2. Obedience to the Scripture
(a) The Context of the Call.
The Scriptures that point sinners to the Savior direct obedient saints to the assembly of believers, gathered in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In such an assembly, free from the constraints of denominationalism and clericalism, the Scriptures are allowed to mold conduct and convictions. Character will be the result. The “house of God” (1 Tim 3:15) produces the “man of God” (1 Tim 6:11). It is here that the new believer finds the avenues and opportunities in service that express his love for Christ in keeping with scriptural practice. The Sunday school work, the open-air work, the tract work, the Bible class work, and the gospel preaching afford many opportunities. It is soon learned that effective service is service in keeping with the principles of Scripture. This lesson will be carried into missionary service. In this respect, missionary enterprise becomes the extension abroad of the assembly work at home. There is no place for “freelance” service or service at the direction of a mission society. The assembly gathering develops the character of the servant; the Lord calls the individual, and the assembly commends the missionary for an extension of the work of God. In this way, work of a scriptural character is spread, not only locally, but to other lands. So the context of service is the assembly background. This is why Paul and Barnabas, on their return to their commending assembly, “rehearsed all that God had done with them and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). The work abroad was simply an extension of the work at home.
(b) Circumstances of the Call
As the believer, busy in the Lord’s service, carries out the tasks at hand with diligence and joy, the very Scriptures in daily reading begin to exercise the heart about further service. The implication of the presentation of the physical body (Rom 12:1-2) will have been prayerfully considered by the believer since conversion. Now the conviction grows that God is calling to a special service. This call is not always given as dramatically or in as clear language as granted to Saul of Tarsus (Acts 26:14-18). It is more generally realized as a slowly deepening conviction over a period of time. Impressions and convictions are reinforced by a message in ministry or a missionary report serving to bring the exercised believer to a crisis point. This is seen in the experience of the prophet Isaiah when, in answer to the Lord’s question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah cried, “Here am I; send me” (Is 6:8). Many missionaries after a lifetime of experience can still recall such a moment when they understood a crossroads had been reached in life. Involved is both a love to Christ and love to sinners (Rom 1:14-15). Conviction becomes so strong and the personal claim so pointed that there must be obedience. The alternative is disobedience which could invite divine discipline. The case of Jonah, the reluctant missionary, becomes relevant. This is not a matter of wresting Scripture from its context to apply it to personal circumstances, but a case of the Spirit of God applying relevant Scripture in the circumstances of the individual believer. Eventually, the heart of the believer responds and he may use the very words of Samuel, “Speak; for Thy servant heareth” (1 Sam 3:10).
(c) Compulsion of the Call
There is very often a reluctance to accept that God is calling. The believer is aware that this is no light-hearted adventure. A lifetime is involved and the lives of many others will be affected. A mistake would be disastrous. Keenly aware of problems that may arise, family problems, money problems, language problems as well as a host of others, he hesitates. His reluctance is perhaps augmented by a lively sense of personal unfitness for the task ahead. Any arrogance that would deny such considerations would raise a doubt as to the reality of the call. Confidence in God is the mark of the true servant, not self-confidence of any kind (2Cor 3:4-5). The reluctance of Moses to accept the commission of Jehovah and the difficulties he raised (Ex 3-4) provide a worthwhile study in this connection. On the other hand, difficulties must not provide excuses! It is to be feared that the ease of travel to distant lands today, with its corollary, the ease of return, has diluted the reality of the life-time commitment and it would almost seem that some would ‘try’ the mission field on an experimental basis. This is disastrous for the would-be servant and dangerous for the work of the Lord. If the Lord’s call is not clear, it is better to stay than to go!
(d) Commendation in the Call
Having reached this point in his spiritual experience, the exercised saint will, on the scriptural pattern, seek the fellowship of his assembly. The pattern for this is seen in connection with the assembly at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3), when the Holy Spirit instructed them, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” The perfect tense in the verb “have called” would indicate that Barnabas and Saul already had the exercise in their hearts but awaited the movement of the Holy Spirit. This is the ideal situation when the Holy Spirit works within the saints and with the assembly. There can then be no question but that the matter is of God. As a general observation, the assembly will certainly be aware that certain individuals are being fitted for further service. Their work in the assembly speaks for them. This raises questions about the validity of a call, when the assembly is taken by surprise by a request for commendation. There is certainly something wrong when a believer has to ‘lobby’ for his commendation to be granted. This hardly generates the necessary confidence that God is calling to the mission field. However, when the believer finds that the assembly has anticipated the request and is completely supportive, it lends fresh assurance to his exercise. Where there is not unanimity in the assembly in the matter, the exercised servant will not seek to force matters, but will wait patiently for God to bring this about. There was a period of seven years and six months between David’s anointing in the tribe and his anointing in the nation (2 Sam 2:11 and 2 Sam 5:3). When an assembly says ‘no’ to such an exercise, it is a solemn matter for which they must give account (Heb 13:17), and this refusal should not be done without deep exercise and clear scriptural reasons given to the person concerned. It must also be said that for a person to change assemblies merely to get a commendation savors more of human politics than of scriptural exercise. An assembly united in their commendation brings a stimulus and lends a strength to the servant’s work, as such stand in the line of Paul and Silas as “being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God” (Acts 15:40).
3. Guidance by the Spirit
(a) Control of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit plays a vital part in the life of the believer. From conversion, the Holy Spirit indwells, anoints, seals, and in His person is the earnest of our inheritance. It is therefore with no surprise that we read that the Holy Spirit spoke to the elders of the assembly at Antioch, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Thus, the same Holy Spirit that used the Scripture to bring us to salvation will use the Scripture to lead us in service. The commission comes from Christ, through the Scripture, in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is clear in Acts 13:4, when Barnabas and Saul are being commended by the assembly in Antioch, “So they being sent forth by the Holy Spirit departed unto Sileucia.” Further guidance along the pathway of service is seen in Acts 16:6-7 where the apostles were “forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,” and again,” they assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not.” The Spirit likely made His purpose known through ministry of the prophets but, even though that gift has long ceased, through the exercise of the servant, the mind of the Spirit can be discerned. The means by which the Holy Spirit conveys His message now is not intuition or imagination, but it is by means of the Word of God. Any charismatic style or prophetic style ministry is largely imagination where it is not self-delusion. The Holy Spirit uses the Word He has inspired.
(b) Communion of the Spirit
In the privacy of communion over the Word of God, conviction deepens to commitment that allows the Spirit to direct the thoughts of the servant to a particular location. It is here that the Spirit will work in external circumstances such as a missionary report or a letter from a missionary that indicates that He is at work from both angles. While the Spirit directed Philip, He also worked to provide a copy of Isaiah in the hand of the Eunuch (Acts 8:29-30). Circumstances may provide confirmation of the call; they do not constitute the call. They can be actively misleading apart from the Spirit’s inward work. Jonah found a ship going to Tarshish, but it was the wrong destination. Assured of the Spirit’s call, there can then be “the putting out of the fleece” (Judges 6:36-40), asking God for that confirmation of what is unseen by mortal eye. God is very gracious to us in our weakness, and this is where circumstances can be allowed to have a confirmatory role. It should be emphasized that this confirmation follows, but does not precede, the conviction begotten within and made plain by the communion of the Holy Spirit as the Holy Scripture is pondered.
In this exercise, it is wise to have a discussion with a discreet friend or elder, so that any objection may be prayerfully considered. Should a call be felt to a country, the conditions and culture in that land should be investigated and, if possible, a missionary working there should be contacted for further information on the need and the characteristics of work there.
(c) Confirmation of the Spirit
While the servant cannot command success, and his responsibility is to be faithful to the Lord and to His Word, yet if the exercise and desire has had a divine origin, it is reasonable to expect that positive results will follow the service. God does test faith and, on occasions, particularly in pioneer work, time will be required. Nevertheless, the servant following the path of service and sacrifice outlined above will have a peace and a satisfaction in doing the Will of God as conveyed to him with assurance by divine channels: the Savior, the Scripture, and the Spirit. William Blane has caught the idea in his poem ‘The Evangelist’, when he wrote:
Anointed by God’s Spirit,
Trained at the Master’s feet,
Commissioned and sent forth by Him
All furnished and complete.
No human art or wisdom
His talent could assist;
A heavenly molded gift of Christ
Is the Evangelist.
He is the weeping sower
Who shall with shouting come,
Bringing his gathered sheaves from earth
To heaven’s harvest – home.
And when with joy he lays them
Down at the Master’s feet,
His sweet “Well done, thou faithful one,
Will make his bliss complete.