Sustained by Your Divine Calling

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Amidst the awesome beauty of God’s creation at Garmisch, Germany, I gathered with some chaplains and wives from Europe to reflect upon the essentials of ministry from the Pastoral Epistles. During our time in God’s Word, we discovered four essentials for ministry and mission:

A Sacred Encounter with God

A Divine Calling from God

A Confident Hope in God; and

Doctrinal Convictions from God’s Word.

What a glorious time and a high and holy honor and priviledge to serve those who serve God and Country so very well. What follows is a combination of manuscript and outline from one of those sessions: Divine Calling. I offer it here for other pastors, seminary students and those being called, to reflect upon, pray over, and improve.

1 Timothy 1.12, 18-20; 4; 6.20; 2 Timothy 1.6-14; 2.1-2, 10, 14-15; 4.1-5

“Romancing our Calls”

As I taught some years ago at a seminary, and taught from the passages we are going to read today, a young lady in the class, who was not from a Reformed denomination, told me, “What you are doing is ‘Romancing our Calls.” That is a good phrase for what we are going to do today.

As Paul writes the pastorals, towards the end of this life, perhaps in 62-68, he is able to help Timothy and Titus to address the trials of ministry through their vocations. He thus not only stirs them up to memory of their calls to Christ but their calls to serve him as a minister of the Gospel.

As I read this Word of the Lord I unveil my agenda right now: I want to romance your call in order to fulfill your ministry. But I don’t have to motivate you or manipulate you with rhetorical flourish. I just have to be faithful to show you the Word of the Lord. The Spirit in you, who called you, will resonate with Himself in His Word. It is as easy as bringing you and your wife together and saying, “Now, love each other.” You will because you do. And that relationship is here as well.

This is the inerrant and infallible Word of the Lord.

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 1Timothy 1.12

 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 1Timothy 1.18 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 19 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. 20

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 1Timothy 4.1 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 2 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 3 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 4 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 5

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 1Timothy 4.6 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 7 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 8 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 9 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 10

Command and teach these things. 1Timothy 4.11 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 12 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 13 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 14 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 15 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 16

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 1Timothy 6.20

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 2Timothy 1.6 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 7

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 2Timothy 1.8 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 9 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 10 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 11 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. 12 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 13 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. 14

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2Timothy 2.1 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 2Timothy 2.10

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 2Timothy 2.14 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 15

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2Timothy 4.1 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 2 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 3 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 4 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 5

Prayer of Illumination

O Christ, who did give gifts to me for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, do send Your Spirit upon this message from Your Word, that from this time, this encounter with Thee, we may all leave with a renewed sense of Your mission in the world and our commitment to that mission through the Divine calling that has come upon us, so graciously, so amazingly, and so wonderfully. In Your Name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.

Introduction to the Message

How do you approach your ministry. Is it a “practical” theology” that is primarily aimed at “how to” or is it a “pastoral theology” grounded in the Biblical-theological truths of the Reformation? We need to think about this carefully. It will determine the character and lasting impact (or temporary impression) of your whole ministerial career. I would say that the answer to this question will also determine whether you are a candidate for burn out in the ministry, whether you have the strength to run the race of faith in the ministry, and how you deal with both success and disappointment in the pastoral ministry. In short, the answer to the question will provide the over arching and all encompassing way you conduct your ministry.

Martin Bucer (1491-1551) is helpful to us in this question. For this, sadly, little studied pastor-scholar who remains, “a reformer in the wings” as Andres Purves refers to him, all pastoral ministries must be “rooted directly in biblical and Reformational faith and …oriented to the practical care of souls.” Bucer, a great churchman, pastor at Strasbourg, a teacher of Calvin, a framer of Reformed worship, a contributor to the Book of Common Prayer (1552) and an esteemed professor of theology at Cambridge (his body buried in English soil, and then exhumed by Queen Mary four years after his death to be burned in public [only later to be “restored to full honor” five years after that by Elizabeth I). Bucer teaches us that the warrant, calling and work of the pastor is not only grounded in the Word of God and in the theological commitments of the Reformation but must be embraced personally by the pastor. In other words, the pastoral ministry is not just a Biblical idea, though it must be that, it is a Spirit-shaped reality in the soul of the one called to be a pastor.

I will never forget that after I came to the end of my wrestling to follow the call to ordained ministry and to go to seminary, I visited my dear Aunt Eva who had reared this orphan boy as my mother. As I visited her, in Kansas, the chaplain of the nursing home came up to me. “Dr. Eckley” was a man of about Ninety years old himself. But he ministered to the residents there with the energy and seriousness and pastoral care that must have marked his long career as a Nazarene pastor, district superintendant, and missionary. “Mike, “he began with a kindly smile, “I heard you are going to seminary.” I told him that I was. He drew closer to me, eyeball to eyeball and I could smell the eggs on his breath that he had eaten for breakfast. “Son, I have one serous question for you: are you really called by God to shepherd His flock?” I paused. I drew back a little and gathered myself before I answered. I was careful in my words. “Well, Dr. Eckley, I think so.” His eyes became like flames at my answer. “Well, Son, then you are not ready to follow the Lord.” I was dumbstruck. “Boy if you only ‘think’ that you are called, then you will fall. You better ‘know’ that God has laid His hand upon you. You better have known His holy call in your soul. You need to know what God says about pastors in His Word and the great burden of souls that a minister will bear all of the days of his life. I tell you this, son, because when the winds of hardship blow your way you only have one thing. Do you know what that is” I hesitated to break up his private sermon he was giving me but I felt I better answer. “The call?” “Yes! You only have your call from God! When they give you a Christmas raise and then run you out on a rumor, when the devil stirs up opposition against you for the sake of Jesus, and when you are hurt like our Lord was hurt, you will only have one thing to help you pick up your things and move on to the next field of service. Do you know what that is?” I decided not to answer. “You know what it is? It is your calling from God.” We both stood there looking at each other without talking. This eternity lasted for about a minute I guess. And then he laid down the hammer for the final time. “Son, are you called by God to be a pastor according to the Word of God?” I whispered that I thought I should go home and pray about that. And brothers, I did. And I reviewed again what God’s Word said. I came face to face again with the weight of the ministry as well as the unbelievable joys, which must also be in it. And I believed that God was calling even me to preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ our Lord. And that calling has never left me to this day. I went back and told Dr. Eckley that I could answer his question. “By God’s grace, I am called and am ready to take up the cross if He will help me.” “Good,” the old Wesleyan said to this Calvinist. “Good, Mike. Go and preach the Gospel. Go to seminary and learn what it is that will ground you in the ministry of the Gospel for the rest of your life.”

In the field of battle that Timothy was facing, the old pastor-apostle, Paul, knew that if Timothy was going to confront the devil, face off with his willing and unwitting agents who sought to destroy the good work which Paul himself had laid down in life and teaching, then Timothy was going to have to be grounded in his calling to be a preacher of the Gospel of grace.

It is what you need. It is what I need. It is the thing that will stand us in good stead. It will see us through the storms. And that is not some old Nazarene preacher opining. That is the Word of the Lord for our lives today. And this “Divine Calling” is an essential tool that each of us need to put in our rucksack as we head back to the ministry.

In all of these passages in which Paul deals with this matter, let us learn the facets of the calling which will be of encouragement and sustainment to us in the challenges of ministry. And let me list them out for us as a sort of affirmation of ministry according my divine calling as a minister of Jesus Christ.

1.     I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 1Timothy 1.12

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of Jesus Christ not because I chose to serve Him but because He summoned me to serve Him.

2.     This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 1Timothy 1.18

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and have been covered by the prayers and blessings of other faithful men and women who believed in me.

3.       This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 1Timothy 1.18 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 19 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. 20

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ but through the neglect of the means of grace and by giving entrance to the devil can abuse my calling and bring hurt and disgrace upon myself and my family and dishonor upon the name of Christ and His Church.

4.     Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 1Timothy 4.1 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 2 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 3 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 4 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 5

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I labor not in a field of dreams where I can build it and they will come, but in a field of thorns where if I preach it they might leave!

5.     If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 1Timothy 4.6 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 7 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 8 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 9 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 10 Command and teach these things. 1Timothy 4.11 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 12 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 13 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 14 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 15 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 16

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and must exercise my ministry by being constantly trained in the vital areas of my ministry.

 i.     Faith

 ii.     Doctrine

 iii.     Spiritual discernment and pastoral wisdom

 iv.     Presenting Jesus as the Living God and Savior of all peoples

v.     Exhortation and teaching

vi.     Holiness of life

vii.     Public Reading of the Scriptures

 viii.     Unique spiritual gift for the ministry

ix.     “Sanctification by Vocation”

6.     O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. 1Timothy 6.20a

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I am the living repository of the Gospel ministry handed down in an “apostolic succession of faith.”

7.     Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 1Timothy 6.20b

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and am a Man of One Book and One Message who avoids the contamination of that Book and that Message by other competing messages

8.     For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 2Timothy 1.6

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who did not take this honor unto myself but was welcomed into the college of preachers by other preachers and therefore can stand firm.

9.     for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2Timothy 1.7

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my Lord has given me the gifts I need and will need, in my spirit, cultivated through the means of grace, to stand firm and conduct the ministry of the Gospel.

10. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 2Timothy 1.8

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and if I suffer because of my message or my Master then my suffering will be empowered by God to supernaturally enroll me into the League of Suffering Saints throughout all of the ages and identified with the Passion of my Lord Jesus Christ.

11. who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 9 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 10 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 11 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. 12

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my calling is grounded in the immutable, unsearchable purposes of God in eternity past and eternity future and therefore I can commit my life, my family and my ministry to Him who called me and to Him who will sustain me and to Him who will keep me. My ministry is eschatological. My ministry is teleological.

12. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 13 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. 14

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ marked by and entrusted with sacred story and holy words that are derived from Jesus Himself and sealed by the Holy Spirit who lives within me.

13. You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2Timothy 2.1

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my ministry is tethered to and can never be more or less than the simple, profound, glorious, humbling Gospel of grace that is a grace that is not always incarnational for it is always in Christ Jesus.

14.   You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2Timothy 2.1 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and God calls me to reproduce my ministry in the lives of others so that ministry is maximized and multiplied for the advance of the Gospel and the Gospel ministry.

15. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 2Timothy 2.10

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I am called and I am thus willing, by God’s empowering grace, to suffer not only for Jesus but His elect children.

16. Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 2Timothy 2.14

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and will be a peacemaker, but will make peace by urging godliness in the words we teach.

17. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 15

a.     Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and will seek to bring honor to Jesus Christ by being diligent in knowing and being able to teach the right Word at the right Time.

18. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2Timothy 4.1 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 2

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and will one day stand before Him and give account for the ministry He has called me to. By grace then I labor in His name to conduct the ministry of the Word with utmost care to His message in my life.

19. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 3 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 4

a.    Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my success is not measured by men’s approval but by God’s standard in His Word.

20. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 5

a.     Affirmation: I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I will seek the lost and seek to cast the net of the Gospel in all that I do as a minister.

Conclusion

We all have heroes in the faith. For me, Dr. D. James Kennedy was one of those. He led me to the Lord through Evangelism Explosion, mentored me as I was a part of the first class at Knox Seminary, and helped me as I was one of his interns at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, but even more than that, I got to see Christ in his life. He was in private the very same man as he was in public. Stiff? Ok. Yes. A bit regal? Maybe. Passionate about souls being won to Christ? Absolutely. Unashamed of the old Reformed faith and willing to be criticized by others as he unflinchingly preached the old doctrines of grace and proved that the Reformed faith and world evangelization are not mutually exclusive. But I shall never forget when I saw him for the last time. Usually Dr. Kennedy was not a “hugger.” But on that day he reached out and embraced me. And as I held his thinning body against my own, felt the body of an old man, older than his years because he has literally been poured out for Christ, body and soul, I knew not only that life was leaving him, but that life must be filling in me: the life of ministry; the apostolic succession of faith. In tough times I would remember that moment, hold it, reflect upon it, and even thank God for it.

And this is the apostolic succession of faith which we share in. In tough times we will remember that, hold it, reflect upon it, thank God for it. For we have a “divine calling.” And that will sustain us. For the One who calls us is faithful and true.


Andrew Purves, Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition, 1st ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 76.

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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