Text: Ephesians 4:1-6
You have likely heard about subject, direct object, indirect object, predicate noun, and some other uses that nouns can have in English. But have you heard of the vocative? The vocative is the case of a noun when someone is being addressed or called. Anytime you lean out the window and say your child’s or spouse’s name in order to get their attention and let them know they need to answer the phone or that dinner is waiting, you are using the vocative. It turns out, the vocative is pretty common in Scripture.
We find it in Genesis 6. Noah, in all of his 500 years, had never once seen a drop of rain. But God told him, Rain is coming. Build a boat. Then the vocative appears again, in Genesis 12. Abram, wandering through Haran with his father after having left Ur, with the idols of his people in his tents, was told to go up from that place to another land of which he was told nothing else. And he went.
Later, we find the vocative in Exodus 3. Moses, 40 years after fleeing Egypt on account of having murdered an Egyptian, witnessed a bush that was in flames but not consumed. In 1 Samuel 2, a young temple servant was just trying to get a good night’s sleep after a long day’s work under the priest, Eli. But instead, Samuel kept hearing his name.
Isaiah found himself standing in the throne room of God in the sixth chapter of the book that bears his name. While there, he wept bitterly, and then heard the question: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? A young Jeremiah was told to stand before kings and nations. A fisherman named Simon was overwhelmed in Luke 4 when the nets he and his crew had been using all night to no avail were filled to the brim. Then he was told, “Follow me.” A brazen and bold Saul, with a vendetta to complete in Damascus, had to be blinded, but then heard, “Why are you persecuting me?”
The righteous and the pagan, the busy and the resting, the zealous and the murderer, each found themselves in the same position. Each met God, who had a plan, a purpose, and an agenda for them. They found their names in the vocative, on God’s lips. They were being summoned. They were, as we more commonly refer to it, called.
We speak easily of being called. Virginia Baptists even recognize a certain Sunday each year known as “Consider Your Call” Sunday. It’s the last Sunday of October each year, so it was just last week. The point of the observance is to get us to consider our own encounters with God and how He might be calling us. Perhaps God might even be calling some to commit more of their time, or perhaps even their whole working lives, to His full-time service.
This is the third church I have served, though I have been to interviews with committees of churches where I did not serve. Each time, the committee conducting the interview has never failed to ask me to tell them about my call to ministry. The assumption on the part of the committee is that if someone is working in ministry, it is because God has specifically spoken to him or her and instructed in a particular course and endeavor. We ministers are called, not just generally, but specifically, to do certain things with certain people. Peter went to the Jews and Paul went to the Gentiles. Some ministers work here, others work there. There is calling involved.
Paul makes it clear in Ephesians 4:1 that all of us have been called, at least all of us who believe in the work of Christ on our behalf. Specifically, both those who are Jews and those who are Gentiles are called and together we form one body. We are all fellow heirs through the Gospel. We are one family, one kingdom, one army, with one task, serving one Lord, preaching one Gospel, baptizing with one baptism.
How are we called? The New Testament leaves no room for doubt. In every use of both the noun and verb forms of this word, “called,” in Greek (klesis or kaleo), every use in the New Testament means the same thing. Without exception, being called in the New Testament is the specific, technical idea of being called to follow Christ in saving faith. Peter, Andrew, John, James, Levi the tax collector, Saul the persecutor: they were all called to follow Jesus and to be saved by their faith in Him.
We, too, have been called in the same way. We have been summoned to forsake ourselves and all others and to follow Christ and Christ alone. We die to ourselves, our dreams, our desires, and our pursuits in order to follow Christ. As Peter and Andrew left their fishing boats, so we answer Christ’s summons and leave what we have known in order to seek what we may find in and through Him. All of us who are Christians have been called in this way. We are, truly, a called people.
As ministers are presumed to have a call from God that gives them a particular task to accomplish, so all of us who have been called into God’s family have also been given a task. What’s the task? Our task is to walk. Walking doesn’t seem too hard, until we notice that our walk has a descriptive modifier attached to it. In Greek, the modifier is axios. We are to live out our called life, Paul says, worthily. That is, we are to live the kind of life that corresponds to the standard of the call to which God has called us.
So we are all called, and as called ones we are tasked with walking in our call, and the walking in our call demands that we walk a certain way. What is the way in which we, who are the called ones, are to walk? Paul does not leave us guessing. He gives five specific characteristics of the kind of walk our life should follow as those who are called.
First, we are to walk with humility. Humility is that virtue, which, upon realizing that you possess it, you immediately have lost. The humble continuously defer to others who are thought to be better, greater, clearer, purer, wiser, worthier. For those who are called, we always defer to Christ. We are never to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. Our calling does not make us special, or more deserving, or entitled. We are none of those things. We are sinners who have been called out of the life we have lived and into a new life by the grace and will of God. Nothing more, nothing less. All wisdom, honor, power, strength, and glory is passed on to our God who alone deserves the praise of such things. Our walking in life needs to be characterized by humility such as this, before Christ and before our fellow man.
Second, we are to walk with gentleness. Gentleness implies that we go with great care and consideration. We are gentle with things that are fragile. We are gentle with people or items that we might wound, scar, or hurt easily. I liked the way one dictionary defined the underlying word: “Strength that accommodates to another’s weakness.”
As Christians, we come from a position of great power and strength, but we must walk in the world with all gentleness and consideration. We must recognize that our freedoms might lead another to sin. We must realize that not everyone experiences the grace and forgiveness that we enjoy. We must realize that others are weaker than we are. We are not to gloat in our strength – we must remain humble. But we walk with gentleness, caring carefully for the other souls that we encounter from place to place, who are struggling, lost, lonely, and afraid.
Third, we are to walk patiently. There are levels and degrees of patience in the world. There is a kind of patience that is tested while waiting in the one line available at the store. There is another kind of patience that endures the unending exploration of a three year old’s refrain, “But why?” But neither one of these is the kind of patience in which Paul is saying that we must walk. Paul goes on to explain this patience as the kind that “puts up with one another in love.”
The King James Version’s “long-suffering” may be a better picture of the kind of patience that we are to have. We are to be willing to suffer or endure the frustrations and difficulties that arise, particularly the frustrations and difficulties brought on by doing life together. It is easy to be overwhelmed and frustrated with someone else in the church and to lash out at them in anger. Paul says, don’t do it. Be patient with them. God is not yet done with them. He is not yet done with you, for that matter.
Be patient. Endure. Hold out with brotherly love. Let that win the day, rather than an angry outburst. Let your Christian walk – your calling – be characterized by a long-suffering patience that endures struggles, even or particularly when those struggles cause personal harm or injury to self or to reputation. Endure patiently. Act gently. Live humbly.
Fourth, walk lovingly. In particular, walk in the same kind of love with which God loves us. Greek has a number of different words to cover the range of meanings that our English word “love” covers. Here in Ephesians for, the love is agape, the unconditional love that does not need or even expect to be reciprocated. Love others simply because God loves them. Don’t love them for what they will be able to do for you one day. Don’t love them because of what they have done for you. Don’t love them because of the similarity of your DNA. Love unconditionally. Love even when it hurts. So God loved you, love others.
Fifth, walk in such a way as to eagerly seek out unity and peace. Find ways to promote the truth that we are one people, one body, with one faith, serving one Lord, baptized with one baptism, energized and equipped by one Spirit, longing for and expecting one hope, worshipping one God and Father. In all these ways we are brought together. We are knitted into one unit, one family. This world and its prince love to divide and to separate. Resist it. Find ways to unify and to bring together. Be known as a peacemaker, not a troublemaker. Make your words diplomatic and calming, not divisive.
We are called, all of us. And our calling demands that we live in a certain way, that our walk match our talk. We are called by one God in the power of one Spirit through the blood of one Lamb. And we are called to one task: to walk worthy of the calling with which we have been called. May we as Monte Vista be known as a church that is humble, gentle, patient, loving, and eager to bring our community – both the near community and far scattered community – together in peace and in love.
Which of these walking characteristics do you most struggle with? None of us has yet arrived. We are all lacking somewhere. Where are you lacking? Where can you be seeking God to improve you so that your walk matches your call, you life matches your salvation? Our calling is not fire insurance or a one way ticket to heaven. Our calling is to a life lived for the fullness of God. We seek that fullness as far as our call changes the way in which we walk.