Voices, Jammers and a Heavenly Calling
‘The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it’.1 Thess. 5:24
With this text, I was ordained to the ministry in my first congregation in Driebergen by Prof. Dr. J. Douma on Sunday 29th June 1980. It is surely a beautiful text to begin with as minister. You have a special calling, but you can never fulfil it in your own strength.
Yet, it is not only an induction text for ministers. The you in Greek is plural. In the verses 12, 14 and 25 of the same chapter, all the brothers and sisters of the Christian congregation in Thessalonica are addressed. It would be a misunderstanding to think only of church officers as soon as a text talks about calling or vocation. We all have a certain task, a commission. And there is certainly a need for a sort of confirmation of that. Just as ministers, elders and deacons are confirmed into office, so we, as church people would all like to be confirmed in our calling.
Who has called us after all? This question touches on the main thrust of this letter. Our calling comes from God (see 2:12 and 4:7). In Thessalonica, a heavenly appeal went out to the population. God had issued his call through the three men, Paul, Silas and Timothy who, as a missionary trio, have written this letter. You could call their letter a written confirmation. There it is, in black and white: God is calling you.
And that was not a one off event from the past. It does not say “the one who called you” but “the one who calls you”. God keeps on calling. He keeps on speaking to people through His Word; urging to grow in faith, live as Christian, to let yourself be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Again and again we are concretely confirmed in our calling. Surely God is not Someone calling in the wilderness?
Our problem is that we have such trouble with listening. And if we hear voices, they often come from our own surroundings or from our own heart. There are all sorts of jamming stations which create a lot of noise. Then the Godly call sounds far away as a voice from the past. Or the gospel is drowned out by sounds more pleasing to our ears.
But God keeps calling. Even if someone does see not the good of the church anymore. Is God not greater than the church? For this reason the church must always refer the people to the One who is calling.
God calls, also if someone is worrying about something else. But this has absolute priority, because God’s voice comes from a higher world.
God calls, also if someone still doubts or hesitates. Heavenly calling does not come from within but from above. However much hesitating and doubting, you are still someone with a calling…
The point is, that the initiative comes from the other side. We did not begin with God, God began with us. We do not need to feel called in order to be called. If I feel myself called to do something, then that can disappear just as quickly. If other people say something about me, I might say: I do not feel addressed. But here, we have to do with Someone who is completely reliable and completely trustworthy. God does not change his mind about his call. On the contrary, he confirms his words time and time again.
God also suits the action to the word. He calls you and he will do it. But what will He do? Taken on its own, this text can mean: He shall make it possible for us to answer our calling. You do not need to do it alone. You receive the strength to complete your task.
That is true, but the verses 23 and 24 are to be taken as a whole. It is an encouragement which follows a benediction: the prayer that God really will do with the readers what the writers have asked for. May God himself, the God of peace, be with you. May he sanctify your whole life. May he strengthen you in the expectation of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and encourage you in all oppression.
Paul, Silas and Timothy could do nothing more for the church in Thessalonica. They had to cut short their visit to the city, and had travelled further in the direction of Athens and Corinth. Nevertheless, the Thessalonians were not left to themselves. The One who calls shall do it; he shall keep the church in the faith, in a Christian direction, in sanctification, all with a view to the last Day.
The prayer of verse 23 means for us that we remain unharmed, so that we appear completely untouched when Jesus Christ returns. We read something about being whole three times. God shall sanctify you ‘through and through’, keep your ‘whole’ spirit, soul and body ‘blameless’. The Eternal One is busy guarding those chosen by Him, so that they are kept whole in everything.
God is so reliable and trustworthy, that He shall complete the work of his call. He oversees the whole process and wants to ensure that all parts will be finished. When He makes all things whole, man too is included in this: complete with spirit, soul and body.
Is it not unavoidable that we become damaged in this world? Nevertheless it remains sure, that God preserves us. Only, that is the end result of his work. Sometimes we shall only experience that at the very end: when our Lord returns. But the damage we have undergone is not irreversible, thank God! He shall heal us by saving us. After all, our calling remains valid until the end!