The Upward Call
Jimmy Fallon (the host of The Tonight Show) always tells jokes and political humor but there was a serious moment in one of his shows a little while back. He said that he had an insight as to his calling in life when he spent some time in the hospital. He had a freak accident with his finger. He got his wedding ring caught in something and nearly ripped off his finger so he had to have extensive reparative surgery to sew his finger back on and he nearly lost it. So while he was in ICU and going through all of that he read a book that told him that his calling in life was that he was born to make people laugh. Doing this gave meaning to his life.
He had an inspired moment or an insight that he was meant to be a comedian, that was his calling. He's not alone in this type of introspective searching, a lot of people are looking for their reason for being and a lot of people ask the question: "why am I here?"
Of course Mr. Fallon's search was strictly the seeking of his earthly calling or earthly vocation, the desire to know what to do with this life. What work or mission will make me happy or best use my talents. He answered the question, "shall I be an artist?" "shall be a teacher, a farmer?" Will I work with my hands?" "will I be a stay-at-home mom?" "a social worker or yes even an actor a comedian?" What am I going to do with this life? And finding the answer to this question does give meaning and satisfaction to one's life here on earth. You have to add the 'here on earth' but it reveals nothing about the world to come.
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 3:14
In this passage, Paul the Apostle is referring to another type of calling, an upward calling that has nothing to do with how we earn our living or how we get satisfaction in this life. Note that Paul the Apostle is talking to Christians here (Christian's at Philippi) and because of this there is one fact that's understood. It's not written but it's understood between the lines. The fact that his readers (the Philippians) had already answered one call and we are now being encouraged to answer another call and this second call was the upward call connected to Jesus Christ.
The first call that they answered was the call to be saved. This is the call that God makes to all people through the gospel. This is a call to believe in Jesus, repent of sins, be baptized in order to be forgiven or to receive the Holy Spirit and the eternal life that the Spirit will raise us to after we die.
This call is expressed in a lot of different ways in the Bible. The biblical terms 'be saved' or 'come follow me' or 'obey the gospel' or 'be born again' all of these terms (if you wish) are ways that describe the call that God makes to every person for their salvation from a sure judgment and condemnation because of sin. A second call made specifically to Christians however is to persevere in the race for the prize of heaven. In the case of the Philippians, Paul encourages them to do as he does, forget the life that they had before answering the call to be saved and focus on the calling to finish the faithful Christian life they now have in order to receive the upward prize of heaven which is eternal life. All who are saved qualified to run the race for the prize of eternal life.
To win this prize, you don't have to be first and you don't have to be fastest but you do have to finish the race. Paul is saying that although he had an excellent religious pedigree as a Jewish Pharisee and now served as an Apostle gifted with the ability to do miracles and to speak the words given to him by God, he says to his readers he has not yet received the prize because he hasn't yet finished the race This is why he forgets the past and he stays focused on the prize for which he has been called to run by virtue of his conversion to Jesus Christ.
Now the same prize that his readers (Christians) as well as all those who have believed and been baptized also run and will obtain in the same way that Paul hope to obtain it, and how is that? By remaining faithful until the end of life. Jesus talks about that in Matthew 24:13. Now here's my point, you're wondering, well okay, we get it, you're a Christian, you run the race for the upward calling of the upward prize the upward prize is heaven. Okay we get that. Is the sermon over? Well it could be, that would be enough, but I want to mention a couple of other points here about that upward prize. You see in other parts of the New Testament, Paul and others mentioned that the way to stay focused on this upward calling was to answer three other callings that God makes of us and those are the things I want to share with you this morning.
Calling #1 - The Call to be Holy
1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
- Romans 12:1-2
So the first task of a new Christian is to separate himself from the world become different because he has answered the call to be saved and this is achieved by answering the other call to live a holy life. One that is in contrast to a past life or the life normally live by those who have not heard or responded to God's initial calling to be saved. Some think that the requirement to repent when one is called initially is like a one-time thing.
You know, we regret what we've done in the past and we make a resolution to do better in the future and then we are baptized and that's it no more repentance but repentance, brothers and sisters, is the spiritual exercise that cultivates the quality of holiness in our lives. We change or redirect our actions and attitudes concerning sinful thoughts and sinful actions and attitudes so that these become more aligned with how God thinks and what God does and how God responds and reacts to certain things and certain people.
This is what repentance does, repentance produces holiness and this holiness eventually serves to distinguish us from the unholy world that we live in. This personal holiness also confirms to our own hearts that we are well on our way to answering the upward call of God. In a difficult moment our hearts may ask us, "what are you doing?" "What is your life about?" and we can confidently answer, "I am pursuing holiness in the quest for the eternal life that God has called me to do." This is what my life is about. I am pursuing holiness and so holiness becomes the reason for being who and what and how I am in this world as a preparation for the who and what and how I will be in the next world.
A second call to answer in order to stay focused on the upward call is:
Calling #2 - The Call to be Fruitful
1 "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
- John 15:1-2
The call to be fruitful is the parallel call to find one's reason for being in the Kingdom as opposed to one's reason for being in the world. I may find my purpose in this life as an architect but now I answer the call to be fruitful in the Kingdom of God by developing abilities to serve in the church and to use my skills and growing the Kingdom.
3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
- Romans 12:3
For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function so we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us each of us is to exercise them accordingly. If prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith. If service, in his serving or he who teaches in his teaching or he who exalts in his exhortation he who gives with liberality he who leaves with diligence he who shows mercy with cheerfulness." Some have gotten the idea and I don't know where they got it they must have been watching the wrong people. Some have gotten the idea that their task in church is to listen to sermons, What's your ministry? "oh, I listen to sermons." Really that's your ministry? "ya I'm there all the time on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday, yeah" and so is that your ministry? "yeah, I'm there, I listened to the sermons." "I live a good life and I just waiting around for the end, for the reward."
Now the problem with this type of thinking is that it leads to spiritual atrophy, that in turn promotes the infection of worldliness, which ultimately extinguishes any fire of spirituality. We may have once had. You know the feeling! I've had this feeling and I'm the preacher. You're in the church building but you can't wait till it's over so you can do what you really want to do, fish, go to the beach go eat, go sleep, "how long till it's done?" Now the antidote to this kind of spiritual dryness and ambivalence is to answer the call to ministry. A Christian trying to live a holy life needs some sort of context. You don't experience holiness in a vacuum. As Christians we don't retire to monasteries to shut out the world or shut ourselves away from the temptations in order to protect our holy lives, that's not how it works.
God calls his Holy Ones to bear fruit, to win souls, to serve those in need, to build up the church, to sacrifice our goods our money our energy our very lives in his service. Answering the call to service and fruitfulness motivates our efforts at living a holy life. One promotes the other and keeps our eyes focused on the end prize. You know being an architect pays the bills but teaching the junior high Bible class is my higher purpose in answering the call to serve in the Kingdom. Look at Paul's example. Paul the Apostle's incredible history of ministry was the reason he could so clearly see the goal, to the point that even the threat of imprisonment and death could not dissuade him from carrying on his ministry to the church or corrupt his vision of the upward call he so diligently served. Holy people maintain their Godly spirit and vision of the upward call by helping others to seek and to know and to serve Jesus Christ. A third call to answer in order to stay focused on the upward call:
Calling #3 - The Call to Be Ready
The call to be ready defines a Christians expectations in this life and this brings us back to Pauls claims in the book of Philippians. In the first chapter of this letter Paul explains that he is ready to die and be with the Lord in heaven enjoying the prize for which he ran faithfully and thus successfully. He explains however that if this is what God does, this will be a hardship on his reader since they need his guidance and teaching and developing their own faithful lives. This attitude in Paul demonstrates the essence of being truly ready. The attitude where there is nothing but kingdom service left to do. In other words, no strictly earthly goals left to accomplish, no physical pleasures chased after to experience, no earthly treasure to collect, all have been displaced by spiritual goals, spiritual experiences, heavenly treasure to gain and to store.
Yes, I still live and breathe on this earth and experience life in this physical world but the eyes of my heart and the hope of my soul are firmly fixed on the upward calling that I affirm each day in the way I live my life. Paul was saying that the only thing that held him here on this earth was his service and life in the church and when the Lord felt that these were done with, he was ready to go. He didn't want to visit Rome. He didn't want to see the sights. He just wanted to be with the lord. We often hear people say that a person is ready, you know, she's ready to be with God. You ever notice when they say that "oh she's ready to be with God," usually when that person has got nothing left to live for here on earth.
No health left, no ability to enjoy any of Earth's pleasures, no contributions left to give for work or family, this is when we say, "this person is ready to be with God," think about that. Paul, however, had healthy had ability he had meaning in his life here on earth but all of it was devoted to building the kingdom not to experiencing more of the world and what it had to offer, God calls us to be holy and fruitful as a way to prepare us for heaven. Holiness and fruitfulness are necessary for us to be ready for death. This is why Paul was confident in facing death and why he could say that he was ready for death or to remain here to help the church. His life was holy and he had a history of fruitful service and because of this he was ready for God's final call, the call to death and judgment.
For those who have sought to respond to God's upward call, there is no fear of death there is no worry about judgment because the final call is one to come home in order to be with the God who has called this to this all of our Christian lives. My whole Christian life I've been getting ready to die. My whole Christian life I've been getting ready to die. I became a Christian in 1977 and since then everything I've done consciously has been to prepare myself to die. It doesn't matter if I don't ever see the Eiffel Tower of the Grand Canyon or the big rock in Australia or whatever. I'm sure those are all beautiful things.
But I have not prepared myself as I enter into advanced age to see more of this world. I've prepared myself to see the next world. The one that I was called to, many many years ago. So, how ready are you for God's final call? Well you can determine this by answering simple questions: Have you answered the call to be saved? I mean that's where it starts right there, that's the initial call. Have you answered the call to live a holy life?
Have you answered the call to be fruitful in your service and in your giving to God? So if you've answered the first call and like Paul are pressing forward continually answering the second and third calls, then you are as ready as you can be for the final call whenever it comes, because the final call will catch you in mid action. You'll be in mid-action. You'll be thinking about a prayer, you'll be preparing for service, you'll be in mid action. and the final call will come. If on the other hand, you have not answered the first call to be saved or you've neglected to answer the calls to holy living and fruitfulness, then consider the fact that you are still alive an act of mercy towards you from God personally because he is giving you more time to consider responding to all of his callings.
8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
- II Peter 3:8-9
If you haven't answered God's call and you're still here be thankful for his patience. The absolute certainty of life is that God will call all of us to account for our responses to him one day. The question will be, "why didn't you answer my call?" That's the answer that we'll have to give.
Some will be ready, some not. It's up to each one to decide. If you know that God is calling you in some way this morning then won't you respond to him now as we stand as we sing our song of song encouragement.