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Spheres and Callings

Christian faith is lived on the ground.

Ministry for Mission: Sent like Jesus (1)

We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us—a sphere which especially includes you. 2 Corinthians 10.13

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 11.1

“For everyone’s rule, according to which he ought to regulate himself is this ― God's gift and calling. At the same time, it is not lawful for us to glow in God's gift and calling on our own account, but merely in so far as it is expedient for the glory of him, who is so liberal to us with this view ― that we may acknowledge ourselves indebted to him for everything.”

  - John Calvin, Commentary on 2 Corinthians 10.13

Gift and calling
Every believer, Paul insisted, has been called to the Kingdom and glory of God (1 Thess. 2.12). In the Kingdom, believers are equipped with the Word of God and empowered by the Spirit of God to do the work by which they bring glory to God and make progress in their journey toward eternal glory. The Holy Spirit brings believers into the presence of God’s glory, and transforms them there into the image of Jesus Christ, so that, from glory to glory, we make progress in our sanctification and in fulfilling the work we’ve been given to do (2 Cor. 3.12-18).

Paul refers to this work as the believer’s “state” or “calling” (1 Cor. 7.17-23), and he instructs believers to live for Christ in whatever calling may be assigned to them. The work we do in our calling is greater than the job at which we work, and entails all the energy of words and deeds to which we apply ourselves, seeking the Kingdom of God to come on earth as in heaven in every area of life (Matt. 6.33), so as to bring glory to God in whatever we do (1 Cor. 10.31). We must work at maintaining loving relationships, doing all our work with excellence and efficiency, resisting the devil, overcoming evil with good, and doing our part toward building-up the local church. Believers must make the most of all the time God gives them, lest their time be stolen from them for purposes other than advancing the Kingdom and righteousness of God (Eph. 5.15-17).

The measure of a shepherd’s effectiveness in ministry is, as Paul insisted, in the way those he serves bring glory to God and enter ever more deeply into the joy of their salvation. The shepherd’s work – his ministry – is to outfit the Lord’s people for their work – their ministry (Eph. 4.11, 12). Shepherds can know that their labors are not in vain in the Lord as they equip, oversee, and encourage the people to fulfill their calling in the Kingdom.Equipping God’s people for works of ministry within their life calling is thus the shepherd’s primary work. That work entails helping God’s people follow the example of Paul and Jesus in identifying and working their calling, to the glory of God, within their own individual spheres.

The limits of the sphere
The word translated sphere in the NKJV of our text is the Greek word, κανών - canon (in our text, κανόνος). It means a rule or principle or standard, and indicates a sphere within which that rule or standard is pursued. God, Paul says, had appointed a sphere for him, within which he must pursue his calling as apostle to the Gentiles. Paul assured the Corinthians that they were within that assigned sphere.

Paul understood that, in order to fulfill his calling, he had to know his sphere, and what was expected of him there. This would define the limits of what he should attend to day by day. Jesus indicated that His own sphere – ministering among the lost sheep of Israel – did not include efforts toward the Gentiles, except as they came to Him, seeking mercy and grace to help in their time of need. The sphere of ministry to the Gentiles would be opened by Peter in Acts 10, and pursued by Paul as the primary focus of his ministry. Jesus worked His sphere, and He expected His disciples to do the same, making disciples as they were going in their assigned spheres. Paul certainly took this example to heart, and he expected his readers to do the same.

It is not true that, in the Kingdom of God, some are sent and some are senders. All believers have been sent to the world in an assigned sphere, according to a calling within which seeking the Kingdom of God is the overarching and defining priority, and doing works of ministry is the means to that end. Effectiveness in fulfilling this calling begins in defining the limits of one’s sphere, and taking up the work of that sphere according to a rule or standard, defined by the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Boasting in the Lord
The overriding objective that Paul pursued in his sphere and calling was that boasting in the Lord and His saving mercy and grace would continue to increase (cf. 2 Cor. 4.7-15). It’s not difficult to see that Paul realized this objective over and over again. Everywhere he went, people heard the Gospel, many were saved, churches became organized and enlisted in the worldwide effort to advance the rule of King Jesus. Paul could say, near the end of his life, that he had finished his course as the Lord expected of Him (2 Tim. 4.7). He had led people to Christ throughout Asia Minor, Greece, and other parts of Europe. Dozens of churches had been planted. Missionaries were going about throughout the Empire to continue and enlarge the work of the Gospel. Timothy, Titus, Clement, and many others had taken up the work of making disciples who would be disciple-makers of others as well (2 Tim. 2.2).

Our goal as shepherds must be to equip those we serve with the vision and skills to increase boasting in the Lord throughout our communities. What will that look like? People talking freely, happily, and sincerely about their faith in Jesus. Believers joining together in good works to the poor and needy. All believers identifying their sphere and calling, and submitting to the equipping and shepherding that will enable them to increase boasting about Jesus within their own spheres. Vibrant worship, and churches worshiping together. Believers and their churches doing the work of salt, light, and leaven in their spheres, so that the beauty, goodness, truth, and joy of the Lord replace the lies, corruption, ugliness, and incivility that characterize life in the kingdom of darkness.

We must give God’s people a vision for serving Him according to His standards in their individual spheres. We must equip them to be zealous and ready for good works, and to fulfill their appointed task of being witnesses for Jesus Christ (Tit. 2.14; 3.1; Acts 1.8). We must teach them how to walk in the Spirit, according to the rule and standard of God’s Word, so that Jesus increases in them, and they decrease, and rivers of holy spiritual life flow from them to all the people and in all their places of their spheres and callings.Our labors – no matter how much we do or how hard we work – will be in vain until, like Paul, we see the Lord Jesus exalted and held high in holy and joyous boasting in the lives and words of those to whom God has sent us in our sphere and calling.

If, indeed, the goal of Christianity is the imitation of Christ according to the measure of his incarnation, insofar as is conformable with the vocation of each individual, they who are entrusted with the guidance of many others are obliged to animate those still weaker than themselves, by their assistance, to the imitation of Christ. 

- Basil of Caesarea, The Long Rules 43

T. M. Moore

Personal Mission Field
This is the first of several installments of this series on “Ministry for Mission”, in which we will be investigating the believer’s calling to a Personal Mission Field. If you’d like a preview of the topics we’ll be considering, watch this brief video.

Resources for Shepherds
Visit our new website and the Resources for Shepherds page especially prepared to provide shepherds with a variety of resources and opportunities for improving their skills. You can even add your own items by clicking the submission form and posting a resource of your own.

Please prayerfully consider sharing with The Fellowship of Ailbe through your giving. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore

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