As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Peter M. Prange
What’s a Christian’s highest calling? In Martin Luther’s day, Christians were taught that they could do no better than to live a life of self-denial. The most determined took monastic vows, like young Luther, or entered a nunnery. Others made long and grueling pilgrimages to see the relics of some long-dead saint. Once there, pilgrims offered devoted prayers to the honored saint for themselves and for others. Through difficult, self-chosen acts of personal sacrifice like these, medieval Christians believed they could achieve a personal reformation and gain confidence–but never certainty—of an eternal place in heaven.
Realizing that high means low
Do we honestly believe any differently today? While the list of suggested, self-sacrificing acts may have changed—and become a bit easier!—don’t we often presume that the best Christians are those who sacrifice lots of time at church, give the biggest offerings, get their names in the church bulletin most frequently, or dedicate themselves to full-time ministry? Aren’t these people striving to meet a Christian’s highest calling?
Don’t get me wrong, many outward acts of Christian self-sacrifice are God-given blessings to the church. But in Ephesians 4, St. Paul gives us the best answer to what a Christian’s highest calling is. He tells us to aim for humility and gentleness, patience and bearing with one another in love. Think about that. Our highest calling is to be lowly and humble. Our highest calling is to bear—to get underneath and carry—one another in love.
Since when does high mean low? Since Jesus became our perfect Savior, that’s when!
Jesus preached to his disciples more than once about the radically different view we Christians are to have in this world, as he graciously brings about a personal reformation in us through the gentle whisper of the gospel. He said: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25,26). While the people of this world will think that “high callings” result in power and prestige, honor and glory, Christians are to realize that their high calling ends with unmentioned humility. It displays undeserved gentleness, unlimited patience, and unnoticed bearing with one another in love. No showiness. No ovations. Just inward, personal reformation that doesn’t get thanked in the after-service announcements.
Following Jesus’ high calling
It’s hard because it usually means silently putting up with one another and recognizing that sometimes your Christian brothers and sisters are going to do things that annoy you, irritate you, frustrate you, and even anger you. How much easier it is to do things at church that get us noticed by others and end with a gratifying, self-satisfying pat on the back!
But then Christians recall the gentle patience Jesus has for us and the lonely sacrifice he made for all sinners. Don’t you think we annoy, irritate, frustrate, and anger Jesus with our sins, mistakes, and foibles too? Of course! But Jesus bears with us quietly. He gently corrects, warmly encourages, lovingly forgives, and humbly serves without need for recognition.
It was his calling to which he has called us (1 Peter 2:21).
What a high and difficult calling it is, but Christians accept it to the glory of Jesus, the most fitting outcome to our personal reformation.
Author: Peter M. Prange
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019