Be sure to check out:
Note: This series appeared originally on Theologica. This is a blog consortium sponsored by World Magazine. Ten bloggers contribute to Thelogica. We represent a broad spectrum within orthodox Christianity, and comment on a wide variety of theological issues.
Vocation and Relationship: A Biblical Reflection
by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts
Copyright © 2005 by Mark D. Roberts
Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
Vocation and Relationship: A Different Perspective
In his post "The Priority of Vocation," Arch Van Devender expresses a concern that today's Christians have lost a sense of the importance of "vocation" in favor of valuing relationship. As a corrective, Arch argues that that "'relationship' is unto 'vocation'. 'Vocation' is not relationship although the idea of being a father, husband, brother, sister, child, etc. always involves relationship. But the end of relation is unto the proper fulfillment of vocation." So vocation takes priority over relationship.
In a follow-up post by Mike Russell, "Vocation and the Will of God," Mike agrees with Arch, emphasizing that "Your vocation is the will of God for you. It is your ministry."
Before I suggest a couple of points of disagreement, I want to affirm the basic thrust of these two posts. Many Christians today do undervalue their vocation, or even doubt that they have a vocation. They surely need to see their work in broader and eternal terms, and understand it as essential to their God-given vocation. Moreover, we Christians can indeed let relationship become an end in and of itself, without seeing how relationship fosters the greater purposes of God. So, for example, we like being in a caring church, period, without grasping that God has made us such a church for the purpose of extending his grace to others through mission.
Having stated these basic agreements, however, I'm not sure it helps to say that vocation takes priority over relationship. My basic reasons are both logical and theological.
Logically, vocation requires relationship. What is vocation? It is a calling. That's what the word "vocation" really means, although it is sometimes used as a synonym for "career" or "job." But vocation is more than a job. It is more than work. It is a calling. This implies that you don't get a vocation without someone doing the "vocating." You can have work without relationship. You can have a job all by yourself. But a vocation only comes when you're in relationship with someone who calls you (or better, Someone who calls you).
This gets to my theological point. I think Scripture makes it clear that relationship with God precedes vocation. It is only because there is a God with whom we have relationship that we can receive a vocation at all. In Genesis 1 and 2, for example, vocation comes in the context of human relationship with the God who calls people to be fruitful and multiply and to work in the garden. Without relationship, there is no calling.
Furthermore, consider the establishment of the Mosaic covenant at Sinai. In Exodus 19:4-6 the Lord says to the Israelites, "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eaglesí wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation." First, God delivered the Israelites and brought them to Himself (relationship). Then He called them to live as his chosen people, and to do so through fulfilling the law (vocation). And even this has, as its end result, that Israel shall be God's "treasured possession" (relationship.)
To take a new covenant example, remember Mark 3:14, where Jesus called the twelve apostles. He named them apostles, "to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message." Notice what comes first. The apostles are to be with Jesus (relationship). Then they are proclaim the message (vocation). So relationship with Jesus is the context of their calling, and it is the first dimension of that calling as well.
Though I fully support the contention of my fellow bloggers that we need a stronger sense of vocation, I don't think we get to this worthy goal by diminishing relationship, or by putting vocation ahead of relationship. In fact, it is our relationship with God that makes our vocation possible. And it is our love of God that motivates us to fulfill His calling.
Therefore I would argue that relationship is in fact prior to vocation. We only receive our vocation in the context of relationship with God. Moreover, the first aspect of that calling is relational. God calls us to be with Him as His chosen people, who then live out the rest of His calling in our daily lives.
Vocation and Relationship: Further Thoughts
Yesterday I put up some preliminary thoughts on vocation and relationship. I was responding to a couple of challenging posts by two of my Theologica colleagues. Though I differed from them in how I thought of the issue of vocation and relationship, I was grateful for the chance to think about this. I had never before juxtaposed vocation and relationship, so Arch Van Devender and Mike Russell were helping me to break new theological ground.
I've continued to ponder the matter today, and would like to share a few more thoughts. These are not measured conclusions, please understand, but musings on a new idea.
The Pastoral Context
Arch's concern about over-prioritizing vocation had a pastoral impetus. He wrote, "Today, it appears that Christians are being taught to diminish the importance of their work in the world and to focus on relationship." This was part of what motivated Arch to argue for the priority of vocation.
As I thought about this, it occurred to me that I have the opposite problem in my flock. If anything, my people care way too much about work and way too little about relationship. It's commonplace for dads (and even moms) to work sixty or seventy hours a week, and to have precious little time for their children, and almost no time for their spouses.
So, I expect that this might help to explain why Arch and I see things differently. And, if I were in his shoes, I might well see things from his perspective, and vice versa. We're both reading the same Bible, but we're seeing it in light of our pastoral concerns and challenges.
The Genesis of Things
Arch bases his prioritization upon Genesis 2, where God put Adam in the garden and told him to get to work, so to speak. Arch concludes, "That seems to me to be the Genesis (pun intended) of the thing. Now the very next thing that happens is that God declares that man is not equipped to fulfill his assigned vocation (Adamís total function) by himself. It was 'not good' for him to be alone. Therefore God set about to create a suitable helper for him. What this teaches us is that 'relationship' is unto 'vocation.'"
I would agree with Arch's exegesis here, to a point. But I'd offer a couple of qualifications:
1. It seems from Genesis 2 that even if vocation comes first, it cannot be fulfilled apart from relationship. Thus we may be better of speaking of vocation and relationship as intertwined and equally important, rather than putting one in front of the other.
2. Genesis 1 seems to make a point that's complementary to Genesis 2. In Genesis 1 relationship (God's relationship with man, and man's relationship as male and female) seems to be prior to any calling (1:26-27). And then, the vocation is essentially and inescapably relational: "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it . . ." (1:28). When I last checked, the only way to obey this command is through relationship, the most intimate of relationships, I might add.
From Work and Family to All-Encompassing Vocation
It seems to me that what we need is not so much to discover which comes first, vocation or relationship, as to learn to see our work and our relationships as part and parcel of our vocation. As I explained yesterday, I'm using "vocation" in a more literal sense of "calling by God." When people lose their sense of vocation, or never have it in the first place, they're free to determine their own priorities and values with respect to work, family, and so on. Yet when we understand that God has called us to faithfulness in work, family, and so on, and when we see our whole life in terms of that vocation, then we're in a position to live in a way that pleases and brings glory to God.
When we see all of life in terms of our vocation, we will also value our work more highly, no matter what our work might be. Even as a pastor asks, "Lord, how can I honor you in my work?" so will a teacher, a lawyer, a mother, a cabinet maker, etc. etc. Yet when we see work as part of our vocation, then we'll avoid the tendency to turn it into an idol (the problem in my flock) as well as the tendency to devalue it (the problem in Arch's flock).
Well, these are my musings on vocation and relationship, at least for now. I'd be interested in your responses. And thanks again to Arch and Mike for stirring up these thoughts.
Vocation and Relationship: New Testament Insights, Part 1
Well, you can blame it on Arch Van Devender. Ever since his challenging post on the connection between vocation and relationship, "The Priority of Vocation," I haven't been able to put these things out of my mind. I think Arch has touched upon a truly vital topic: the nature of our calling in Christ and the way that calling impacts our work and our relationships. Although I may sound a bit cranky, in fact I'm grateful to Arch for getting me to look at things from a fresh perspective.
In this post, and in a couple to follow, I want to examine a few New Testament passages that speak of our calling. I expect that these will help us to formulate a biblical way of talking about vocation, relationship, work, and who knows what else. I want to begin by looking at 1 Corinthians 1:9.
1 Corinthians 1:9 reads: "God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (ESV). This verse makes clear that a calling requires a caller. We are called by God. To put it differently, we have a vocation only because God has acted in our lives. This is important to remember, because in casual speech "vocation" often means something akin to career. Moreover, it's something I choose in light of my talents, education, and desire. But, in the biblical sense, my calling comes from God, and it includes my career, but far more besides.
What is our calling, according to 1 Corinthians 1:9? We are "called into the fellowship of [God's] Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." The word "fellowship" translates the Greek word koinonia. Koinonia does mean "fellowship," but not in the sense of most churches I know. It has little to do with coffee and donuts after a worship service, or a pot luck in the "fellowship" hall. The Greek word koinonia has a rich array of meanings, that can include "business partnership" or even "sexual intimacy in marriage." In my book, After "I Believe", I explain that koinonia is best understood as something like "intimate fellowship." It refers to a deep, lasting bond between people, to a profound sharing of life together.
Notice further that our fellowship is "of his [that is, God's] Son." I chose the ESV translation because it most faithfully preserves a certain ambiguity in the original Greek. The use of the genitive "of his Son" can mean either "with Jesus Himself" (objective genitive) or "with those who are in the fellowship authored by Jesus, i.e., the church" (subjective genitive). The majority of modern translations prefer some version of "with" his Son" (e.g., NIV, TNIV, NLT). This is arguably the sense of the passage, though the close connection for Paul between fellowship with Christ and fellowship with Christ's people may call for a broader sense of the genitive.
In any case, what impresses me in this verse is the simple fact that we are called by God into fellowship with Christ (and/or with His people). Our vocation, therefore, isn't separate from relationship. In fact, our vocation into relationship. God calls us, not into a solitary life of salvation and service, but into a profound partnership with Christ and with the community of his disciples.
Let me suggest four possible implications of 1 Corinthians 1:9:
Yet there is more to our vocation than just this, as we'll see when I post again.
1. Here again we see the intertwined and circular nature of vocation and relationship. Since God calls us, vocation depends on relationship with God. Yet God also calls us into relationship with His Son. So vocation and relationship go utterly hand in hand.
2. The calling of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 1:9 seems to be directed toward the Corinthian church as a whole, and not merely to individual believers who happen to be living in Corinth. Vocation, therefore, isn't just a private matter, but something shared among believers.
3. Vocation is not something I choose, but something God gives to me (and to us together). Though I may have at one point chosen to respond to the gospel by putting my trust in Jesus Christ, behind this act of mine is the overarching call of God. I am in fellowship with Christ and His people because God called me.
4. Christian fellowship, with Christ, and therefore with His disciples, is not some optional part of the Christian life. If God has called me into relationship with Christ, and if that relationship necessarily includes lots of Christian siblings, then I cannot opt out of Christian fellowship because it's inconvenient, or difficult, or . . . you name it. My calling is to be an active member of Christ's body.
Vocation and Relationship: New Testament Insights, Part 2
In my last post I examined 1 Corinthians 1:9, where it says were were "called into the fellowship of [God's] Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." In that post I talked about what it means for us to be called into fellowship (or intimate relationship) with God and His people.
Today I want to back up a few verses to 1 Corinthians 1:2. This verse reads: "To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours." Along with the believers in Corinth, we who "call" on the name of the Lord (pun intended by Paul, I think), are people who have been "called to be saints." Paul uses this same language in the beginning of Romans, referring to the Christians in Rome as those "who are called to be saints" (Rom 1:7).
What does this mean?
The word "saint" translates the Greek term hagios. Greek words with the hag- root have various English meanings, including: "saint," "sanctify," "holy," and "holiness." A "saint" is a "holy person." But what does this mean? Holiness has to do with being set apart for something special. In secular contexts, we might speak of fine china as being "holy," that is, set apart only for special occasions. In biblical perspective, a holy person has been set apart by God for God's purposes, which include, by the way, fellowship with God Himself.
It's important to mention that the "saint," in biblical perspective, is not an extra special Christian, someone who has lived an exceptionally godly life. All who believe in Jesus are saints because all have been set apart by God for His purposes. In referring to the Corinthians as "saints," Paul is not praising their character, as we know from the rest of the letter. Rather, he's noting that God has set them apart for Himself and his aims.
Of course Christians were not the first people to be designated as holy to the Lord. Back in Exodus 19:4-6 God said to the Israelites: "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eaglesí wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation." The Lord set the Israelites apart from other nations to keep His covenant and to be His treasured possession. Israel, therefore, is a "holy nation," or a "saintly nation."
But now, through Christ, the special relationship between God and Israel has been opened to include Gentiles who put their faith in Jesus. Thus, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:2, the Christians in Corinth are "sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints."
So, our vocation as Christians includes sainthood. We are called by God to be set apart for Him and His purposes. Let me spell out a few implications of this aspect of our calling.
1. Because we are called to be saints, we have a new purpose in life, God's purpose for us.
2. Biblically speaking, a saint is not an extra special Christian. All true believers are saints. Thus our job is not to try and become a saint, but rather to live out our sainthood.
3. Holiness has first to do with being set apart for God. It is an essentially relational characteristic. But in light of this set-apart-ness we have both a mission and a moral imperative. Our mission is to represent God to the world, in all that this means. Our moral imperative is to live differently from those who belong, not to God, but to the world. Our lives as holy people will be directed by God's revealed will, not by our desires or by cultural expectations.
In my next post I want to examine further the moral implications of our calling to holiness.
Vocation and Relationship: New Testament Insights, Part 3
In my last post I examined 1 Corinthians 1:2, where it says we are "called to be saints." Unpacking this language, I concluded that our vocation is holiness. We are called to be set apart for God and His purposes. This calling leads both to mission and moral living. In this post I want to explore one essential dimension of moral living. (Ironically, this ends up being relevant to the recent and provocative Theologica posts by Tim Challies on "Sex and Autoeroticism" [post 1] [post 2].)
In his first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul clarifies a crucial aspect of our call to holiness. To summarize his point in a few words, we are called to sexual holiness.
Here's the text of 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.
Let me walk through this text piece by piece.
"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication" (v. 3).
"Sanctification," or holy living, is God's will for us. Therefore He calls us "in holiness" or "to live holy lives" (v. 7). One essential element of our holiness is to "abstain from fornication." The Greek word translated as "fornication" is porneia, from which we get "pornography." It's narrowest meaning in Greek is "prostitution," though it can have a broader meaning of "sexual immorality in general." In this passage, given the patterns of first-century Greek society, Paul may be thinking specifically of prostitution. But the application covers sexual immorality in general.
Why would Paul single out sexual immorality in this passage? In all likelihood, he is addressing an area where the Christian calling would differ widely from pagan assumptions. It was not considered wrong, for example, for a Greek husband to see a prostitute for sexual pleasure, as long as he didn't parade this fact in front of his wife. So, when it came to sexual practices, the Thessalonians needed very clear instruction so that they might live according to God's desires.
"That each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God" (vv. 4-5).
Here the "set-apartness" from secular, pagan culture is obvious. The Thessalonian believers have been set apart by God from their pagan background, and this involves leaving behind the indulgence of "lustful passion."
The phrase "control your own body" has had a wide range of interpretations, because the underlying Greek reads literally, "to possess your own vessel." Some have suggested that this refers to getting a wife. But most commentators think this is a reference to controlling one's own body. In fact, there's a linguistic case to be made for translating "vessel" as "male sexual organ," in which case this would be a specific direction to the men in Thessalonica. (Here's the ironic connection to Tim Challies' posts.)
"That no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand an solemnly warned you" (v. 6)
The NRSV supplies "brother or sister" here, rightly spelling out the implications of the Greek adelphos, which means "brother." Bringing in the Lord as "an avenger" underscores the importance of this topic and the extent to which God cares about sexual purity.
"For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness" (v. 7)
In fact, God calls us out of the secular/pagan world with its penchant for sexual impurity, and into a new way of living. God expects His people to live differently from their neighbors in the matter of sexual expression.
"Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you" (v. 8)
The presence of the Holy Spirit both helps us to live holy lives and underscores the importance of sexual purity. Though Paul doesn't make this point here, in 1 Corinthians 6 he argues that we should avoid fornication because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.
The serious tone of verse 8, and, indeed, the whole passage, suggests that the Thessalonian Christians were struggling with the call to sexual holiness. This is understandable, given that they were being asked to live in a very different way from how they lived before, and that this new way was in conflict with the natural desire for sex outside of marriage.
A few closing thoughts:
1. We are so much like the Thessalonians!
2. We need to understand that sexual holiness isn't an option, or something we do for religious extra credit, but an essential dimension of our vocation as Christians.
3. We in Christian leadership need to embrace our call to sexual holiness and teach the same to our people. Failure to do either one will cause great pain to individual Christians and to the body of Christ.
4. Since, by definition, our sexual values and practices are to be holy – set apart from the common culture – we shouldn't be surprised when the culture doesn't get it. Of course we'll be perceived as prudish, out of touch, and repressive.
5. Pleas by some Christians to adapt our sexual values to the reigning culture are contrary to our vocation, and contradict the plain teaching of Scripture in 1 Thessalonians 4.
6. The Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to our sexual holiness. The more we think of our bodies as temples of the Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), the more we'll be motivated to honor our temple and keep it pure. Moreover, the Holy Spirit helps us to do and even to yearn for that which we cannot do on our own. Sexual purity in this day is only possible with God's help.
7. Once again, we see that our calling has everything to do with our relationships: to God, to each other, and to the world.
Vocation and Hope
In Ephesians 1 Paul prays that "you may know what is the hope to which [God] has called you" (v. 18). The connection between hope and vocation is reiterated in the fourth chapter of Ephesians, where we read: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling" (v. 4).
So we are called to hope. Hope is essential to our vocation. But what does this mean?
Christian hope isn't happy faced optimism. It isn't looking at a dismal situation and saying, "Oh, I'm sure things will work out okay." In fact, Christians realize that sometimes things in this world don't work out okay. Suffering and pain are very real, and not to be denied. Bad things happen to good people. Even faithful Christians sometimes become martyrs.
Christian hope looks beyond this mortal life to the fullness of life in the age to come (that which we sometimes call heaven). The passage from Ephesians 1 that I cited earlier helps to explain this. Paul prays that "you may know what is the hope to which [God] has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints" (v. 18). The content of our hope is "the riches of his glorious inheritance." This isn't merely a matter of getting heavenly rewards, however. In Romans 5:2 Paul explains that "we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God." Someday, not only will be in the presence of our glorious God, but also we will share in His own glory (see also 1 Peter 1:7-9).
Yet our hope isn't focused simply on our own eschatological benefit. We look forward to the time when God will fully establish His kingdom, when He will restore creation to what He had intended it to be, when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. At this time,
. . .the home of God [will be] among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away. (Rev 21:3-4)
Christians are called to be people of hope. Yet how do we know that this isn't just wishful thinking? How can we have confidence in our hope?
First, our hope is based upon the resurrection of Christ. As it says in 1 Peter, God has "given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you" (1:3-4). Because of the resurrection, the power of sin and death have been defeated. Because of the resurrection, we can have confidence that the promises of God are true, and will one day be fulfilled.
Second, our hope rests upon our experience of God through the Spirit. Here's the way Paul explains it in Romans 5:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (vv. 1-5, my emphasis)
The love of God isn't something merely intellectual, something we affirm but never actually experience this side of Paradise. Rather, the Holy Spirit pours God's love into our hearts now, so that we might have confidence in our hope.
Some concluding thoughts:
1. Hope is in short supply today. In a world filled with dangers – terrorism, bird flu, hurricanes, AIDS, etc. – people can easily lose hope and wallow in resignation. Thus Christians, who are called to hope, are also called to share the hope God has given with a hopeless world.
2. We must remember that our hope is oriented to God's victorious future. Though this hope colors our experience in this life, we are not to be naïvely hopeful. A Christian ought not to say, for example, "Oh, I'm sure Hurricane Katrina won't be that bad." Rather, a Christian should say, "No matter how bad the hurricane turns out to be, God will be glorified, and, in the end, we who know Christ will share in His glory."
3. True hope does not lead to escapism. As people of hope, Christians should be motivated to act with eternal purpose in this world. In fact, we're to "lead a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called" (Ephesians 4:1). I want to discuss this further in my next post.
Living Our Vocation
I want to reflect for a while on a passage from Ephesians that's pregnant with theological and practical meaning. It has much to say about our vocation and how we are to live as "vocationally-directed" people.
Here's the passage:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
Paul begins by begging us to "lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (v. 1). In other words, our calling isn't just a matter of belief, or something abstract. It should guide our behavior in a fundamental and transformational way.
What is "the calling to which you have been called"? Paul seems to use this phrase as a summary of everything he's said so far in Ephesians, which is one weighty piece of theology. We have been chosen by God before the foundation of the world (1:4) to belong to God as His beloved children (1:5) and to "live for the praise of his glory" (1:12). Through our life and witness, we become an example to the whole universe of God's gracious work in Jesus Christ (3:8-11). As we are rooted, grounded, and overwhelmed by the love of Christ, we are "filled with all the fullness of God," so that we might live for his glory (3:16-21). This is your calling, Paul says, now live it out.
I'm struck by the first specifics we find in Ephesians 4 after the call to live out our calling: "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (4:2-3). If you've been following this discussion of vocation since the beginning, you know that it started with a provocative piece by Arch Van Devender on the connection between vocation and relationship. I chimed in, trying to show the extent to which vocation and relationship are inseparably intertwined in Scripture. Ephesians 4 seems to underline this point, since the command to live out our calling is modified with a series of characteristics and actions that have to do with life in Christian community. Apart from relationship, we cannot live our vocation. And our vocation necessarily requires a commitment to relationship in the body of Christ.
In one of his later posts on the subject, Arch connects our vocation to a larger worldview that's part and parcel of Christian faith. He says, "A sense of 'vocation' flows immediately and directly from this integrated world view." Ephesians confirms Arch's insight here, since the command to live out our calling follows one of the most expansive visions of the universe and its purpose you'll ever find. The more we understand what God's doing in the cosmos, the more we will find our place within this grand scheme, and the more we will recognize our calling, and the more we will live in light of this calling. (How's that for a run on sentence? Almost as long as Paul's sentences in Ephesians!)
A few closing, pastoral thoughts:
1. We need to recover the biblical sense of vocation. Vocation is far more than work or job or career. It's God's calling that gives order and purpose to our lives. We need a comprehensive sense of vocation. It isn't just about work, or relationships, or . . . . Vocation embraces all of these aspects and helps them to find their proper balance and connectedness.
2. Vocation reminds me that my life is not my own. I belong to the One who chose me before the foundation of the world, who saved me out of love, and who has called me to glorify Him. I don't choose my vocation. I receive it and respond in faithful obedience to the One who has called me.
3. All Christians have a calling, both in the larger sense and in the specific sense. It may be good – and here I'm speaking heresy for a Presbyterian – to stop using "call" only for one specific vocation, to ordained ministry, and to start using "call" in a more wholistic, biblical sense. Yes, I have a call to be a pastor. But every person in my congregation also has a call, both that which is shared with all other believers, and that which is specific to each individual.
4. Thanks again to Arch for getting me thinking about this!