This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for January 23) is written by Steve Carr who serves with Echo Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Light for the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:1-7)
By Steve Carr
As a minister and an employee at a Christian institution, I have spent a lot of time talking with people about God’s call in their lives. Through these interactions I have met people who have claimed to hear the audible voice of God speak to them. I’ve also met people who fear for their salvation because they have never felt God speaking in their lives. While many people are willing to submit to the will of God, there seems to be varying opinions concerning how God makes this known to believers.
We of Restoration Movement heritage have continually struggled with this topic, falling somewhere in the broad chasm of beliefs between the mainline and charismatic churches. This shouldn’t be too surprising; this awkwardness is part of our heritage. One of the catalysts that led Barton Stone to explore New Testament Christianity was the inner turmoil he experienced with the 19th-century Calvinistic sense of calling.
As we explore the text of this week’s Sunday school lesson, we continue to examine the prophecy of Isaiah—specifically, the calling of this unknown servant of the Lord. Even though we’re not entirely sure who this servant is (many believe it to be messianic prophecy) our study of Isaiah 49:1-7 might assist us in understanding the different ways in which God calls us.
Too often, the words of the servant in verse 4 are similar to our own. We feel as if we are giving our all for the Lord without any clear calling or distinct purpose. We maintain our trust that God is in control, but we’re unclear about how he’s working through us. I believe this text can relieve such tension because it reveals three different stages of God’s call.
The calling before we understood
The theme is seen throughout Scripture and is noted in this text as well: God knew you before you were born. The servant of Isaiah 49 twice references the time before his actual birth, noting that God already had designs on his life when he was in the womb. Not only is this concept helpful in the fight against abortion, it also displays how God works through us without our even knowing it. He imprints his calling in our DNA. We are born with purpose flowing through our veins.
Throughout my youth, I knew my parents would rise early in the morning to pray for me and my siblings. Later in life, I discovered this habit developed long before we were born; even while we were in the womb, they prayed for our futures—our faith, our vocations, our spouses. While unsure what would become of us, they knew if we lived lives in faithfulness to the Lord, we would fulfill our callings. Likewise, God has been crafting how he could use us before we were even born.
The calling concealed
It is interesting that in verse 2, the servant compares himself to concealed weapons. Of all possible metaphors, I’m not sure many of us envision ourselves as hidden armaments. While some people are bothered by spiritual warfare imagery, we need to understand what weaponry is: a combat tool. Tools are instruments used to accomplish a specific task. And as the Lord wages war for the hearts and minds of people, we, his servants, are his secret weapons—nobody sees us coming.
There are times when the calling of God remains hidden, only to be revealed when his purpose needs to be accomplished. Our job is to exhibit patience, understanding that the hidden will one day be revealed.
The calling yet to come
As this Scripture text moves toward its crescendo, we see a change in language. Throughout verses 6 and 7, the servant recalls the words of God, using the future tense to highlight what is to come. There are times in our lives when God is preparing us for a future work, but this in itself is still a call.
I can’t attribute the source of the following quote, but it illustrates this concept: “Learn while you can, so you can lead when you must.” Even though God has a future purpose for you, you must live in the now and become the person he will need you to be.
What’s our call?
Although our call might not bear the same weight as that of the Isaiah 49 servant, every Christian is called to become friends of God. How do we accomplish this? Jesus told his followers, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14). As this week’s text concludes by affirming the Lord’s selection of his servant, so too has God called you—to obey him.
*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.
|HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS|
|Jan. 17: Isaiah 49:8-13|
|Jan. 18: Matthew 24:45-51|
|Jan. 19: Matthew 23:2-12|
|Jan. 20: 1 Corinthians 9:19-23|
|Jan. 21: Matthew 10:16-24|
|Jan. 22: Matthew 12:15-21|
|Jan. 23: Isaiah 49:1-7|
ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Steve Carr is teaching minister at Echo Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. His Web site is houseofcarr.com.