The Master's Call

by Spiros Zodhiates

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (1 Cor. 1:17).

T he Apostle Paul recognized a divine call on his life that he obeyed. “For Christ did not call me to baptize,” he said, “but to evangelize or preach {euaggelízo}.” No doubt he had a natural gift of speaking. But he did not consider that enough. Natural gifts, even when used in the work of the Lord, without the definite call of God, are not good enough. Paul wanted to make it clear that he preached because God had called him to that work, not because he had a natural inclination for oratory.

Take a few moments to read Acts 14:8–12, and you will get a glimpse of Paul’s fascinating, spellbinding speaking ability. His preaching was far more effective than his other abilities. Even the pagans of Lystra recognized his gift of eloquence when they called him “Mercurius,” after the mythological Greek god, “because he was the chief speaker” (Acts 14:12).

Interestingly, God did not call Paul to do something he was not naturally gifted to do. It is painfully obvious that some preachers are trying to do something for which God has given them no ability, and their desire to enter the ministry has mistakenly led them to assume that they had a divine call. After all, are not our innate abilities God-given? If someone is a gifted speaker and only a poor singer, why should God call him to be a vocalist instead of exercising the natural gift He has bestowed on him? God recognizes that when He made us, He gave us certain talents and abilities. The Lord may call us to do something which does not require the eloquence and ability of a preacher, as was seemingly the case with those who baptized the converts of the Apostle Paul.

This does not give preachers the license to look down on those who do other forms of Christian service. God knows what each one is able to do, and He calls him or her to do it. We must make sure, however, that what we hear is His call and not merely our own desire.

An elder of a church was talking to a young mechanic who thought he had a call to give up his shop and go into the ministry. “I feel,” said the young enthusiast, “that I have had a call to preach.” The elder, knowing his deficiencies as a speaker, shrewdly asked, “Have you noticed whether people seem to have a call to hear you?” Before we subject others to the sound of our voice, we must make sure that preaching comes naturally and that we have a call from God to exercise this ability. Paul knew he was “sent” to preach.

The word for “sent” here is apésteilen, a verb derived from apóstolos (or “apostle.” Apésteilen is in the aorist tense, indicating that Paul received Christ’s call to salvation at a definite time in his life. In 1 Corinthians he repeatedly stresses his claim to apostleship. His first words are, “Paul, called to be an apostle.” He also begins chapter 9 with “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?

Paul was not commissioned by any group of men, the church, or other apostles, but directly by Christ. He says in 1 Corinthians 1:17, “Christ sent me”—and Christ’s call was enough for him. When he came to Corinth, he did not have the financial or official support of anyone. Instead he accepted the hospitality of Priscilla and Aquila and joined them in their business of tent-making. Paul’s preaching in the sinful city of Corinth was indeed a result of Christ’s direct leading, and he did not depend on his preaching to make a living, but made a living plying his trade.

You, too, may be called to preach while making your living at some trade or profession. God forbid that we should reduce the high calling of preaching to a profession for the sake of making a living. One trouble with the church of Jesus Christ today is that it has too many professional preachers rather than men who have received a direct call from Christ to preach.

Paul’s interest was to represent and attract people to Christ, not himself. The difference is illustrated in the account of two men who went to hear a certain famous preacher. Coming away from the service they said, “My, what eloquence! His oratory is simply irresistible!” The next week they went to hear another preacher, equally famous. They left that service silently and reverently. Finally one said, “My, what a Christ!”

The proper aim of Christian service is to exalt Christ and not self. Whatever Christ’s call to us, let us follow it in the spirit of Paul, and of the hymn writer who said:

“Not I, but Christ, in lowly, silent labor;           

Not I, but Christ, in humble, earnest toil;          

Christ, only Christ, no show, no ostentation; 

Christ, none but Christ, the gatherer of the spoil.”

From A Richer Life for You in Christ (an Exegetical Commentary on First Corinthians One), published by AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN

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