Thrust Statement: Christians are to walk worthy of their calling.

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10.[1]

            Jeremiah received his call about 627 B.C.   During the reign of Jehoiakim, son of Josiah (640-609), the king burned the scroll of Jeremiah (605 B.C.).  This scroll Jeremiah dictated to Baruch, son of Neriah (Jeremiah 36:4).  Following this outbreak of anger on the part of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah again had Baruch to take a scroll and rewrite the words of the Lord (36:32).  Jeremiah could write:

The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month. (1:1-3).[2]

JEREMIAH’S CALL VERSUS THE BELIEVER’S CALL

Just as God called Jeremiah to fulfill a mission to Israel, so He calls every believer to fulfill a mission.  In spite of this call from God, Jeremiah was reluctant to accept this summons because of his age: “Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth” (1:6).  As one reflects upon Jeremiah’s reason for not wanting to accept this call from God, one cannot help but wonder, what is your excuse for not fulfilling your calling of God? On the one hand, you say that Jeremiah should not have objected; but, on the other hand, you, too, are not responding to God’s call.  Jeremiah was called upon to declare judgment and salvation. He was called upon “to uproot and tear down” and “to build and to plant” (1:10).

Jeremiah wants the children of Israel to behave in a manner worthy of their special call by God. He wants then to live godly lives. Just as God calls Jeremiah to proclaim judgment and salvation, so, too, every Christian is urged to make known judgment and salvation. Christians are to uphold Jesus as God’s way of salvation and escape from God’s wrath. But as one contemplates his/her summons, one must remember that God commands a change in one’s behavior. It is in this vein that Paul encourages the Christians at Ephesus to walk worthy of his/her call from God. Paul says, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1).

 It is true that Christians today are not called to be prophets in the sense of Old Testament prophets.  It is imperative that God’s people understand this. Failure to understand that God does not call individuals to be prophets as he did during the Old Testament leads to cults.  It is essential for Christians to recognize that God does not give His Word afresh.  The writer of the Hebrew letter expresses this truth by writing:  God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).  Disciples of Christ believe that the word is incarnate in Jesus Christ.  There are no new revelations.  There are no inspired prophecies today. There are no inspired prophets today.             No one can add to the word of God with impunity.  Jesus warns individuals about adding to the book of Revelation as well as taking away from the words of the book of that prophecy.  Listen to Jesus as He issues a stern warning:

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19).

This statement by Jesus is very similar to the exhortation of Moses to the children of Israel: “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).

EVERY BELIEVER CALLED TO SERVE

As stated above, even though Christians are not called to be prophets as God called Jeremiah into His service; nevertheless, everyone is called to serve.  Casey Galloway[3] is called to serve; Chris and Kelly Miller[4] are called to serve; T.J. and Donna Hughes[5] are called to serve; Milton and Bertha Tapper are called to serve; Darrell and Candi Hinkley are called to serve; Donna Miller[6] is called to serve; Bryan Jr. Caudle is called to serve. And, in fact, everyone here at Oakwood Hills is called to serve. Are you serving God?  Or are you, like Jeremiah, thinking of reasons that you cannot serve?  Listen to the conversation between God and Jeremiah:

Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying:   “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” Then said I: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.” But the Lord said to me: “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord. Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me:  “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, To root out and to pull down, To destroy and to throw down, To build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:4-10).

            As you reflect upon this call of Jeremiah by the Lord, what function does this appeal of God play in your life? How does this dialogue between God and Jeremiah speak to you today? Perhaps, it is safe to say that this discussion has interest for you and every believer because it is a part of our salvation history that culminates in Christ Jesus our Lord. The central character of this conversation is God. In this discourse, one observes that the name Lord occurs six times. The emphasis is upon His Word and deed; one quickly observes that God is involved in His world. God’s involvement is absolutely essential for man’s salvation. It is also in this vein that our Lord Jesus says to Nicodemus: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16).  

GOD REVEALS HIMSELF TO JEREMIAH

            Who is this God? This God is a God of closeness. He himself speaks to Jeremiah and touches his mouth. Jeremiah declares, “Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9). On the other hand, in the call of Isaiah, an angel touched his lips, not the Lord: “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’” (Isaiah 6:6-7). Neither does God overwhelm Jeremiah with a vision of His transcendent glory as He does with Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1). God tells Jeremiah that He knew him before he was born (Jeremiah 1:5). This is a case in point in that God choose him before he was born to fulfill a certain mission for God. One cannot help but wonder if God has not closely planned our creation. Listen to Paul as he captures the ecstasy of this wonder:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love  he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ (Ephesians 1:4-10).

GOD REVEALS HIMSELF TO A YOUTH

Jeremiah recalls this encounter with the Lord: ‘“Ah, Sovereign LORD’” I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am only a child’” (Jeremiah 1:6). One may not be proficient at public speaking, but God can still use this person to accomplish His ends. God is not simply concerned about the powerful and the famous. It is in this vein that Moses addresses the children of Israel: “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7). Paul, too, in writing his first letter to Corinth, calls attention to their social status prior to their acceptance of God’s call:

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

            In spite of man’s deficiencies, God demonstrates His all-sufficiency. When Jeremiah cries, “I do not know” (Jeremiah 1:6), God responds by saying, “I am with you” (1:7). Do you think you are too inadequate to be faithful to serve God? Paul, in his powerlessness calls upon God for relief. In fact, Paul writes, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (2 Corinthians 12:7).  How does God take action? Listen to Paul as he gives God’s reaction to his request: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Are you weak? If so, one should never forget that God’s power is made perfect in one’s weakness. Yes, God can use YOU to His glory, even though you may be weak and not of noble birth. Are you willing to work for God? God deals with every fearful self-assessment and every self-serving attempt on the part of individuals to exempt themselves from His mission. God is still saying to you and to me: “Serve.”

GOD’S PURPOSE FOR JEREMIAH

            One swiftly perceives that God calls Jeremiah to fulfill a specific goal in life. Jeremiah, in recording the conversation between himself and God, writes about God’s aim in calling him to His service: “Today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant”  (Jeremiah 1:10). This purpose had been laid before he was even formed in the womb: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (1:5). In Jeremiah’s call and service, he calls attention to the worthlessness of false religion. In other words, he condemns behavior that does not coincide with belief in God. A classic illustration of his concern over right performance is found in Israel’s reliance upon the Temple of God without regard to right behavior. He says,

Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!”  If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.  But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?  Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD (7:4-11).

JUDGMENT AND SALVATION

As acknowledged earlier, God sends His prophet Jeremiah to accomplish two functions: (1) “to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow” (1:10), and (2) “to build and to plant” (1:10). These two functions—judgment and salvation—were given to Jeremiah to make known to the nation of Israel. Judgment and salvation still constitute the work of God in human life; one cannot be separated from the other. John the Baptist also proclaimed judgment and salvation in announcing the nearness of the kingdom of God: “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). The old way of life must be destroyed.  God will not accept his people living in a life of sin. Jesus begins His ministry with the call of repentance: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”’ (4:17). Repentance involves a change of lifestyles.

            Before there can be new life, the old must be destroyed. Before there can be resurrection, there must be crucifixion. New wine cannot be put into old wineskins. One cannot broadcast the salvation of God without proclaiming judgment. Thus, Jeremiah is sent to “to uproot and tear down” Judah’s old way of life. In destroying and overthrowing, he is able “to build and to plant.” In Jeremiah’s announcement of judgment, he is saying that God has declared war. In this continuing warfare, God sent His Son into the world to deal with the sin problem. One can avoid God’s judgment in the acceptance of Jesus as the savior of the world. Jesus informs Nicodemus:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God (John 3:16-21).

GOD’S PURPOSE FOR CHRISTIANS

What about God’s purpose for you in your life? Is it not to serve Him? Is it not to perform righteousness? Are you a slave to sin? Or are you a slave to righteousness? Paul pleads with the Christians in Ephesus: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1). Again, he says, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (5:1-2). God’s target for you and for me is to be holy: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (1:4-5). Paul captures this commitment in his letter to Rome:

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.  For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:11-14).

            Are you conscious that you have been set free from sin? Are you aware that you are now servants of righteousness? Are you committed to righteous living or are you committed to sinful living? Which? Paul again reminds the Roman Christians of their change of venue:

But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Romans 6:17-22).

Are you offering parts of your body to sin? Are you still a slave to impurity and wickedness? Do you really feel this sense of a call to accept Jesus and serve Him? Are you presenting your body as a living sacrifice, which constitutes your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1). Are you declaring the good news of God as a result of your calling? Are you mindful of your calling and its implications in your life? God’s call involves proclamation on the part of the called. For an example of this awareness, consider Paul’s ministry. He was extremely cognizant of this summons: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:8). For Paul, there was no reason for living if he did not proclaim the good news of salvation through Jesus. He declares, “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). But the apostle was also convinced that all Christians possess an invitation from God:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

God plans us for tasks in His scheme of redemption—“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). God determines us for good works in His kingdom—“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). The words of the Psalmist are appropriate to express that we are not our own: “we are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (Psalms 100:3). Our sovereign God commands His people: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

CONCLUSION

Yes, God is on the move.  God is constantly moving human life toward His goals. He is constantly at work, calling, sending, and commanding. Are you allowing the Spirit of God to control your life? Are you walking in the Spirit or are you walking in the lust of the flesh? Listen to Paul’s exhortation to the Christians in the province of Galatia as you reflect upon your own calling:

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other (Galatians 5:16-25).

Whatever your sin might happen to be, I plead with you to remember the words of the author of Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). Again, listen to Jesus as he warns of improper behavior:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (5:17-20).

            Christians are called to the prophetic function of criticism and judgment. One half of Jeremiah’s ministry was against the whole land. His ministry was “to uproot and tear down” (Jeremiah 1:10), but, on the other hand, the second part of his ministry was “to build and to plant” (1:10). God’s judgment is for the purpose of salvation. God tears down in order to rebuild. One side of the coin is judgment, but the other side is salvation. This is what the gospel of God is all about—judgment and forgiveness. A part of your calling is to reach out to those that are hurting—it is to rebuild. If one is overtaken in a sin, then God’s people should, in the spirit of meekness, seek their restoration, not condemnation. Paul instructs the Christians of Galatia concerning the weakness of certain Christians:

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load. Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:1-10).



[1] I am deeply indebted to Elizabeth Achtemeier, Jeremiah (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987) for the genesis of this sermon.

[2] All Scripture citations are from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984, unless stated otherwise.

[3] Casey Galloway was baptized on March 13, 1999.

[4] Chris Miller was baptized on October 3, 1999; Kelly Miller rededicated her life on October 3, 1999.

[5] T. J. and Donna Hughes were baptized on October 3, 1999.

[6] Donna Miller rededicated her life on October 10, 1999.