvation and a call to discipleship.

Paul says, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

What does that look like? V.2

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called [same word!] to one hope when you were called [same word!]–one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

What was the call? It was a call to hope (v.4)!

It was a call to salvation. To a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

The primary call on every believer is a call to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

The call is a summons. “Come!” “Come to Christ.” “Trust in Christ. Love Him. Know Him. Follow Him. Become like Him!”

Let me show you this idea in few other passages that use this same word. You don’t have to turn there. Just listen.

Philippians 3:13&14. “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [perfection]. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Hebrews 3:1 calls it our “heavenly calling.”

2 Peter 1:10 urges us to make our “calling and election sure.”

2 Timothy 1:9 says, that that God has “saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”

Do you hear it?

The call of God in the New Testament is very relational.

It is a call to Him.

It is a call to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and to walk in that relationship. Paul says here in verse 1, “to walk worthy” – “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

If God has saved you by His grace, then your life should show it.

If you have been called by God, then God has a calling on you to live out.

Does that make sense?

Now, sometimes that call is general. It goes out to all.

God is calling people everywhere to repent and trust in the Savior.

But sometimes the Bible uses the word call in a more specific way.

Those who have been called are those who have answered the call.

Remember Romans 8:28?  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Those folks have been called in such a way that they answered the call.

And because of that they know that all things work to their good.

That’s what it means to be called.

Every true Christian has been called to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

And it is truly life-changing. It means holiness and hope and love and unity.

Are you still listening to me?

I don’t want to confuse you.

Here’s the point. God is calling people to Himself. That’s the main point of “calling” in the New Testament.

Have you answered that call?

Like the song says, “Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling. Calling for you and for me. Calling, O sinner, come home.”

Have you heard that call and answered it?

If not, then I invite to right now.

If you have, then Paul says, “Live like it.”

“Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

Are you doing that?

The rest of Ephesians, chapters 4-6m, spell out what that looks like.

It means holiness and hope and love and unity.

It means Christ-likeness, becoming like the One called us.

We’re called to Him.

And...we’ve been learning that being called to Him means that we are also called to work for Him.

#2. CALLED TO WORK FOR HIM.

Working for the Lord, right?

If our primary calling is a calling to a relationship with Christ, that’s discipleship. But we’ve learned that discipleship gets worked out in our work.

Our work is worship. Our work is to be discipleship.

So, we are not only called to Him we are called by Him to our work for Him.

Does that make sense?

There are a couple of places in the New Testament where the word “calling” is tied more specifically to tasks or roles or positions that someone might fulfill. More like being called to a job.

Most of them are being called to a ministry role like an apostle. Paul in Romans 1 was called to be an apostle. God summoned him to that role.

In the book of Acts chapter 13, the Holy Spirit tells the church in Antioch to “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

There’s work and calling connected and it’s vocational ministry work. It’s supported missionary work.

It’s not wrong to call a pastor. And to say that he is called.

This here is my letter of call from you. It is dated April 28, 1998 and signed by church chairman George Leathers. “Dear Mr. Mitchell, On April 26th 1998 the congregation of the Lanse Evangelical Free Church, Lanse PA voted ... to call you, Matthew C. Mitchell, to be senior pastor of the church. We praise the Lord for His faithfulness, and look forward with anticipation, having you and Heather ministering with us.”

We experienced God’s call through your call to us.

And this Pastor Appreciation Month, I’ve really felt that. Thank you all for your expressions of appreciation and especially for your prayers.

But being called by God is not just for ministry people is it?  It’s not just vocational ministry people like myself who have a God-given vocation, is it?

The other key place in the New Testament that connects up our work or roles or positions in life with this language of calling is 1 Corinthians chapter 7.

Now, 1 Corinthians 7 is one of the hardest passages in the whole Bible to interpret and untangle. It’s got great stuff in it, but it’s hard to access.

A lot of it is about whether or not someone should get married or not but also about whether or not they should try to change other things in their life like being a slave or not.

And in 1 Corinthian 7:17 Paul uses this language of calling (which we’ve learned is mostly calling to a relationship with God) to also the language of assigning (which Paul has also used of spiritual gifts and ministry positions) to talk about the more regular everyday callings of life.

Here’s what he says, “Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.”

Tim Keller writes this about this little passage:
In 1 Corinthian chapter 7, Paul counsels readers that when they become Christians it is unnecessary to change what they are currently doing in life–their marital state, job, or social station–in order to live their lives before God in a way that pleases him....Here Paul uses two religiously freighted words to describe ordinary work. Elsewhere, Paul has spoken of God calling people into a saving relationship with him, and assigning them spiritual gifts to do ministry and build up the Christian community. Paul uses these same two words here when he says that every Christian should remain in the work God has “assigned to him, and to which God called him.” Yet Paul is not referring in this case to church ministries, but to common social and economic tasks–“secular jobs,” we might say–and naming them God’s callings and assignments. (Every Good Endeavor, pg. 65-66)
Now, that’s actually pretty important because it says what we have already been learning.

What your job is is something God has assigned and called you to.

I’m not the only one here with a calling. In fact, my calling is not very different from any of yours.

We are all called to work for Him.

In fact, we all have multiple callings to work for Him.

Not just one. Sometimes we get the idea that our calling is singular.

“What is your calling.”

But the idea of calling is bigger than that. We all have multiple callings to fulfill.

In his excellent little book on the doctrine of vocation, Gene Veith writes:
Our vocation is not one single occupation. As has been said, we have callings in different realms–the workplace, yes, but also the family, the society, and the church. Someone who is retired may no longer be in the workplace, but he may still pursue his callings as a grandfather, a concerned citizen, and perhaps as an elder in his church. Some people find their callings in spheres other than the workplace–a woman who refuses a job so she can devote herself to her children; the independently wealthy man who does not need to work, so he devotes himself as a citizen to philanthropy; the elderly shut-in who devotes her energy as a Christian, to prayer.
Furthermore, a person may hold multiple vocations within each type of vocation. In the family, a woman may have a calling to be a wife, which is a task in itself, but she may also have a calling to be a mother, a vocation that involves different tasks in a different kind of relationship...In the workplace, a mid-level executive or a shop foreman might be a “master” to those he is supervising. At the very same time, he may be a “servant” to his supervisor. Both of these relationships entail different duties and kinds of service. Even the C.E.O. of the company, the top boss, the “master” of all his employees, very likely is also a “servant” to the Board of Directors or the stockholders.
He goes on to say:
Another aspect of our multiple vocations is that callings change. A young man working his way through college may get a job in a fast-food restaurant. For the time being, that’s his vocation, and he is to love and serve his customers and his shift manager by flipping hamburgers. If he is fortunate enough to be going to college, he also has the vocation of being a student, which has specific obligations of its own (study!). Eventually he may get that computer degree, and he may go into his lifework. That will be his vocation then. And if his dot.com company goes bankrupt, and he goes from vast wealth back to flipping burgers, he has a new vocation. At every stage his calling is not something that will wait until he graduates, or even until he gets that big promotion. Vocation is in the here and now.” (pgs. 48-49).
Is that helpful?  It was to me.

I think we’ve made this whole vocation thing both too small and too big.

We’ve made it too small by thinking that it’s no big deal what we do. That we can all just choose what we want and do what we want to do with our lives.

But if there is a calling there is a Caller, isn’t there?

It isn’t just what to do you want to do with your life?

It’s what does God want to do with your life?

But we’ve made it too big by trying to not seeing our callings in everything that we do.

Today is Reformation Sunday when the Protestant church celebrates the rediscovery of the gospel in the days of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther did a great job of breaking down the divide between sacred and secular with work.

He taught that there was no such thing.

All of what we call secular callings are actually sacred, too.

And that means that just about everything we do is our callings. We don’t have to search high and low to find them.

They’re right here.

So, do I have you lost yet?

I told Heather yesterday that this was the hardest message in this series to write and that it’ll probably be the worst, as well.

Because the Bible is full of the idea of God’s call but most of it isn’t talking about how to find your callings as in vocation or career.

But that’s still something we all want to know about, right?

I mean the practical question at the end of this message is:

So how do I know what work I should do?

If the Bible doesn’t say much about occupational callings, then how do I know what God wants me to do?

The good news is that the Bible says a lot about decision-making.

Let me give you a few points as we close.

#1. Pray.

I hope that doesn’t surprise you.

James chapter 1 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

God loves to give wisdom about what work you should do.

Just ask Him.

#2. Look around.

Mike Wittmer in his chapter named “What Is Your Call?” writes:
How do you know what God wants from you? Look at your callings. Where has God placed you? Whom are you obligated to serve? Our most important callings arise from our covenantal relationships. I am called to be a husband, father, son, brother, and church member, and each of these callings is too valuable to receive a paycheck. I would be insulted if [my children] Avery or Landon slipped me $10 for being their dad or my pastor gave me kickback for inviting people to church. This will be essential if to remember should you ever find yourself unemployed. You may not have a job at the moment, but your most valuable callings remain unchanged.
Beyond your covenantal relationships, examine where you are in the world. Your job as a restaurant server or sandwich artist may be a stepping-stone to something else, but as long as you hold that job, it is precisely what God has called you to do... 
...You are free in the Lord to change your paid job, and when you do, that new job becomes your new calling, the palce where you can love God by serving neighbor and contributing to culture. You can change callings because the pay is better, but the best moves tend to follow Frederick Beuchner’s advice, ‘The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ What do you enjoy doing, and what does the world need? It’s your call. (Becoming Wordly Saints, pg. 103-104)
That hits on #3. Look at yourself.

What do you love?  What are you good at? How has God wired you?

What experiences have shaped you?

I recommend The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias if you want to read about how God shapes you through the events of your life.  Chapter 3, “Your Calling Matters.”

If you think you may be called into pastoral ministry, I recommend, Am I Called by Dave Harvey.

I gave this book to Hunter Galley this Summer as he explores whether or not the Lord might have a vocational ministry calling on him.

Everybody is made differently. Everybody is good at different things.

I have four children and they are like one another in some ways and very different from each other in others.

How are you made? What flips your switch? Is it something that can pay the bills?

#4. Ask Others.

Proverbs 24 says, “A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength; for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.”

My mom’s job for many years was to be a career specialist at the local vocational school.

It was her calling to help others find their callings!

I think Laurie Verost does something like that, right?

It’s been one of my joys as your pastor to talk with many of you about vocational choices you’re making.

Get wisdom from others. Don’t try to do this on your own.

#5. Expect the Unexpected.

This road to uncovering your callings is almost never a straight one.

I’ve talked this week with 5 people who have had major unexpected left turns in their vocations.

One guy thought he was going to be a pastor and isn’t. At least not yet.

One guy was a pastor and it didn’t work out and now he’s in sales and doing really well.

Another guy is looking at changing his major in college because what he’s doing just doesn’t seem to fit him.

Ruth didn’t expect to be called into being a widow this month. But now that’s one of her callings.

We often don’t know what’s in store. And God has a change in that calling in the wind.

Tim here has been faithfully pressing on as a missionary for how man years?

But God has something different for him now.

Be ready for that. Don’t think you’ve know God’s whole call on your life.

He’s got lots of surprises up His sleeve.

Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”

#6. Check the Scriptures.

There are all kinds of jobs that are acceptable for Christians to do but some that are not.

Here’s a short list:

“Thief, embezeler, contract killer, prostitute, exotic dancer, abortionist, snake-oil medicine man, porn star, Wiccan priest.”

You get the picture? Any job where you have to sin regularly to do it is not a place where Christians are called by God to serve.

And of course, there are many jobs where you have to draw some lines.

Always check, what does the Bible say about that kind of work?

And #7. Make Decisions.

Don’t get so caught up in trying to mystically find the Lord’s will that you miss it by letting the decisions pass you by.

Remember, the Lord loves to give wisdom so make your choices.

If you are walking with the Lord and trying to follow His call, then you will!

Don’t get caught up in a spiritual tangle trying to hearing a special voice from heaven when the Lord is talking in so many ways all around you.

Seek to glorify the Lord in all that you do, and you will live out your calling.

My guess is that this message has raised more question for some of you than it has answered.

And I’m okay with that today. Normally, I like to answer questions, not just raise them.

But we’ve got time for that. Living as called person is a lifelong process of discovery.

And I’m here to help you process your questions if you’d like.

Let me end by directing us to this verse in 2 Thessalonians chapter 1. It’s verse 11 and Paul tells them what he prays for them.

“[W]e constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

May we live a life worthy of the calling that we have received.

***

Messages in this Series

01. Working for the Lord
02. Is Work - Good Or Bad?
03. Why Work?
04. Working at Witnessing
05. Get to Work!
06. Work and Rest
07. Called to Work

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