Today's Broadcast

The Internal & External Call

A Message by R.C. Sproul

What is your vocation? You may not know that you have one, but we all have a God-given vocation that we have been called to, though finding it will take some work. In this message, Dr. Sproul encourages us to find our true vocation, as he looks at "The Internal and External Call."

From the series: Knowing God's Will

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    The Call to Ministry

  2. devotional

    The Internal Call

  3. devotional

    The External Call

The Call to Ministry

Geoffrey Thomas

Who will possibly stay in a relationship with a girlfriend or boyfriend "until death us do part" unless there is a deep devotion to that one person above all others, a commitment that is based on comprehensive knowledge and respect? That is the essence of marriage, leaving all others and cleaving to one until God shall separate by death.

Who will stay in the Christian ministry for one's entire working life unless one loves this work above all others, being unable to do anything else than preach the gospel and pastor the people of God to whom he preaches week by week? The Apostle Paul writes about a man who "sets his heart" on this work (1 Tim. 3:1). He is stretching out to make this his life's supreme calling. He is not talking about selfish ambition for prestige and power but for the high privilege of caring for the people whom the Son of God loved and for whom He suffered the death of the cross. So the first qualification for a lifetime's commitment to pastoral ministry is a strong inner desire. Our life is offered to God in building up His people and going after the lost until they all, with you, attain the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Clearly, this inward longing must be educated and informed. There must be an understanding of the New Testament requirements of the work of the pastor-preacher, and there is nowhere better to discover this in the Scriptures than the life of the Apostle Paul. There are some aspects to his calling that are peculiarly those of an Apostle, but the vast portion of the life of Paul—his defense of the faith, his setting forth of the full gospel of grace, his righteous character, his tireless zeal, his wisdom in handling tensions within a congregation—cannot be equalled as an example of a model minister. Once you have understood that your work is primarily focused on serving the Lord, then you will want to know where you can best appreciate what that requires. The New Testament will help you, especially the life of Paul. You will often ask, "Who is sufficient for this work?" and it is essential you ask that or the pride of office and its powers, as well as the gifts you have, will destroy you.

Let the inward longing also be validated by the godliest men you can meet, righteous, loving men, whose first love is the kingdom of God and its King, and who want to know of the credibility of your conversion, your understanding of the work of the ministry, your confessional faithfulness, your moral integrity, your emotional maturity, and your compassionate heart. They will want to probe you to ensure you do not have "funny ideas," and they can tell you "No," "Yes," or "Wait a while."

After this, the great army of ministers, pastors, and evangelists who have marched through the last two thousand years of the church's history will also supply you with hundreds of examples of the preacher's vocation. The church fathers, the Reformers, the Puritans, and many others will all overwhelm you as ministerial role models.

Along with those who have come before, there are today's role models. In many ways, they are the best, especially those men you meet who, in God's providence, are your contemporaries. They are a little older or younger than you but they seem to be giants. They have been Christians for many years; they have sat under rich biblical preaching; they have read widely; and they have developed wise opinions concerning the meaning of key passages, texts, and doctrines of the Bible. You will thank God for bringing them into your life. Friendship with them at seminary endures from ordination throughout the different pilgrimages God plans for you. Not a week goes by without you speaking on the phone and emailing one another. You share pastoral problems, management strategies, recent books, attendance at conferences, and the blessings and buffetings of ministerial life. When the call to a new sphere comes to you, they are the ones, after your wife, whose counsels and prayers you most covet. The ministry is no place for loners or friendless men.

If you are blessed to have a preacher as your example, the danger is obvious: you may choose to imitate those aspects of his gifts that you can most easily replicate. It is a very great danger. For example, you may consider his lack of household visitation because of his center-city parish as rationale for your neglect of this indispensable pastoral task. It is essential that you have more than one pastoral role model. The more pastors you know, the easier it will be to conduct a well-rounded ministry.

Most of all, it is the Lord who makes men fishers of men. There have been men whose gifts were limited but whose dependence on the Lord was heartfelt. Some of them, like David Brainerd, suffered with melancholy, yet they were made fishers of men. With little knowledge of church history, with few friends or a spiritual congregation to support them, they have gone as Joseph did, armed with God's Word, into the heart of their own Egypts, kingdoms of darkness. By casting themselves upon God, they overcame powerful temptations of the flesh and the loneliness of prison life without the friendly voice of another Christian, and there they subdued mighty kingdoms, obtained the promises of God to build His church, and wrought works of righteousness that we look back to today from our luxurious lifestyles as we humbly marvel and berate our self-pity.

The Internal Call

We must be concerned about God's will for every area of life, but in most cases we tend to ask the question, "What is God's will?" when we must make specific, life-altering decisions. A young man might ask, "Is it the Lord's will for me to ask Leah or Margaret to marry me?" Another person might ask, "Is it God's will for me to become an accountant or a teacher?" A young woman contemplating college might wonder, "Is it the will of the Lord for me to go to University A or to College B?"

These are all important areas in which to discern God's will, but today and tomorrow we will consider the issue of the will of our Creator and our vocation. The question as to God's will for our career choices is intensely spiritual even for those who are not called to full-time work as a pastor or other church leader. Our Lord calls all believers to serve one another in love (Gal. 5:13), and it is easy to see this as referring exclusively to things such as volunteering in the church, making meals for sick people in our congregations, and so forth. However, our work outside of the Christian community is also an avenue by which we can serve others in love. Bakers serve others by baking the quality bread and other foodstuffs necessary for human beings to survive and thrive. Those who work in the field of information technology serve others by keeping their computers running smoothly so that they, in turn, can do their jobs. For the Christian, every lawful vocation is a means of service to our neighbors.

When it comes to the vocation of the pastor, we often speak of both an inward and external calling. Today, we will briefly consider the internal call, which is the inward, subjective desire on the part of the individual to serve the church and the personal sense that God has, in fact, chosen him for that task (1 Tim. 3:1). Yet we need not limit the internal call only to ecclesiastical vocations. The Lord has not given the vocation of pastor to every Christian, but He has called all of us to serve others, and He gifts us differently so that each of us is equipped for a specific service. God has given each of us gifts that make us particularly well-suited for specific tasks, and we are responsible to discern these things so that we can find our way into the vocation that will best allow us to serve others with our talents. If we are particularly gifted in a certain area or have a burning desire for a particular kind of work, that may be the Lord's inward call on us to that vocation.Œ

The External Call

Continuing our discussion of how God calls people to particular vocations, let us return to the calling of a minister of the gospel so that we can draw some parallels between that and the Lord's calling of people to other professions. We have seen that Scripture talks about the internal call to the pastorate. It is a noble thing for a man to have the inward desire to be an elder, provided of course that the desire is to serve other people and not to be served or to advance one's fame (1 Tim. 3:1). In the case of the Apostle Paul, we find that he had a strong inclination to preach the gospel, a desire to be a minister that had to be satisfied (1 Cor. 9:16b). These are manifestations of the internal call to ministry, but as we noted, such an internal call need not be limited to the pastorate. God has created people with various needs and desires, and part of the call to love one another involves working in vocations that help meet these needs and desires. A strong desire for a particular line of work or a sense that one is called to a specific vocation can be evidence that the Lord is calling one to that vocation, whether the vocation is that of a doctor, homemaker, store manager, plumber, custodian, computer programmer, or any other lawful line of work.

In the case of the call to the pastorate, most denominations have recognized that the inward call in itself is not sufficient for ordination. Because we are fallen, we can deceive ourselves and think we are hearing from the Lord when we are really just seeking to advance ourselves or are motivated to seek full-time ministry for the wrong reasons. That is why the church also stresses the external call to ministry. If a man feels called by God to the pastorate, this call must be confirmed by other Christian leaders. They must agree with him that he has the gifts, temperament, and other qualifications for the pastorate. Other men who are elders in the church need to be led by the Holy Spirit to see that the man who senses an external call is really hearing from the Lord. Even laypeople play a role in the external call to ministry by affirming the aspiring minister's teaching gifts and skills. In today's passage, we read about the external call given to the first deacons of the church (Acts 6:1-7). The church had to seek out men who showed evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

God also works through external means to call people to other vocations. If you desire a certain line of work, you should expect others to affirm that you have what it takes for that vocation. That way, you can be sure your sense of inward calling is not self-deception.

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