“Called”: A Common Claim
By Gary D. Ellis
“I am called to the ministry.” Every pastor has probably heard this a thousand times or more. In most instances, when someone makes this claim, what they are really saying is, “I want to be used in a position of visibility which carries a title, allows me to wield authority, and offers the opportunity for public recognition.” In other words, they are saying, “I want to be seen or heard.”
The words “called” and “calling” are regularly used by individuals to invoke God as the source of their desire to publicly display their gifts and talents such as public speaking, teaching, singing, playing a musical instrument, or any other creative skill. Most people rarely ever claim to be called to suffer or operate behind the scenes.
First, let me make one thing clear. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having an ambition to serve in a public capacity, so long as there is a genuine, heart-felt desire to be effective in the service of God and reach God’s highest potential for our lives. This is a perfectly noble and legitimate ambition if our heart’s passion is to surrender ourselves to God’s Word and God’s will.
Our motivation must be to live our lives completely for God’s purpose, God’s pleasure, and God’s glory.
Paul said, in 1 Timothy 3:1, 1 “This is a true saying: If a man is eager to be a church leader, he desires an excellent work.” (GNT)
At the time of this epistle, leaders in the Church were confronted with extreme danger, constant physical and emotional stress, and agonizing, burdensome responsibility. The reward for their faithfulness and devotion was hardship, rejection, pain, suffering, and even death. That is why Paul said if any man wants to be a leader in the Church, he desires an excellent work.
The claim to be sent or called of God is quite a common declaration in the modem Christian church. Public ministry appears, on the surface, to offer certain degrees of prestige and respect. However, many of those making this claim are no more called than they are willing to endure any long-term hardship or make any sacrificial lifestyle changes for the cause of Christ.
Paul was very concerned about the fact that people who were not called by God to the ministry of leadership pretended they were, and they were able to present themselves as servants of righteousness.
There are many people who possess the natural gift of leadership; by this I mean they are able to persuade and influence people easily. They have charming, charismatic personalities. They have outstanding people skills. They know how to listen and respond with the right words. They can be a strong source of encouragement.
However, the Bible (God’s Word) is not the ultimate authority for their belief system; neither is the fulfillment of God’s purpose and God’s pleasure for His church their driving motivation.
Paul also knew that a large number of people professing Christianity did not think or operate with an eternal focus. Their true values were not “Kingdom first” values. For this reason, many of them were easily deceived. Many churchgoers are still effortlessly drawn in and led astray by a display of the talents, gifts, and persuasive personalities of false teachers and deceitful workers.
As it was in Paul’s day, many churchgoers are mentally and emotionally attached to the physical and earthly realm. Though they deny it, they often base eternal decisions solely on impulse and sentiment. Often, their first considerations are material benefits or personal pleasures, regardless of the eternal consequences.
For the most part, popular culture, human reasoning, and emotions govern many professing believers. Rarely do they look to the Bible for guidance. They seldom rely on or accept the authority of scripture to direct their lives and dictate their priorities and values. They take most, if not all, of their cues from whatever seems to be the most popular trend of society.
The masses say, “This is what we want to hear! This is what we want to believe! This is what we like and don’t like!”
“We don’t want to hear anything about some straight and narrow road of holiness, self-denial, and sacrificial service. We want to hear all about Christianity’s great benefits package.”
“Please don’t try to frighten us with messages about missing heaven or going to hell. That’s negative and it makes us feel uncomfortable.”
“This is who we are, this is what we are, and this is what we believe life is all about, so don’t tell us how to change it—that’s bondage. Tell us how to enjoy it—that’s freedom.”
“Preacher, we want you to be our voice of freedom. Show us how to access the promises and take advantage of all our Christian liberties.”
Rather than boldly declaring the whole counsel of God, which can only be done by the power of the Spirit through prayer, fasting, and laboring in the Word, too many preachers are abandoning their convictions and tailoring their standards, their ministries, and their messages to appeal to the cry of the masses.
The Bible is filled with various powerful promises and life-altering truths, which address every aspect of the human experience. It’s quite possible to preach accurate scriptural truths about our finances, families, economics, careers, social lives, physical healings, and deliverances from sicknesses and diseases with great results. These are immutable, infallible principles from the Word of God. Therefore, it’s conceivable for almost anyone to apply these principles and experience enormous earthly success.
This is where the line has become so distorted. This is where the distinction between true servants and ambitious opportunists is often lost. There is so much more to having a relationship with God than simply receiving His temporal blessings. Being a follower of Jesus is more than merely making changes in your personal affairs and improvements in your present circumstances.
The principles of personal success and life change found in the Word of God, if applied, can produce comprehensive changes to anyone’s physical, social, economic, and emotional conditions. Yet, you must be born again and filled with God’s Spirit in order to truly experience LIFE as God intended.
The prophet Ezekiel said, 7 “So I spoke these words from God, just as he told me to; and suddenly there was a rattling noise from all across the valley, and the bones of each body came together and attached to each other as they used to be. 8 Then, as I watched, the muscles and flesh formed over the bones, and skin covered them, but the bodies had no breath.” Ezekiel 37:7-8 (TLB)
These bodies were no longer dry bones scattered over the desert floor. They had the appearance of strong-looking, well-formed, and healthy individuals. Their physical condition had been visibly and undeniably changed. Physically, they had been wholly and genuinely restored by the power of the spoken Word, but they lacked an inward spirit. In other words, they remained lifeless. The same is possible with our marriages, finances, physical health, professional careers, etc. The principles of personal success and individual development found in the Word of God, if applied, can bring about dramatic change in our temporal conditions. But without the Spirit of God living inside of us, we are still dead.
Then Ezekiel said, 10 “So I spoke to the winds as he commanded me, and the bodies began breathing; they lived and stood up—a very great army.” 37:10 (TLB) It was when the Spirit of the Lord became the power living within them that they were mobilized into a mighty army. An army is a body of persons organized to advance a cause.
One of the indicators that a person is, in fact, led by the Spirit of the Lord is that he no longer desires to live for his own interests. He has put on the mind of Christ. He longs to serve Christ through serving others. He willingly lays down his own independence to embrace a spirit of sacrificial interdependence.
1 Corinthians 12:13 (MSG) 13 By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit— where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.
The Apostle Paul said to the Philippian church, “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care- then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. 3 Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. 4 Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. 5 Think of yourselves the same way Christ Jesus thought of himself. 6 He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. 7 Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! 8 Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death— and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.” Philippians 2:1-8 (MSG)
To the brothers in Corinth, Paul wrote,” “But, dear brothers, I beg you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so that there won’t be splits in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” 1 Corinthians 1:10 (TLB)
When the Spirit of God is in control of a person’s life, they march to a different beat. They joyfully serve as part of a united body for the cause of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They loyally serve at the pleasure of the One who called them to be a soldier—Jesus Christ.
People whose minds are focused on the things of this world will not always receive the truth. So don’t be surprised by their rejection of the truth:
1 John 3:13 (TLB) 13 So don’t be surprised, dear friends, if the world hates you.
The “world” does not necessarily symbolize people who do not attend church. Those who are of this world do not always hang out in dark places or get involved in illicit, immoral behavior. More often than you may want to believe, many churchgoers profess to be followers of Christ who are really the “children of this world.” (See Luke 16:8.) Their value system, from top to bottom, is worldly.
What is worldliness? Worldliness is when the things you live your life to achieve, the things you desire the most, and whatever fuels your drive and ambition—come to an end on the day you die.
You must not be afraid to pay the price that comes with being a truly called servant of Christ. There are occurrences during which it is necessary to risk being rejected in order to stand up for the truth. Many times that is the dividing characteristic between the true and the false.
Jeremiah said that some false prophets were declaring promises of peace and blessings upon people who were willfully and flagrantly disobedient to God. The Lord told Jeremiah that He did not send these so-called prophets. These men did not get their insights and instructions from God.
Jeremiah 23:16-18, 21-22 (MSG) 16 “Don’t listen to the sermons of the prophets. It’s all hot air. Lies, lies, and more lies. They make it all up. Not a word they speak comes from me. 17 They preach their ‘Everything Will Turn Out Fine’ sermon to congregations with no taste for God, their ‘Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen to You’ sermon to people who are set in their own ways. Have any of these prophets bothered to meet with me, the true GOD? Bothered to take in what! have to say? Listened to and then lived out my Word?…21 I never sent these prophets, but they ran anyway. I never spoke to them, but they preached away. 22 If they’d have bothered to sit down and meet with me, they’d have preached my Message to my people. They’d have gotten them back on the right track, gotten them out of their evil ruts.”
On the surface, it’s not quite as easy as it seems to discern who has really been in the presence of God and who has not. Unless you spend time studying and truly attempting to understand the principles of God’s Word and spend real intimate time with Him, searching and meditating on scripture, you will be fooled by the sensationalism and theatrics of a presentation. Unless you are absolutely committed to applying the Word to your daily life, you will, like so many others, make excuses to avoid separation and seek every opportunity to blend in with the crowd. You will not want to be the lonely voice of opposition. You will not be able to endure being despised, criticized, mocked, and maligned for obeying the Word of God. You will only be able to endure such suffering when you know for sure you are standing on God’s absolute truth.
There is the ever-pressing temptation to “go along to get along.” If your primary objective is fitting in, getting along, not being alone, and not causing offense, you will be overwhelmed by the pressure to go with the flow. This occurs often when you have to stand alone against your peers or appear as someone who is out of touch with the mainstream. If you obey God when it is unpopular, you risk being labeled a contentious troublemaker.
First Kings 22 records a story of two kings (Ahab, king of Israel and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah) planning to unite in war. Jehoshaphat demands they first seek the counsel of God. After hearing the confirmation of four hundred of Ahab’s handpicked prophets, Jehoshaphat wants to know if there is another prophet. Ahab declares there is one more, and his name is Micaiah. Then he proclaims his hatred for Micaiah! “Why?” asks Jehoshaphat. Ahab says, “Because he never preaches anything good to me.” But Jehoshaphat still desires to hear what this lone prophet has to say. This is a story of one prophet of God being forced to choose between becoming a “voice of consensus and consent” or “the voice of conviction and uncompromising truth.”
Sometimes the willingness to stand unaccompanied, hated and rejected for the truth, is the dividing line between true men of God and those driven by deceitful ambition.
1 Kings 22:1-10 (MSG) They enjoyed three years of peace—no fighting between Aram and Israel. 2 In the third year, Jehoshaphat king of Judah had a meeting with the king of Israel. 3 Israel’s king remarked to his aides, “Do you realize that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us, and we’re sitting around on our hands instead of taking it back from the king of Aram?” 4 He turned to Jehoshaphat and said, “Will you join me in fighting for Ramoth Gilead?”
Jehoshaphat said, “You bet. I’m with you all the way—my troops are your troops, my horses are your horses.” 5 He then continued, “But before you do anything, ask GOD for guidance.” 6 The king of Israel got the prophets together—all four hundred of them—and put the question to them: “Should I attack Ramoth Gilead? Or should I hold back?” “Go for it,” they said. “will hand it over to the king.” But Jehoshaphat dragged his heels: “Is there still another prophet of GOD around here we can consult?” 8 The king of Israel told Jehoshaphat, “As a matter of fact, there is still one such man. But I hate him. He never preaches anything good to me, only doom, doom, doom—Micaiah son of Imlah.” “The king shouldn’t talk about a prophet like that,” said Jehoshaphat. 9 So the king of Israel ordered one of his men, “On the double! Get Micaiah son of Imlah.” ‘° Meanwhile, the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat were seated on their thrones, dressed in their royal robes, resplendent in front of the Samaria city gates. All the prophets were staging a prophecy-performance for their benefit.
They came together for a War and Prophecy Conference; four hundred of the most prominent prophets of that time were in attendance. They were all manifesting their prophetic gifts and introducing their out-of-the-box, relevant techniques. They were all of one accord and putting up a unified front. To win the favor of King Ahab, these prophets had to put on their best demonstration and tell him want he wanted to hear. They were compelled to do what many pastors and leaders are being pressured to do in this generation—affirm his desires and confirm his plans.
1 Kings 22:11-16 (MSG) ” Zedekiah son of Kenaanah had even made a set of iron horns, and brandishing them called out, “Gob’s word! With these horns you’ll gore Aram until there’s nothing left of him!” ‘2 All the prophets chimed in, “Yes! Go for Ramoth Gilead! An easy victory! GOD’S gift to the king!” ‘3 The messenger who went to get Micaiah said, “The prophets have all said Yes to the king. Make it unanimous— vote Yes!” ‘4 But Micaiah said, “As surely as GOD lives, what GOD says, I’ll say.” is With Micaiah before hint, the king asked him, “So Micaiah—do we attack Ramoth Gilead, or do we hold back?” “Go ahead,” he said. “An easy victory. GOD’S gift to the king.” 16 “Not so fast,” said the king. “How many times have I made you promise under oath to tell me the truth and nothing but the truth?”
(Warning to all young pastors!) Never believe anybody who has already made a decision about something they want to do in their life who says to you, “I want to be in the will of God. I am seeking your counsel. I want you to hold me accountable. Please tell me nothing but the truth.” It’s a trap! If you tell them yes, they’ll blame you for leading them wrongly. If you tell them no, they’ll accuse you of trying to control their decision. When a person says this to you, the safe thing to do is to simply say, “I will pray with you so that you will do what you already know God wants you to do.”
If you do not want to suffer bitter criticism, ridicule, rejection, or false accusation, you have a choice: “Go along to get along” or do the “safe” thing by offering your support and prayers; otherwise, you can expect trouble.
I know of a pastor who made this mistake. A young lady (we’ll call her Lydia) who was teaching a new members class became attracted to a new convert in the class. He was recovering from a divorce, and so was she. Rather than remaining committed to her assignment and encouraging him to get connected through other strong male relationships, Lydia sought to “help him grow.” She labeled him a potential leader who “needed developing.” Against her pastor’s advice, she began to spend a lot of personal time with him. Lydia rode alone with him on long trips. She permitted him to stay with her in her home alone until late into the night; because he worked so hard, he was extremely tired and fell asleep. She placed a personal hedge around him, guarding and defending his every action to prevent him from receiving any kind of correction.
After Lydia became emotionally attached, she said to her pastor, “Pastor, we are becoming serious, and I want to do the right thing. I want to be held accountable so that I can avoid making some wrong decisions. If you see something that we are doing that may need correction, please, tell me.” The pastor unwisely assumed Lydia sincerely wanted accountability and guidance, yet this was not the case. She desired for the pastor to approve of the way she conducted herself. She began making a series of decisions and compromises that brought her leadership standards, ethics, and values into question. There were compromising situations that may have been innocent, but appeared very inappropriate. When the pastor addressed these issues with her—well, let’s just say the relationship between Lydia and her pastor was all downhill from there. The relationship that once appeared as close and as full of trust as that between a father and a daughter became filled with suspicion, distrust, and disloyalty. Lydia’s relationship with this new member ultimately ended in her separation from the ministry and another ugly divorce. Pastors will continuously be required to choose between “Go along to get along,” “Play it safe,” or “Get ready —here comes trouble.”
Micaiah tried the “Go along to get along” approach at first. But upon Ahab’s insistence on hearing nothing but the truth, he chose the “Get ready—here comes trouble” approach.
1 Kings 22:17-18 (MSG) ‘7″All right,” said Micaiah, “since you insist. I saw all of Israel scattered over the hills, sheep with no shepherd. Then GOD spoke: ‘These poor people have no one to tell them what to do. Let them go home and do the best they can for themselves.'” Then the king of Israel turned to Jehoshaphat, “See! What did I tell you? He never has a good word for me from GOD, only doom.”
We know from the beginning, Ahab had no intention of hearing or obeying the truth. He had already made his decision and wanted the Man of God’s confirmation! He needed the prophet to approve of his decision even if God did not!
1 Kings 22:19-24 (Micaiah kept on: “I’m not done yet; listen to GOD’S word: I saw GOD enthroned, and all the angel armies of heaven standing at attention ranged on his right and his left. 20 And GOD said, ‘How can we seduce Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead?’ Some said this, and some said that. 21 Then a bold angel stepped out, stood before GOD, and said, ‘I’ll seduce him.’ `And how will you do it?’ said GOD. 22 ‘Easy,’ said the angel, ‘I’ll get all the prophets to lie.’ That should do it,’ said GOD. ‘On your way—seduce him!’ 23And that’s what has happened. GOD filled the mouths of your puppet prophets with seductive lies. GOD has pronounced your doom.” 24 Just then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah came up and punched Micaiah in the nose, saying, “Since when did the Spirit of GOD leave me and take up with you?”
It is not unusual for those posing as men of God to attack you for your refusal to “go along to get along.” Sometimes when shallow or pretentious Christians have no strong spiritual or scriptural foundation for something they strongly believe or support, they resort to vicious personal attacks.
If you are seeking acceptance, or if you are overly concerned about popularity and about what people might say and think, you may be tempted to make compromises because certain kinds of attacks can be very painful experiences. Remember this: Never compromise the truth for the acceptance, favor, and praises of men. Do not become a puppet of popularity!
When individuals secure major influence and are the recognized, popular voices of the King Ahab’s War and Prophecy Conference, and there are four hundred prophets speaking in unison, and you are the only dissenting voice, it is easy to become intimidated by the popular opinion of the majority. Feeling alone and alienated is not unusual. However, when you hold your ground for righteousness and truth, you have God on your side: “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” (See 1 John 4:4.)
1 Kings 22:26-27 (MSG) 76 “Turn him over … 27 with this message, ‘King’s orders: Lock him up in jail; keep him on bread and water until I’m back in one piece.'”
Though the end result was a hostile confrontation, public humiliation, rejection, and incarceration, Micaiah was able to make a clear and unmistakable distinction between a true prophet and the opportunists who were posing as ministers of God. Victory is not always signified by the absence of rejection, suffering, and pain. Occasionally, it simply means, “Compromise will not win out over righteousness, and the truth will boldly be declared.”
Those who do not know or respect the authority of the Word of God customarily support the belief that the majority is obviously always right. There is a tendency among pretentious believers to play along with the crowd and join the voice of popular opinion. Just like King Ahab, many people seek counsel from the man of God not because they genuinely yearn for God’s will but because they wish to publicly appear as if they long to function in the will and plan of God. Truthfully, they have already decided on a course of action and developed their own plans and strategy. Therefore, they gather around them a great company of teachers who will tell them what they want to hear.
When people are supported by the majority opinion, they feel empowered to declare themselves free to do what they have already set out to do. They are also emboldened to mock and persecute those leaders who express disapproval of their plans. But God is calling men and women who are willing to draw a line between those who have an undying devotion to God and those pretenders who will break ranks with the truth and join with the popular crowd as long as it will benefit them.
In the next chapter, we’ll see that the operation of the gifts of the Spirit can be another avenue for false prophets and deceitful workers to deceive.
The above article “Called”: A Common Claim, is the fifth and sixth chapter from the book “The Dividing Line”, by Gary D. Ellis
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