Calling and Expectation
Being Busy and Alert
The Christian hope keeps us active. Hope has an effect in our life. Anyone who faithfully anticipates Christ’s coming is not inactive. We have a commission.
Our expectation and our call go together. With great emphasis the Holy Scripture warns us that we have to be watchful. “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:40). “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42). In this connection Calvin notes in his commentary, “It ought to be observed, that the uncertainty as to the time of Christ's coming—which almost all treat as an encouragement to sloth—ought to be felt by us to be an excitement to attention and watchfulness. God intended that it should be hidden from us, for the express purpose that we may keep diligent watch.”
Being watchful means being active. Now that Christ’s coming is imminent, this demands from us that we are busy and alert. The former is shown in the parables of the talents and the ten minas (Matt. 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27). We carry responsibility for what has been entrusted to us. It all comes down to faithfulness.
The believers, living as children of the light, need to be watchful and sober. To be watchful in this world we also need to be resilient and strong. There are enough dangers against which we have to arm ourselves in order to stand strong in the spiritual battle. For this purpose we put on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of hope (1 Thess. 5:1-11).
Calling and expectation may not be separated from each other. In our work we may not lose sight of the great future. With our looking forward to the day in which Christ will appear in glory we may not neglect our calling in this life.
This has often been accentuated with a reference to a saying ascribed to Luther. Although Luther had a strong desire for the last day and thought that the end was near, apparently he has also said, “If I knew that the world would be destroyed tomorrow, I would still today be planting my little apple tree.” There are various versions of this saying, and especially in German-speaking areas it has been used in multiple ways, even as an argument in favour of the view of progressive optimism that arose in the second half of the 20th century, but that did not at all correspond with Luther’s way of thinking.
Research has shown that a pronouncement about the end of the world and the planting of a tree is not found in any of Luther’s writings. A saying that did not originate with him could still fit with his character; but even that would remain a question.
A thought that is in line with Luther’s thinking—and indeed that of the other Reformers and definitely with that of Calvin—is: “May we be faithful in carrying out our office and calling, O Lord, to your great honour.” There is no contrast between these lines from the (Dutch) Morning Hymn and the well-known line from the Evening Hymn, “Make me heartily ready to expect your coming with joy.”
When all is well, we pose the question time and again for as long as God gives us life. That which is most important should carry most weight. According to our reformational conviction, that is labour in God’s kingdom. In view of the expectation of the coming of the Kingdom in its fullness, this task comes first.
It has been pointed out correctly that the sense of the intermezzo in the New Testament is shown not only in comforting and admonishing others, but also in the daily calling of all believers. “The Lord is not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). In its missionary task, the congregation is directly involved with this. It is activated in this service both through word and deed.
The expectation of the consummation is one of the motives of the sanctification of our life. It can be said that the consummation calls out for holiness. Without it no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). But the reverse is also true: sanctification calls out for consummation. It is precisely the temporary provision and the incompleteness that are directed toward the fullness.
It is clear as day from the New Testament that sanctification belongs to the preparation for the encounter with Christ. Paul writes, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thess. 3:12, 13). In 2 Peter 3:11-14 the admonitions are connected to the passing of this world and the expectation of a new heaven and a new earth. In 1 John 3:3 we do not read that everyone has to purify himself—however biblical this may be—but, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” The purification or sanctification is a reality.
1 Corinthians 15, a Scripture passage full of perspective, ends with the call, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Paul uses here for “labour” a word (kopos) that usually points to difficult labour, such as he himself performed. It is also the exertion of the love of the Christians in the congregation (1 Thess. 1:3). The work of the Lord is that work that the Lord wants us to be busy with; work that includes all forms of service, also the participation in the collection for the congregation in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1-4).
The days preceding the return of Christ are given to his people so that we would continue our calling, in his service.