Calling and being called
A new series on what we can learn from 1 Peter, a letter written to scattered, suffering communities. This opening piece from series author Terry Young explores calling
While my TV viewing under lockdown has involved too many box sets (Elementary, Monk, Bones), I’ve been memorising 1 Peter and trying to understand it. Written to scattered, suffering communities, it provides a solid backdrop to an energy-sapping year that has drained hope away.
In memory work, you soon notice ideas that pop up and reappear. However, when Peter uses similar words in a slightly different order, remembering exactly which phrase goes where is a bit of a nightmare. Not long into my efforts, I sensed that calling was something central to the letter.
The New Testament word for church, ecclesia, is about calling. Churches consist of people who are called out, not in the modern sense of calling out an issue but called out of their surrounding society. Ecclesia, is a compound Greek word: ek – we would expect, ex in Latin – followed by the word for call. I’m learning, too, but search for ‘1 Peter interlinear’ and make the connections, click by click.
Peter doesn’t use the ‘church’ word, addressing his readers as (alphabetically) chosen, exiles, family of believers, foreigners, husbands, slaves and wives. However, he writes frequently about calling (1Peter 1:15; 1:17; 2:9; 2:21; 3:6; 3:9; and 5:10, all quotations, NIV): sometimes called; sometimes calling. This is relational for Peter and reminds us how quickly we downgrade voice into vocation: he is into conversation, not careers.
So, what sort of calling does he write about? Well, we are called out and to. We are called for a purpose and, finally, we too can call.
Only once does Peter write about being called ‘out of,’ using that original church idea, where (1 Peter 2:9) we are called ‘out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ He sustains the metaphor of darkness and light throughout the letter. For instance, his readers are not to, ‘conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance’ (1 Peter 1:14). Elsewhere, he tells them that, ‘it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people, (1 Peter 2:15, see also 3:13-16). This represents a two-way contrast, first, between how we behave now and how we used to behave and, second, between what we do and what those around us do.
The contrast with those around us is also to be evident to all (1 Peter 4:3-4): ‘For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.’
This now-and-then narrative is often part of the service where we baptise people (more on this later in the series), but Peter is not writing about a one-off description of what we used to do and what we do now. He is writing about a difference so extreme that everyone else is talking about it.
So, his first challenge to us is how radically our lives as Christians contrast with what we once enjoyed and also, with how different we are from society around. So, what are people saying about you and about me?
Probing behind our behaviour, Peter refers several times to the purpose of our calling. The phrase, ‘to this you were called’ (1 Peter 2:21 & 3:9) points, once again, in two directions but this time the two directions seem to be polar opposites: suffering and glory. Disconcertingly, Peter sees that it is entirely proper for us to suffer, ‘if it is God’s will’ (1 Peter 3:17, see also 2:21 & 4:19).
Personally, I don’t like the sound of suffering, so what about the glory? In his beautiful benediction, hidden away toward – but not quite at – the end of his letter, we read that God has called us to ‘his eternal glory’ (1 Peter 5:10). Glory is a bright thread that contrasts with the heavier tones of suffering, but the two are rarely far apart.
As we shall see when we explore suffering and glory later in this series, Peter is rather like his fellow-disciple, John, in seeing suffering and glory as two sides of the same coin. We can understand glory as a goal for our lives, but suffering? For now, it’s a challenge – but one we are called to fulfil.
Finally for this blog, Peter writes (1 Peter 1:17): ‘Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.’ We have someone to call to, or to call on. There’s a parallel which we find may uncomfortable, in that Sarah calls, too: she calls Abraham her lord (1 Peter 3:6).
Peter’s description of the Father is a stern one, but there is comfort in being able to call on someone so powerful. To the exiles and scattered foreigners who suffered as second-class citizens and even as slaves, calling is a two-way street. It’s not just that they are the ‘called out’ ones, the ‘called from’ ones or the ‘called to’ ones: they are also the ‘calling ones.’ Purpose is unmanageable without companionship and Peter is aware, almost in passing, that we have a Father on whom we call.
Peter’s take on this idea of calling sets the tone. To suffering communities of Christians around the world then and around the world now, he explains that suffering is not something to be avoided or even escaped from, but is part of a dual purpose and closely connected to its other half – God’s eternal glory – to which we are also called. We are called away from one lifestyle and into another, with baptism, as the pivotal point of change.
So, are you called? Are you calling? I hope so!
This is part of a series where Terry explores 1 Peter
Calling and being called
Alert and sober
Suffering and glory
An upside down world
Peter and baptism
Image | Nsey Benajah | Unsplash
Terry Young was born to missionary parents working in the Middle East. He has always tried to unify his life of worship and secular missions, and has been part of church leadership teams in Essex, and at Slough Baptist Church. He has written a few books that link worlds, including After the Fishermen, and Jake, Just Learn to Worship.
After a mobile early childhood his family settled in the UK to the northwest of Birmingham, and eventually he studied at the local university. After his doctoral studies he worked for 16 years in Chelmsford undertaking research and business development in the aerospace sector, where his interest was in fibre optics and photonics. In the end he gravitated to healthcare systems and moved to Datchet with a position as a university professor. He is a member of a Baptist church
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