He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thess 5:24)
These few simple words sum up some of the essential fundamentals of Christianity. They tell us three things about God: that he has called us, that he is faithful, that he will do. They tell us that our Christianity is built on God. First, on his word, on his declared mind and purpose, on his personal summons or invitation—he has called us. Second, on his character—he is faithful, and so his word is true, and can be trusted. Third, on his complementary doing, his performance of what he has promised—he surely will do. For in the Christian gospel God does not just point the way, or provide the example, and leave us to do all the performance. He himself is the great Doer. He crowns his call, he completes his word, he confirms his faithfulness, by his doing.
These words also tell us that Christianity involves all who share in it in direct personal relations with God. It is here implied that the Christian life includes a revelation of God’s mind, a response to his call, a reliance upon his faithfulness, and a realisation of his working. As Christians, we are meant to prove that the God who calls us is himself the faithful Doer, transforming our experience by his activity. Or, to put it in yet another way, as we pause and meditate upon this verse, and upon what it has to suggest to us, it will be appropriate to consider the source, the character, the confidence and the fulfillment of our Christian calling—the origin, the content, the guarantee and the crowning prospect of our Christian hope.
1. The source or origin of our Christian calling and hope is God, not ourselves. We are not following our own fancy, or some age long human tradition. God has called us. Becoming Christians is not primarily our idea; it is simply our response to the divine initiative. We have not chosen him; he has chosen us. Those who become Christians simply say “Yes” to the divine invitation; they obey God’s voice. Nothing, indeed, is more fundamental and indispensable to the true Christian experience than this—to be sure, indeed to be amazed at the awareness, that God himself has chosen and called us, that in his mercy he has set his wonderful love upon us, that we have a special place in his purpose, not by our merit, but by his grace.
2. The character and content of our Christian calling and hope it will next be natural to ask, what kind of lives are we Christians now meant to live, and what have we to look forward to, whether in this life or the next? The answers to these questions are found in that word of revelation by which God calls us. For when God calls he makes plain both the pathway and the goal which he has in view. Take, for instance, the witness of 1 Thessalonians. In 2:12 the ultimate goal of our calling is said to be to share in the kingdom and glory of God. In 4:3 and 7, and 5:17-18, the present pathway is described as one of holiness, and of joyful trust and thankfulness. In a world in which God’s standards are defied and his mercies and his truth unappreciated, it is God’s will that, as his people, we should be different—by lives of purity, and by words of praise, prayer and thanksgiving. In 5:23 references to the present perfection of holiness, and to the prospect of final participation in glory, are joined together in a prayer, which is immediately followed by the words: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it”.
The last two points we can best consider together: (iii) The confidence and guarantee of our Christian calling and hope is the faithfulness of God, and (iv) The crowning prospect and active fulfillment of our Christian calling and hope are found in God’s doing.
We know that he will do what he has said. For words, particularly words of professed intention, are worthless, indeed they are worse than worthless, they are positively misleading, unless those who utter them mean what they say, and intend to perform what they promise. It is at these very points that God is completely different from sinful and fallible men. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will not fulfill it? (Num 23:19). Men say things that are not true; they make promises and later go back on their word. This is what causes discord in married life, in society, in international relations. God is entirely different, he shows his truth and his trustworthiness by performance; he always completes utterance with action. So, in our uncertain world the one sure ground of confidence and hope is to be found in the word of God and in the certainty that God will fulfill it. When our scientific and unbelieving age tries to mislead us into supposing that the material world is everything, and that the so called word of God has had its day, and ought to be discarded, let us remember that the Lord Jesus himself said exactly the opposite: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt 24:35). Confidence and hope are, therefore, to be found in the call of God, in his revealing word, in his unchanging faithfulness, in his certainty to fulfill his promises. So let us make God and his word our confidence; let us make God and his faithful doing our hope. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (compare Psalm 37:5).
This article was first published in the Australian Church Record on 23 November 1961. In this series we hear reflections on Scripture from the Rev. Alan M Stibbs.