By Pastor Glenn Pease
Dr. Paul Brand was called by God to become an expert in treating the deformed hands of lepers. This Christian doctor has done more for restoring the hands of lepers then anyone in history. It all began in 1947 in a leprosy sanitarium not far from Madras, India. He was being shown around the hospital by Dr. Robert Cockrone the renowned skin specialist. He noticed so many of the patients had twisted, gnarled and ulcerated hands with some fingers missing. He asked how they got that way and what they were doing for them. The answer was that they didn't know, and that nothing was being done.
Dr. Cockrone explained that not one orthopedic surgeon in the world had yet studied the deformities of the 15 million leprosy victims. Dr. Brand was applauded. That was more people than had been deformed by polio or in auto accidents world-wide. Yet there was not a single surgeon to serve this desperate need. He walked up to one of the patients and pride his fingers open. He put his hand in his own and asked the person to squeeze as hard as you can. He was shocked at the power, and had to ask the patient to stop for he was hurting him. He realized that the muscles in this deformed hand were still good, but the patient could not feel the force. At that instant he knew the Spirit of God had called him to find the answer. With that hand shake his vocation for life was determined. He went on to become the leading surgeon in the world for lepers hands.
Dr. Brand's call was as clear to him as was the call of Moses at the burning bush, or the call of Paul on the road to Damascus. Dramatic calls like this are very personal, and they may mean little to others. Paul's call was doubted, questioned, and fought by many. He had to defend his call all his life. The same was true for Moses. A call from God does not mean that even godly people will recognize it as God's call.
One of the greatest missionaries to China was the little British lady named Gladys Aylward. She was converted at a Salvation Army street meeting, and as a cleaning lady she got to reading the books of her employer who had a large section of them on China. She felt God wanted her to go to China to share the Gospel. When she applied to the Mission Board they gave her an intellectual test she could not pass, and they said no. She did not measure up and could not go. She went anyway, and she became so successful that years later a motion picture called "In Of The Sixth Happiness," was made about her ministry. God's call is above man's approval.
We could go on endlessly telling stories of calls like this, for there are thousands of them. But because they are amazing and dramatic they are the only calls that we hear about. The result is that the greater call of God to all His people is obscured and terribly neglected. The very Greek word that Paul uses in verse 1 to describe himself as called to be an Apostle is the word he uses 2 more times in his introduction to the Romans to describe the call of all Christians. The word is kletos, and it is used in verse 6 of those called to belong to Jesus, and in verse 7 for those called to be saints. Every Christian is called to belong to Jesus and to be saints. This is a universal calling and one that would be more history changing than any other calls of God if God's people would heed the call. We have so exalted the special call to the few that we have ignored the general call to the many. This is so even though the calling of God to all His people is the primary emphasis of the New Testament.
This same word kletos is used by Paul again in Rom. 8:28 where he writes, "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." All Christians are just as called as Paul. He does the same thing in I Cor. He uses the word called twice as often for all Christians as for himself. We tend to think of Paul as somewhat conceited because he is always telling people he is called to be an Apostle. But Paul exalts all Christians, even the poor ones of Corinth, to the level of the called. He begins I Cor. with, "Paul, called to be an Apostle," but in the next verse he refers to the Corinthians as those called to be holy. They are just as called of God as he is.
We do not have time to study all the related words that show that every child of God is a called one. Let me just read the last use of this word in the New Testament from Rev. 17:14. "...the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of Lords and King of Kings-and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers." To be a Christian is to be called. There is no special class of Christians who are called and others who are not called. All Christians are called. They are not all called to be Apostles, or pastors, or surgeons, but every Christian is called into the ministry. Any Christian not in the ministry is missing their calling.
This Greek word also means invited, and some translations have it as, "You are the invited ones of Jesus Christ." The Gospel carries with it the invitation or calling to follow Jesus and be like Him. The goal of God is not just to save people for eternity, but to produce Christ-like people in time. The call of Gospel is two fold: Come unto me and be saved, and then come with me and be sanctified. We are called to be saved and then called to be saints. This calling may not be as dramatic as a burning bush, or a blinding light and voice from heaven, but the fact is, it is just as authentic. This universal calling means no Christian has to worry about his or her gifts and abilities, for regardless of their abundance or scarcity every Christian has a calling to be a saint.
Paul makes it clear that anybody can be a saint. In I Cor. 1:26-29 he writes, "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." Paul is saying that if you are a dime a dozen, no big deal, and a commonplace nobody, you qualify to be called to be a saint.
The problem is that the Christian world has so copied the secular world that we have lost this biblical truth, and instead we have magnified the super-gifted and talented Christian to the level of stardom, and we assume that only these special people are called to reach the world and accomplish God's purpose. This is why the will of God is not done on earth as it is in heaven. You don't have ten percent of the angels doing the will of God while the other ninety percent watch them do it. All in heaven do the will of God, and when all of God's people on earth will recognize they are just as called as the super star Christians, then God's will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
One pastor asked another how many people in his church are willing people. He said that all of his people are willing. Ten percent are willing to work, and ninety percent are willing to let them. This is very common because Christians do not realize they are called. Paul was a super star who was called of God to write this letter to the Romans that has changed the course of history. It has been the key influence in the conversion of other major super stars like Augustine, Luther, Wesley, and Bunyan. This is Paul's longest and most influential letter. Luther called it, "The true masterpiece of the New Testament." It has been called, "The Cathedral of the Christian faith."
Ray Stedman expresses the conviction of many when he says, "It is safe to say that Romans is probably the most powerful human document every written." Everyone agrees that to know the book of Romans is to be theologically educated. Godet, the famous Swiss commentator, wrote, "The reformation was certainly the work of the Epistle to the Romans....and it is probable that every great spiritual renovation in the church will always be linked, both in cause and in effect, to a deeper knowledge of this book." Everyone knows that Romans was not Paul's first letter, but it is the first one in the New Testament because it is the most important.
All of this just seems to support the idea that God's plan is to get his will done through superstars. But we need to read the rest of the story. How did this wondrous letter get to Rome? Paul did not take it there. It was carried by someone , and that someone is one of histories most important mail delivery persons. No plane; no train, no pony express rider ever carried a letter with a greater impact on history than did the carrier of this letter to the Romans. But this obscure servant is practically unknown to all of us. It was Paul's faithful female friend by the name of Phoebe. She was an active member of the nearby church in Chenchrea, and Paul asker her to help him out. She did by carrying this letter from Corinth to Rome.
Renan said that when Phoebe sailed away from Corinth she, "Carried beneath the folds of her robe the whole future of Christian theology." Paul the superstar wrote it, but Phoebe the mere helper got it to the people it was destined for, and thus to the rest of the world. Phoebe is only mentioned once in the whole New Testament, and Paul tells us her gift was that one everybody chooses when they feel like they have none, and that is the gift of helps. In Rom. 16:2 Paul writes of her, "She has been a great help to many people, including me." Here is superstar Paul commending obscure star Phoebe, for Paul has the mind of Christ, and he knew that Phoebe was just as called as he was, and just as vital to getting the will of God done with this letter as he was.
Paul and Phoebe were a team, for Paul's gift of apostolic authority would have no impact on Roman Christians without the gift of helps to get the message to Rome. Billy Graham knows that his impact on the world would be minimal without the help of masses of people nobody will ever know. They are just as called to ministry as he is. This is true in every ministry, and in every church. Every Christian who is a part of the ministry and the church is called.
Keep in mind that Paul did not start the church at Rome. He had never been there. The Christians who began this work are so obscure that nobody knows who they were. They are even less visible than Phoebe, but they are the ones who made it possible for Paul to write this famous life-changing letter. If they had not started the church, there never would have been a body of believers who needed this message of Paul like they did. These persons will never be known in time at all. They get no recognition whatever in the great plan of God for this letter, but they were just as called and a vital part of the plan as was Paul.
Paul would have loved the honor of having started this strategic church in the capital of the Gentile world. But God gave that honor to people we do not know. Being called does not mean having special gifts, or getting special notoriety or fame. The obscure and unknown are just as called as those who get the limelight. Paul knew this and he was applauded that the church at Corinth was setting up superstars for special honor, and the people were saying, "I am of Apollos, or I am of Cephas, or I am of Paul." Paul fought the superstar mentality, for he knew the facts. God calls all His children to be a part of His plan, and every one of them is just as important as those who get the center stage. The behind the scenes helpers are just as called and just as crucial for success.
In verse 11 Paul may sound like a proud superstar when he writes, "I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong." But he no sooner wrote that, and then continued in the next verse to write, "That is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith." Paul was saying that he needed their help as much as they needed his. Paul was no self-sufficient superstar who had no time for the little guy in the church. He needed the gifts of the common Christian just as they needed his special gifts. In a truly biblical value system every Christian counts because every Christian is called. There are no non-called Christians, and the sooner we all grasp this, the sooner we will realize that all of us matter to the success of God's plan. All of us can help fulfill the will of God. This is not for the few, but for the all.
Now the question is, what in the world is a saint? This is our calling as Christians. This is the universal vocation of every child of God, and yet most saints would be hard pressed to define exactly what it is they are. Many try to force the word into some canned idea of what a saint should be, and it scares the daylights out of most of us, and we figure we must not be saints. You cannot define a saint by any system of theology, or any pattern of religious behavior. Abraham married, but Jesus never did. Paul spoke in tongues, but Jesus never did. Peter wrote inspired Scripture, but Jesus never did. Barnabas helped start Gentile churches, but Jesus never did.
We could go on and on revealing that the saints of the Bible did many things that Jesus never did. Yet the essence of being a saint is being like Jesus. But this is not helpful, for there are so many ways that no saint is like Jesus. We don't walk on water; we don't change water into wine; and we don't weep over Jerusalem, or ride into it on a donkey. We don't fellowship with prostitutes and tax collectors, or take a whip to religious leaders who corrupt the temple. We can go through the life of Jesus and find so many ways we are not like Him. It makes you wonder what it means to be Christ-like. If most of what Jesus did we can't do, and many saints do what He never did, how can saintliness and Christ-likeness be the same? It is no wonder one child's definition of a saint was, "A dead Christian." The dead you can wrap in legend and mystery, and build and illusion, but how can living Christians who are so unlike Christ be saints?
Alexander the great had his portrait painted with his face resting on his hand as if in contemplation. The true purpose was to hide the ugly scar that creased his cheek. The Bible does not so paint the saint. The great heroes of the Bible have their scars in full view. The saints are not portrayed as sin free at all, but they are seeing as sinful like all. Every saint in the Bible is also a sinner, and not just in his or her pre-saint days, but also in their sainthood days. John tells us that if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. So a saint is one who knows he is a sinner. The concept of a saint being a holier than thou self-righteous judge of all others is not biblical at all. A biblical saint is one who is fully conscious of his sinfulness, and so is one who is humble rather than judgmental.
To many Christians interpret humble to mean they are not important, and so they do not get involved. They know they are sinners and that they are not superstars, and so they conclude that they are not called to an active role in the church. They are of the people of God, but they see themselves as the little people. It is as if God has different categories like the Bantam Baptist, or the Midget Methodist, or the Puny Presbyterians, or Liliputian Lutherans. What they fail to see is that these so-called mini saints are the foundation for the success of God's plan.
The church at Rome and every church in the New Testament was composed largely of these mini-saints who were unknown and not greatly gifted. Remove these from the church and you have no church for the superstars to minister to, and to minister through. The point is, every Christian in important to the successful working of the church. All are called to be saints.
Paul never even met these Roman Christians he is writing to, but he is sending them the most important letter of his life, and it is because he knows that God's purpose for history involves the average church member. They are all called, and only when all realize they are called can the church be all it was called to be. In Eph. 4:11-12 Paul makes it clear that the whole purpose of specially gifted people like Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Every Christian is in the ministry, and it is the gifted people who are to help them do their job more effectively. The gifted are God's gift to those less gifted. Gifted people are to help all the other believers be able to rise to a higher level of effectiveness.
It is folly to feel that because you do not know the Bible well enough, or because you do not know how to witness effectively, or because you have not learned how to overcome certain temptations, that you are not qualified to be called a saint. The Romans who received this letter did not know the Bible at all, and in fact, they did not have any of the Bible but this letter. They were inferior in many ways to the average believer today, but they were saints. All Christians are saints and called to be better ones. You do not work your way up to sainthood. You start the Christian life as a saint, and as one called of God to live for His glory, and to do his will on earth as it is in heaven. When you trust in Jesus as your Savior you are born a saint. Being saved and becoming a saint are the same thing.
We are all called to be saints, and that just means that we are called to be all we can be for the kingdom of God. We are to be willing to expose ourselves to the Word of God and be growing in the knowledge of God and His will. We are to be more and more conformed to the likeness of Christ in the way we think and behave. We are not expected to be superstars, but to just be who we are seeking to use what we have in ability to serve the cause of cause of Christ. We are to be growing and making ourselves available on any level to be of benefit to the body of Christ. We do not have to be like anyone else at all, but we need to be willing to become the more that we can become by the grace of God. The point is, the calling of God is not just for the few, it is for all of us, for all are called to be saints. That means all are called to be set apart from the secular world to be a part of that group of people who are serving God and His cause in the world in order to bring others into the kingdom of God by faith in Jesus Christ. The call is for all.