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Gifts and Calling

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Romans 11.29.

The context of this morning’s single text is God’s relationship with Israel. Paul is saying that the creation of a new people of God under a new covenant sealed with the blood of Jesus makes it seem that God has now rejected Israel, withdrawn his blessings from her, and torn up the plans he once had for her. But not so, he says — the gifts and calling of God are ametamelētos, which is literally “without regret”. God doesn’t change his mind (a=”not”, meta=”change”, melomai=”to be concerned”) about anything because all his giving and all his calling are done with foreknowledge. I might say of someone: “If I’d known he was going to treat me like this, I’d never have gone out of my way to help him”, but God never will nor ever can say such a thing because he knows the end of everything from the beginning. He is never shocked or taken aback or caught unawares by anything I do, so he can never regret having given me anything or calling me to anything.

I see I have now slipped into first person language, and that is right, of course, for the principle set down by Paul in this morning’s reading is a general one that relates to God’s relationship with me just as much as with Israel.

Fifty years ago, when I was 16, the Lord clearly called me to preach and teach. I responded by becoming, first, a Methodist Lay Preacher and then, later, a Reader in the Church of England. But in my mid thirties I walked away from the church and spent years in the wilderness, ignoring my calling. But the day I walked back into the fellowship of God’s people, the call was fully upon me once again — as strong and real as ever. For the fact is that, when God called me at the age of 16, he knew that there would come the time when I would ignore that call and go my own way, and that was part of the circumstances of the call and one of the considerations that led to it being made.

“Calling” here is klēsis which is basically an invitation. When the calling comes from God, it is always an invitation to enter his kingdom and be part of his rescue plan for humanity. It is an invitation to fill the kingdom role and carry out the kingdom task that he has assigned me and equipped me to perform. That is where the “gifts” come in. They are charismata. A charisma is basically “something that is freely given” … a gift with no strings attached. It can refer to a “spiritual gift” such as tongues, prophecy, and healing (1 Corinthians 12.4, 9, 28 etc), but it has a wider meaning too. In this morning’s reading, for instance, in the immediate context of the charismata that Israel had received, it refers to “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises … the patriarchs” (Romans 9.4-5).

A charisma is anything that comes to us from God as an expression of his grace and that carries something of his presence and power. And experience tells me that these “gracelets” as I like to call them are always closely matched to God’s calling. Thus God calls me to preach and teach but he does not leave me to struggle on to fulfil that call from my own meagre resources; no, he matches that call with gifts of insight into the meaning of Scripture, the ability to study, an affinity for Hebrew and Greek, an aptitude for finding good illustrations, etc, etc. Calling and gifts go together, and the good news this morning is that God never changes his mind about the giving of either. As The Message puts it: “God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty — never cancelled, never rescinded.” How glad I am to take hold again of that wonderful truth today.

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