What Does a Call Look Like?
I’ve been talking to several people over the past couple of week about that term “calling.” Just what does a “call” look like?
In baseball, they have the “call to the bullpen” where the old pitcher comes out and a new pitcher comes in to take over the rest of the game.
Then there is another way to use the word:
“My name is Zebediah, but you can call me Zeb.”
In that case, the person wants you to call them by a certain title or nickname.
Then you have the doctor version of it. “I am on call.”
And there are multiple other uses of the word…
“’Should I call the men from up on the hill?’ he called out.”
But what about in Christianity? Let’s look at a couple verses and determine what this word actually means and if it is even biblical to say “I have a calling to go into the ministry.”
Ephesians 4:1-3 – I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Romans 11:29 – For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
2 Peter 1:10 – Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
1 Corinthians 1:26-27 – For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
That is a lot to digest!
Let’s unpack each of these verses and throw in some of the church history as well.
To begin, the general call in the Bible is to a live with Christ. That is the first and foremost call in the Bible.
Romans 1:5-6 – through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ
Belonging to and in Christ is a much deeper calling than anything else in there. When one starts to discern a calling from a Christian standpoint, we need to make sure they have first a restored relationship with God and with His people.
This means that the primary call of the Christian is to respond to and act upon the call to participate in God’s redemptive work in the world.
This means that whatever work we choose must be integrated with the participation with Christ Himself. We could be a plumber, but as a plumber, we can work for the Kingdom by repairing relationships, showing justice, acting with mercy and grace and other components of the kingdom.
Next, God has given us a call to work. God created us to work. It started all the way back in the Garden of Eden. In Exodus, we are told that we are to work for 6 days and then rest. So you could say that it goes beyond calling, we are created to work. In the very beginning the call to basically be a farmer was the highest calling there was other than unity with God (until Eve came along that is).
Next, we are called to, well, life. Our work is not merely the job from which we get a paycheck. We raise families, have a spouse, and have friends.
Eve came along and Adam was then so smitten with her that he gave his time and attention to her as well as working his job in the Garden. This means we should balance our paid work and personal work with our families and friends.
So, to this point, we know that we are called to belong to Christ. We are created to work. And we are called to have a full life, filled with family and friends.
Knowing what kind of work you do is probably not that high on God’s list of things that are of critical importance.
But let’s look at whether God calls us to particular work.
We do know it does happen. God has called several people in the Bible to specific work. He called prophets. He called Noah to build an ark. He called Moses and Aaron to their roles. Many of the political leaders we see in the Bible, God elevated them to their roles. Even though the word “call” is not used here, there is no mistaking that God called those people to their roles.
I have read several commentaries that said that God called very few people in the Bible. And, I guess He didn’t call a lot of people numerically. But if you take that as a percentage of the people mentioned in the Bible, it is actually pretty high. And if you include the people we don’t get to “meet,” then that is a very high number. We don’t see all the people who went on to plant churches in the New Testament or all of the Israelites whose sole job it was to protect the Ark of the Covenant.
But were many of these calls a direct “voice from heaven” moment or were they more subtle, such as being attuned to the heart of God through Scripture and meditation? There are several ways to discern where God wants to place you as far as a career goes.
First, we need to look at the needs of the world. We are told in Scripture that we should support ourselves and our families.
1 Timothy 5:8 – But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Titus 3:14 – Let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.
We also are expected to meet the needs of those who are not part of our family.
Proverbs 14:21 – Happy are those who are kind to the poor.
Proverbs 11:25 – A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.
Or what about working to be productive in society? That is Scriptural as well.
Jeremiah 29:5-7 – Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Next, God gives us each talents and gifts. We should use those gifts not only for the edification of the body of believers, but for the society as a whole.
Isaiah 28:24-26 – Do those who plow for sowing plow continually? Do they continually open and harrow their ground? When they have leveled its surface, do they not scatter dill, sow cummin, and plant wheat in rows and barley in its proper place, and spelt as the border? For they are well instructed; their God teaches them.
1 Corinthians 12:7-10 – To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
This is where knowing what you are good at and what spiritual gifts the Lord has given is important. This happens by talking to those closest to you, realizing your talents and spiritual gifts tests.
For example, I know that God has given me the ability to take large tasks and get them accomplished. I have managerial skills and leadership ability. I also have the ability to preach and to teach. That is what has helped me to confirm my calling into ministry. But similar skill set could be used to be a training manager for a company or a military commander.
Finally, what has God given you as your desires? Your fulfillment of purpose is vitally important to God.
Psalm 37:4 – Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Matthew 5:6 – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
John 16:24 – Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
Because of sin, however, our desires can get all screwed up. Doing what makes us happiest will not always bring the greatest fulfillment. God is looking out for our fulfillment of purpose, not mere happiness that comes and goes with the circumstances.
Does this mean that being “called” into the ministry is a higher calling? Around the Middle Ages, becoming a monk or a nun was considered a higher calling. Even to this day, we still see that played out. I have been fairly consistent in believing that while I welcome the benefits that the government affords those in ministry, they further create a divide into calling versus higher calling, and that is a mentality that needs to stop.
But fact of the matter remains, God does call people into vocational ministry.
Exodus 28:1 – Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests — Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
Mark 1:16-17 – As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
Acts 13:2,5 – While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” ….When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them.
Regardless, Christians are called, yes called, to conduct themselves to the full-time service of Christ.
Colossians 3:23 – Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters.
But, Fred, what about 1 Timothy calling out those who are elder or pastor as it actually being a higher calling?
1 Timothy 5:17-18 – Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves to be paid.”
This should be translated more in line with pay rather than about comparing their work with other peoples’ work. The true comparison in this passage is about pastors who rule well versus those who don’t instead of pastors versus the rest of the world.
Whew….That was a lot. But I believe this will give some insight, mostly to myself, about the word calling and what it is to the Christian.
Zechariah 8 Commentary
Zechariah 8:1 – And the word of the Lord of hosts came, saying,
As we have seen before, this tells us that we have yet another message coming from God.
Zechariah 8:2 – “Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath.
The word “jealous” is typically used when God is telling of something that He is intensely passionate about. Some translations use the phrase “zealous.” In Exodus 20:5, we learn that God is jealous and will not tolerate anything rivaling His glory. This phrase is being used to show that He is passionate about restoring his covenant with His people.
The phrase “Thus says the Lord” is in this chapter of Zechariah 10 times. When we see this phrase, it is to stress the promises God has made with His people.
Zechariah 8:3 – Thus says the Lord: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts, the holy mountain.
I find it interesting that some versions of the Bible call Jerusalem a “city of truth” and the ESV calls it the “faithful city.” While they can be used to mean similar things, reading it without context can lead to confusion.
A faithful city is one that will be faithful to the Lord. Yes, that does include the truth of God’s Word and love, but I think that we can easily pass by that word in the Bible in our 21st century American minds. When I read other versions and see “city of truth” I perceive a city that is ruled by God and their words and their actions are both based on the truth of God alone.
I believe the phrase “city of truth” needs to be used here rather than “faithful city” because of the tie it has to verse 16. This would make this chapter more consistent with the rest of the book.
We also see in this verse the “holy mountain,” which ties back to Isaiah 6:3. The mountain is holy because God is there.
We need to remember that simply returning from captivity did not end the sin that God’s people would do. This is more prophetic than historical in nature. The sin won’t come to an end until the Savior returns a second time.
Zechariah 8:4 – Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age.
Think of what those who were in captivity returned to. Jerusalem’s walls were all destroyed and they were coming back to a city that was a ghost of what it once was.
Between this verse and the next, we see that God is promising to have the city be vibrant once again.
Zechariah 8:5 – And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.
There would be families once again growing in Jerusalem. The Targum (a spoken translation of the Tanakh, or the Scriptures, in a language for the common people) says that instead of playing in the streets, these children will be singing or praising God in the spaces of the city.
Children are seen to be a blessing from God. With these same children playing in the streets, they have nothing to fear. Peace has come to Jerusalem.
Zechariah 8:6 – Thus says the Lord of hosts: If it is marvelous in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous in my sight, declares the Lord of hosts?
The people must have marveled at being called home. I am sure that the captives were struggling to not lose hope, but the situation that they were in must have seemed hopeless.
This one act, bringing God’s people home, was a miracle that only God could make happen!
Zechariah 8:7 – Thus says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country,
This is a very interesting verse! Think of this in terms of history. The Israelites were taken captive to the north. The western scattering didn’t happen until the first century AD! At this point, there were no Jews in the western world.
I really believe there are two different ways to look at this verse: physical and spiritual. In the physical sense, east and west could mean the entire world. Think of Deuteronomy 30:3: “That then the Lord your God will turn your captivity, and have compassion on you, and will return and gather you from all nations where the Lord has scattered you.”
In the spiritual sense, God is speaking of the salvation that is offered to the entire world. Think of verses like Malachi 1:11 or 1 Timothy 4:10.
Zechariah 8:8 – and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.”
When I read this verse, I immediately think of Hebrews 8:10: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them on their hearts: and I will be to them a God and they shall be to me a people.”
But then I realize that the verse in Hebrews is reverse of this. In this verse, the people must want to be God’s before He will be theirs.
This is one of the most important promises in all of Scripture! Imagine the awesome time we will have with God being our God and us being His people! This is both physical and spiritual. It isn’t just for Jews. It is for all.
Zechariah 8:9 – Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Let your hands be strong, you who in these days have been hearing these words from the mouth of the prophets who were present on the day that the foundation of the house of the Lord of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built.
God is talking about the building of the temple in this case. He is encouraging His people to get the temple built. The foundation of the temple had been laid over 15 years before this was written. As we will see in the upcoming verses, the were running out of money and they were facing opposition.
But one can’t help but think about Ephesians 6:10 in this: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”
Zechariah 8:10 – For before those days there was no wage for man or any wage for beast, neither was there any safety from the foe for him who went out or came in, for I set every man against his neighbor.
This is a backward look at a forward promise. God is telling them that where they came from was very poor in condition compared to where He is about to bring them to.
Zechariah 8:11 – But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, declares the Lord of hosts.
God is not going to allow the same fate to happen to this remnant that He did to the people before.
Zechariah 8:12 – For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.
This verse and the next show the depth of God’s promises to His people. God is about to reverse the curses from Deuteronomy 28 and Jeremiah. Let’s look closer at this.
There will be a sowing of peace. Most other versions have listed “the seed shall be prosperous.” I think I like the other versions more than the ESV again in this. Simply saying that there is a sowing of peace doesn’t show the countering of Haggai 1:6 in which there would be sowing and it wouldn’t come to much.
Then we see that the vine will give her fruit and the ground shall give its produce. This is a counter to Haggai 1:11 in which there was a drought.
The heavens will give their dew. Again, we are countering Haggai 1:11 in which the drought was prevalent.
Zechariah 8:13 – And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong.”
Both Judah and Israel are brought back. Unified. God is not going to have them be a curse among the nations, but a blessing. A couple of verses to think about for this:
Genesis 12:2 – And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
Then another one that speaks to this, after Jesus was resurrected,
Galatians 3:28-29 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave to free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.
Zechariah 8:14 – For thus says the Lord of hosts: “As I purposed to bring disaster to you when your fathers provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent, says the Lord of hosts,
So for the idolatry, abominations, and sins of the fathers, God brought disaster to His people. He didn’t end the relationship, however. As these are His sons and daughters, He wanted them simply to turn back. His people needed punishment.
Zechariah 8:15 – so again have I purposed in these days to bring good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah; fear not.
God has forgiven them and has chosen now to bless them. Just as in Isaiah 14:24 we see that whatever God plans He does, the same can be said here. The time for fear has passed. The time for abundant faith and blessing has come.
Zechariah 8:16 – These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace;
As in all other times, the blessings come with obedience. We can’t expect to see God’s blessings if we choose to be disobedient. We see similar words in Psalm 15:1-5 when David asks who can live on the holy hill.
To stay under God’s blessing, these need to be a people who will speak the truth and execute honest judgment. Ephesians 4:25 tells us to speak truthfully to our neighbor and to put away our lying.
Zechariah 8:17 – do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord.”
Our hearts determine who we are. Our character. Anything that runs counter to God’s Law is hated by God. Just as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5 we are to take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ.
Zechariah 8:18 – And the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying,
We are about to get a new message. This is one that includes us Gentiles in it as part of the promises.
Zechariah 8:19 – “Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace.
The fasts that are listed, which were to commemorate the destructions and/or deaths of others, are now to be feasts that are joyful times to celebrate what the Lord has done for the remnant returning.
Zechariah 8:20 – “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities.
This tells us that people from all over the different cities will be coming to Jerusalem. I like to think that this is foreshadowing the travels of Paul. Paul traveled all over the place and the people he came in contact with became part of the family. This is the same family that God is talking about in this verse.
Zechariah 8:21 – The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’
The people from the other cities will come to seek the Lord. These Gentiles care about each other. This reminds me of John 13:35 where Jesus tells His disciples that people will know they are His by the love they show one another. The fact that these Gentiles are going to each other to help them seek Christ shows that love that Jesus is talking about.
Zechariah 8:22 – Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord.
This is very exciting! People from all around the world will come to seek God and to pray to Him. Galatians 3:8 says that God justifies the heathen through faith and that all nations are blessed.
Zechariah 8:23 – Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”
Ok, here’s a question. Why “ten?” Typically when ten nations is used in a verse it stands for the world governments. This means that the world will be seeking Christ. The Gospel was given to the Jew first, then the Gentile. But God is available for all nations.
Revelations 7:9-10 – After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, all kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.
I really appreciate you sharing this!