2To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:2, NIV)
Many of us have had the experience of receiving a letter we are not especially glad to receive. Prominent on the envelope in bright red all caps were the fateful words: OFFICIAL JURY SUMMONS ENCLOSED. I have mixed feelings about my last summons. Partly, I felt a sense of duty to participate. Yet, as I gazed at the summons in my hand, I also felt a sense of dread. As much as I want to do my civic duty and serve as a juror, the thought of missing many days of work is a daunting one. My work doesn’t stop when I’m not doing it. It merely piles up higher and higher.
But a summons is not something one should ignore. The State of California reminds us, “Failure to respond may subject you to a fine, incarceration or both.” A summons carries substantial authority and needs to be taken seriously. So, we respond to the summons by making ourselves available for jury duty.
In our effort to make sense of the biblical notion of calling, we’d do well to keep in mind a summons to jury duty. In fact, the meaning of the Greek verb “to call” (kaleō) in the standard New Testament lexicon, is: to call, call by name; to invite; to summon. The last two definitions are of greatest interest to us here. When God calls, it is a kind of invitation. God doesn’t use His superior power to force us to respond. Rather, God invites us to join His family and His work. He extends this invitation with grace rather than compulsion.
But God’s invitation comes with distinctive clout. Though God does not compel us to accept His invitation, it really is a summons. It comes, after all, from the Sovereign of the universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords. So, in 1 Cor. 1:2, when Paul writes that the Corinthian Christians – and by extension, we ourselves – are “called to be saints,” he doesn’t mean they have received an invitation they might ignore without consequence. Rather, when we are called by God, we are summoned by the supreme Authority. God’s invitation comes with unique clout. We would do well to take it seriously.
As we consider our relationship with the Lord, we hold in tension that God’s calling is both an invitation and a summons. We hear the invitation in so many passages of Scripture, including for example, when Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Or God’s gracious invitation in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” At the same time, we rightly understand that God is summoning us to follow Jesus with our whole lives and to live each moment for the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:11-14). Let me encourage you today to reflect on the invitation and summons dimensions of God’s calling.
Lord Jesus, help me to receive Your invitation with grateful openness.
Help me to respond to Your summons with heartfelt obedience.