A Definition of the Call
Every Christian should preach the gospel to all people. That is the basis for the call. But the call to full-time Christian service is more than the command of Scripture. It is a unique experience that only those who have been set aside by Jesus Christ have received. The command of Scripture is to everyone. The call of God is more particular. It is only to the recipients.
A second part of the call is that they were to be separated, indicating they were no longer considered laymen. A third part of the call to fulltime services was accompanied with self-examination and searching the mind of the Lord. Barnabas and Saul were fasting and praying to the Lord when they were called. A last part of the call is that it came from the Holy Spirit. No man can issue the call to himself. He can desire the office of a bishop (1 Tim. 3:7), but the call of God comes from the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes God calls through another person. As the elderly prophet Elijah stood before God on Mt. Sinai, God called him to go and anoint his successor, Elisha. We have the record in 1 Kings 19:19-21 of Elijah throwing his mantle across young Elisha’s shoulders as he plowed. God uses his servants to extend a call to young men.
Even though the term call or calling has a technical use in today’s church, it is used in three ways in Scripture: first, the call to salvation; second, the call to sanctification; and third, the call to full-time Christian service.
1. The Call to Salvation
In Scripture the word call is designated as the invitation of Jesus Christ for a person to become saved. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). In essence, He was calling people to salvation. Later Paul designates this call, “Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:6). He also tells us, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We know this refers to salvation.
2. The Call to Sanctification
God not only calls men to salvation, but He also calls them to grow to completion or maturity in Jesus Christ. This is a call to sanctification. Paul reminds the Corinthians, “God is faithful, by whom ye were called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). He had already indicated that the Corinthians knew Christ as Savior, but he was inviting them to grow deeper in fellowship with Jesus Christ.
The high call for every Christian is to be as sanctified as possible in fellowship with Jesus Christ.
3. The Call to Full-time Christian Service
The greatest honor that can come to any person is to be set aside by the Holy Spirit to serve Jesus Christ with all of his life. These people are identified as those who are in the professional ministry. Today they are pastors, assistant pastors, evangelists, missionaries, Bible teachers in colleges, and others who serve in full-time ministry; by which they are supported financially full-time. In the Old Testament, the high priests were full-time servants. “No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Heb. 5:4). This verse gives us insight into full-time Christian service. In the Old Testament a priest had to be born into the tribe of Levi, but not every Levite became a priest. Only those who were called of God were set aside for actual service in the temple.
Barnabas and Paul were called of God to full-time Christian service. Remember even at Paul’s conversion it was indicated that he would be a unique servant and messenger to the gentiles (Acts 9:15-16). However, after 14 years of learning and apprenticeship-by serving Jesus Christ in the churches at Damascus, Tarsus and Antioch-Paul was ready to be separated into full-time Christian service. We read the account, “”As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them”” (Acts 13:2). Note that these two men who were called into full-time Christian service were actively involved in serv-ing Jesus Christ. The call did not come to two unconcerned high school boys who were sitting on the last pew in the church. These were active church leaders who were called into full-time service.
If a church is effectively preaching the gospel and teaching the Word of God, then young men will be called into full-time Christian service. If a church doesn’t have young people going into the Lord’s service, then something is wrong with its ministry.
The call of God is evidenced by fruit – When God has put his hand upon a young man and separated him to full-time Christian service, there will be corresponding fruit. Therefore, before a council ordains a young man into the full-time ministry, there should be some evidence that God has used his preaching and teaching of the Word of God. Jesus noted, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16). The word ordain means to lay hands upon, and Jesus was indicating that He had chosen people to put His hands upon them to bring forth fruit.
The symbolic laying on of hands at an ordination service indicates that God has put His Spirit on the ministry of a young man. When he has preached, people have gotten saved. When he has taught the Word of God, people have become better followers of Jesus Christ.
Some people are called immediately when they are converted. They know when they pray for conversion, God also wants them to be a minister of the gospel. Some people receive a sudden and clear call to the ministry. They have been serving Jesus Christ, but in one experience, such as during a youth camp, or in a sermon, God impressed upon them to be a fulltime Christian servant. Their call became a life-changing event. And from that moment on, they were no longer the same.