Calling is very different from employment. Calling has to do with the most primal issues in any persons life. Its the answer to the questions: Who am I and why am I here? Employment, however, is a practical matter. Its about doing something to generate the resources I need to live. Since we all need food, shelter and clothing, our employment is very important to us, but unless someone is financially unable to retire, most people set a date to retire from their job. Their productive years have passed, and their time for leisure and rest have come. Many look forward to those years as a reward for all their hard work. But calling, because its an assignment from God and because it is ultimately about helping people find eternal life, doesnt have a date at which it stops. We simply do what were called to do until we cant anymore. Of course, there are different seasons in everyones life, so our calling will be expressed in a variety of ways appropriate to each new season. But the point we need to see is that calling isnt like employment. Its not something from which we can retire; its who weve been created to be; its the way weve been designed to serve God. And I dont think it ends even when we die, because when Jesus returns to this planet each of us will be assigned an area of ministry for at least another thousand years (Rev 20:1-6). So, the ministry skills and godly character that are being developed in this age will almost certainly be used in the next.
As we try to reconstruct what happened to Paul after the Book of Acts ends, whether or not we believe he was released, his example challenges every one of us. He didnt stop serving Jesus until they killed him. If they arrested him, he preached to his guards; if they confined him to an apartment, he preached to everyone who came to visit; and by the way, it was during those years of confinement in Rome that he wrote the letters we call the prison epistles: Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians and Philippians.
If, in fact, he was released, then as well soon see he went right back to work caring for the churches he had founded and evangelizing an island he passed by as a prisoner (Crete), and a city (Nicopolis) that hadnt been reached yet. Were watching a man refuse to retire from his calling. In his mind, there was no expiration date on his assignment, at least, not in this life. Heres how he said it: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain (Php 1:21).
As long as he was alive, Paul intended to promote the cause of Christ, and when it came time to die he would simply step into His presence. Lets let his example challenge us to do the same.
The next chapter DBS (Sun-Sat)
The danger that arises when we read about people like Paul is that we tend to place them in a category which makes them so special, they become almost super-human. When that happens they lose their power to challenge us to follow in their footsteps. We no longer think of them as real human beings who struggle with the same temptations and weaknesses that we do; we stop looking at them as people whose example can show us whats possible if we too were to follow Christ as he or she did. If all we do is stand back and admire Paul and say a lot of nice things about him, well set up a wall that will prevent us from becoming like him. We might think something like this: Since he was so special, and were not, wed be foolish, even presumptuous, to think that we could ever be like him. No, we must learn to be content to lead our simple, predictable lives. But the truth is Paul was a normal human being. You could say about him what James said about Elijah,
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit (Jas 5:17-18).
James point in writing this is to say, Dont put Elijah the prophet in a special category in your mind that allows you to say, I could never do that. Elijahs prayer was effective because he was righteous (v16), and you can be too! What God did for him hell still do for us today. And Paul said the same sort of thing about himself. He challenged us to:
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ (1Co 11:1).
He didnt want us to admire him, he wanted us to follow him.
In Pauls footsteps
As we look at the circumstances surrounding the last years of Pauls life, the one feature that stands out above all others is his perseverance. He wouldnt quit
ever. Who could have blamed him had he gone back to Tarsus to recuperate and pray that a new generation rise up and take his place? But, instead, he went right back to work. One of the early church fathers, who served as a bishop in Rome only three decades after Paul died (Clement), wrote that Paul reached the limit of the west during his lifetime, and another document assumes as fact that he set out from Rome for Spain (F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, Eerdmans, 1977, pp.446-450). The early historian Eusebius said, that according to rumour Paul resumed his ministry of preaching after first appearing before Caesar (F.F. Bruce).
Paul is amazing, but hes not a super-hero. Hes a disciple of Jesus Christ whos showing us that we are to serve our Lord as long as we live. Here are three reasons, I believe, Paul did this so well:
1) Purpose: Paul knew his calling. He heard Jesus give him his assignment (Ac 26:12-20). There was no doubt in his mind what he was supposed to do, and he had the faith to do it because he heard it from God, not another human. Hearing Gods call is foundational and transformative. Paul spent the rest of his life obeying Jesus. Whenever he would grow weary or feel he had failed, he would come back to this truth and find new strength. Jesus hadnt spoken to him about a season of ministry, nor did He ask if he were willing to accept an assignment. In effect, Jesus said to him, Here are the people to whom I am sending you and heres how you are to help them. That understanding changed everything for Paul. His life was no longer his own. He was now someone elses servant. He understood that he must now live in such a way as to bring as many people to his Master as possible.
Note: Spiritual Formation 1A: Hearing Gods Call, Gm 101. Fall quarter: September 10th.
2) Perspective: Many Christians assume that the final judgment and the new heavens and earth occur immediately after Jesus return. But the Book of Revelation clearly states that between Armageddon (Rev 19:11-21) and the final judgment (Rev 20:10-15) there will be a 1,000-year period (Rev 20:1-9). John doesnt describe what will take place during those years except to say that resurrected believers will reign with Christ (Rev 20:4,6). Who they will rule and why is not said, but Jesus does (Mt 19:27-30; 25:19-23, 29), and so does Paul (1Co 6:2-3). Paul viewed his life from a biblical perspective. He knew where he fit in now, and where he would go next. He often referred to this as his hope, and its what he would explain when he talked about the Kingdom of God. To persevere like he did, we need the same perspective. I think the Bible reveals five chapters of human history:
Chapter One: The season of unbroken fellowship with God which Adam and Eve experienced before they sinned.
Chapter Two: The period between the Garden of Eden and the resurrection of Christ. Human effort to obey God fails, and a family is prepared for the Messiah (Abraham, Judah, David, Mary).
Chapter Three: Gods house is filled with many children (Lk 14:21-23). The cross and resurrection have released kingdom blessings on individuals, but the devil is also still at work. This is the period between Jesus first coming (Lamb) and His second coming (Lion).
Chapter Four: This is the 1,000-year period between the return of Christ and the final judgment. Gods kingdom comes to earth and resurrected saints minister and govern the large population of unbelievers who survive the events of the last days (seals, trumpets, bowls). Salvation and death will still be taking place. This is the promise the Old Testament prophets saw so clearly.
Chapter Five: God will destroy the old universe and create a new one (Rev 22), which, like our resurrected bodies, will be immortal. Sin, sorrow and death will never again afflict us, and we will have unbroken fellowship with Him forever. The final number of people saved is complete.
In other words, Paul knew he was living in Chapter Three; on his way to Chapters Four and Five. So he didnt want to waste the time he had left.
3) Passion: Paul was passionate in serving Christ. He really loved Him, and that love drove him forward. Because of that love he refused to be self-protective; he gladly gave up his rights to pleasure, safety and even self-fulfillment. To live that way is never the result of one decision, its always the result of many decisions. Just like you and I, Paul had to choose this path day after day, and situation after situation; he had to refuse the temptation to feel sorry for himself, to envy others, or to quit.
I admit that often our journey through the Book of Acts, the thoughts of following in Pauls footsteps is overwhelming. I cant conceive of myself doing some of the things he did. But thats not the challenge his life is meant to present us. I dont have to do what he did, I simply have to do what Im called to do like he did. I too need to serve Jesus with purpose, perspective and passion, and then someday Ill step into the next chapter and serve Him some more
and I cant think of anything more wonderful!
1) Do you know Gods call on your life? Many believers do not. What steps could you take to hear that call?
2) In what way does Pauls example challenge you?