Link article relating to the Bible study post for Sunday, January 17, 20201 ‘Called to live differently’ and based on these set readings:
OT: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20
NT gospel: John 1:43-51
NT letter: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
IF YOU ENJOY — possibly with a sense of ‘endure’ — the long-running BBC1 series with Lord Sugar and his two note-taking assistants and a bunch of carefully selected ego-driven, over-ambitious sales types, you will wonder where this illustration is going. We can learn by the example of opposites!
But there are a few similarities. Every born-again committed Christian is called to be a disciple of Jesus, and the word for disciple basically means apprentice. Like the first disciples, we see what the Master does, learn from His instruction, do some practical under supervision, and then try out by ourselves and learn from the evaluation. And some of the tasks we will be shown will be challenging. Some are humanly impossible.
But mainly, there are differences. To have a CV where we portray ourselves as “the brand” and to have a king-size ego are two traits that will be a barrier to us entering the “narrow gate” of the kingdom of God. The TV apprentices find themselves sharply criticised for their failings, and not only get no coaching to succeed, they are to a certain extent, set up to fail (in fairness, the format is a knock-out competition).
We start as acknowledged failures
We give up all thoughts of competition when we enter a kingdom, which highly values preferring others above ourselves and loving and showing forbearance to others. As for the CV, we start as acknowledged failures who our loving Father is committed to making capable and fruitful. TV loves a gladiator competition, but God is heading in the other direction. He is not just picking one, but is committed to grow and invest in each and every precious ‘candidate’ who has given their life over to Jesus.
Samuel was raised up as a prophet
In the OT, the anointed ones who came to really know God were the few, not the many. Samuel was raised up as a prophet whose thoughts and feelings didn’t get in the way of what God was showing Him. He lived in a time, more than 1,000 years before Christ, when his nation, Israel, had a flimsy faith and connection to God. His contribution was distinctive — it had to be.
God often raises up people to hear Him and speak for Him, when spirituality is at a low ebb and when, it seems, no one is actually listening! But that is the point. If people were all hearing God for themselves, and doing what He said, there would not be the same need for the prophetic voice of inconvenient truth.
So Samuel’s call by God was to a hearing and discerning ministry. It was also to the lifestyle of someone set apart for a hearing and discerning ministry that challenged others. And that meant having the courage of keeping a lifestyle distinct from the less-than-devout people around him.
Disciples… learning the practice of faith
Peter, Andrew, Philip and now Nathanael faced the same tension. The Master was asking these disciples to move around where the ministry took him, and that meant (for the fishermen) leaving their boats, dependants and source of income. Nathanael was about to join them. He had to leave behind the natural judgments and prejudices of his former life. He appears to have been a bookish, reflective kind of person. Now he was going to be learning the practice of faith in God from watching this carpenter-builder from that rather rough town on the road to Samaria. His lifestyle, his associations and his involvements were all going to change. Either he was going to let God have those things, or else miss the opportunity.
When we become Christians, we go through a version of the same thing. Those who are responding to Christ’s call out of an Asian, perhaps Muslim or Hindu, culture, can find themselves ostracised by their families. Others may find new life in Christ from a family background that has never included churchgoing — increasingly the case. Or the family tradition might be formal and traditional, and not open to the new wine and life of the Spirit that conversion and baptism often brings.
When we see the Lord welcoming us with the words, “You’re chosen!”, that is the best good news ever, but there is a social cost to it. It’s not a call we can mix and match without a lot of compromise and tension.
Separation from the world — but not a religion
In the medieval era, they understood the need for separation from the world. Unfortunately made a religion out of it. What they didn’t understand, at least until the Franciscans and Dominicans begins to be missioners, was the need to be separated to God but also closely involved with people who do not share our values, to be salt and light to them, and to love them and teach them when they put up barriers towards us. John Bunyan had a few thoughts to share about that, writing from prison!
Corinth: Christians living in a clash of values
Paul’s message to the church in Corinth gives us a perspective on the new life, free from sin and guilt and impurity and dishonesty, but surrounded by these things. It ’s a clash of values. The thieves and idolators and fornicators loved the grace of God and being able to live free from the weight of all the things they had got caught up in. But the Greek mind-set believed that a person’s spirit and their physical body were quite separate. So, their logic went, if my soul and spirit are saved and redeemed, it doesn’t really matter what I do with my body. That can be sinful, but it isn’t the real me. That is a false conclusion drawn from false premises. Paul explains to them that somehow (we’ll understand how, one day) we will have our resurrected bodies, just like He did, and stand before Christ. If we have been sexually joined to all sorts of other people, it’s going to be messy. So, he says, live up to who you are, rather than living down to what you wrongly think you can get away with by God’s grace.
Every Christian is chosen to be a disciple
Every Christian is chosen and called by God to be a disciple of Jesus. That’s something that falls into place for us when we are born again and have an experience of the Holy Spirit — as everybody in the early churches who received these letters did. That was the expectation. They were also baptised in a symbolic burying of t he old life and washing off its stains. Often that is the time when the disciple call becomes apparent — a desire to grow into Jesus more than just ‘sitting and soaking’. The prophetic gift, where we started with Samuel, was given to a very few people in the OT, but with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, every believer can grow in hearing God speak and sharing that with others, just as every believer can grow in love and compassion. The other gifts are good and often given to meet a situation of need, but having God’s love for others, and having a sense of His direction and revelation, are fundamental. That will result in us holding different values from many of our neighbours, and our lives will look different as well — and that’s part of our witness, if we avoid making a religion out of it.
Helping the world to find hope and freedom from fear
The lesson of these linked passages is that we are called to have an awareness of what God is saying, to be learning to do what Jesus did, and living according to the new creations God has made us — all to help to show Jesus the Saviour and the hope He gives, to a cynical and unbelieving world. That world needs to hear Him and know that they can find hope and freedom from fear in Him. As those God has chosen to be disciples of Jesus, that looks like our job.