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Saul, the Ethiopian or Timothy? Whose Calling Was Better?

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Saul, the Ethiopian or Timothy? Whose Calling Was Better?

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“We have our story too,” said the speaker looking directly at all of the older men in the room during a Spokesman Club meeting. As a young man in his early 20s who had been recently baptized, he continued by recalling several accounts he had heard over the years of older members being called into God’s Church.

The stories included profound experiences of people coming into contact with a Plain Truth magazine as if by accident or of hearing a voice on the radio when the channel changed after a car struck a large pothole in the road. The speaker, Derrick Slocum, said he and others who had grown up in the Church enjoyed hearing all of the near-miraculous accounts of people being called by God, but it often left them feeling a bit inferior since they did not have a similar experience.

The focus of the speech was about the experience of someone who had grown up knowing the truth and then coming to a point of a life-changing decision. The decision involves appreciation of the “pearl of great price” and deciding that “this is for me; this is what I want to live my life for.” Coming to repentance, baptism and personally owning the truth one has grown up with are the end result. The story might be different, but the result is the same.

This topic was discussed at our camp directors conference two years ago, and resulted in our overall theme for United Youth Camps for 2018—“God’s Vision For You.” The youth in God’s Church need to understand that their calling to be a part of God’s family is valid and real. It might not be as dramatic as some accounts they have heard, but the same purpose is being carried out.

The Calling of Saul

When he was about age 30 and very zealous for the religion of the Pharisees, a man named Saul left Jerusalem for Damascus with authority to arrest members of a new religion who were following the teachings of a man named Jesus, who had been crucified by the Romans a few years earlier. The book of Acts gives us the account:

“Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do’” (Acts 9: 1-6).

Many of us are familiar with the rest of the story. Saul’s name was changed to Paul and he was used by God to write 14 books of the New Testament. He also established churches in the Greek-speaking part of the Roman Empire and carried God’s message about the Kingdom of God to the Roman rulers of his day.

Although “struck down” in a different way during the 1920s and early 1930s, Herbert Armstrong felt that he had been called by God in a similar fashion as Saul, and then brought into contact with a remnant of people clinging to truth.

In his autobiography, Mr. Armstrong recounts: “The opening of my eyes to the truth brought me to the crossroads of my life. To accept it meant to throw in my lot with a class of humble and unpretentious people . . . It meant the final crushing of vanity. It meant a total change of life . . . I had been beaten down. God had brought that about—though I didn’t realize it then” (Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, Vol. 1, p. 311).

The Calling of the Ethiopian

Often when God is calling a person, he brings him into contact with a minister of the true Church. This was the case of the Ethiopian in Acts 8.

“So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot.’ So Philip ran to him and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him” (Acts 8: 27-31). After Philip explained the scriptures to him, the Ethiopian was baptized.

A majority of those called between 1950 and 1990 were called as a result of coming into contact with the gospel message, whether in print, radio or television. Their stories are often fascinating to hear. (I met a man in England years ago who said he was sitting on a bench waiting for a train when another train went by. The wind blew a Plain Truth magazine onto the sidewalk right in front of him. He picked it up and later became a member of the Church.) Others first heard about the truth by contact with Church members. While there are still those being called in this way today, the numbers are smaller than what was experienced several decades ago.

The Response Is Key

No matter how a person begins to understand the truth, they must respond by recognizing it and wanting to learn more. They can only understand if their mind is open. Our calling is from the Father, as Jesus taught in John 6:44: “No man can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up the last day.” We cannot convince anyone to understand truth if their mind is closed (2 Corinthians 3:15).

When exposed to the message about the Kingdom of God, people today respond as they did when Paul was preaching in Athens: “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’ So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17: 32-34).

The four types of soil mentioned in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9) are still with us. The most common is the “stony places” where the word is rejected. Our society is becoming more godless and immoral with each day, and knowledge of and interest in the Bible is in decline in the general population.

Secondly is the “shallow soil” where there is some interest but no real commitment or depth of understanding. Jesus described this as “having no root” or foundation. Perhaps this is partly the result of the “gospel message” being commonly taught today. Often it has been watered down to a self-focused message of health and wealth or one of “experience” in place of obedience and repentance. People often show up at church to “evaluate” and see if we believe what they do, or they express enthusiasm and then disappear.

Thirdly, and most tragically, is the soil with choking weeds. These people are called by God and begin living the life of Christians. There is a time of growth and good progress, but then they become sidetracked and gradually fall away. Paul warned us about “neglecting salvation” and not “drifting away” (Hebrews 2:1-3). Jesus described the choking weeds as, “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” This serves as a constant warning to all who have responded to God’s calling and are striving to grow in grace and knowledge. We cannot forget that, in order to be with Jesus Christ on the Mount of Olives we must be “called, chosen, and faithful.”

Finally, there is fertile soil producing fruit. This requires a life of prayer, Bible study, using the Spirit of God to overcome and enduring to the end. We all want to follow the example of Paul as he told Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). What an incredible experience it will be to hear the words, “Well done you good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

The Calling of Timothy

The majority of those coming to repentance today are following the example of Timothy. The opening lines of the apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy apply to so many young adults today. Paul is very thankful for Timothy and the Bible teaching Timothy received from his mother and grandmother. Paul encourages Timothy to be a strong courageous leader, not in any way feeling inferior to others.

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, a beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1: 1-8).

These words should ring loud and clear to the youth of God’s Church today. Your calling from God the Father is every bit as valid and true as the calling of Saul, the Ethiopian, your parents, grandparents, or any pillar members of your congregation. You have the great advantage of learning the truth from an early age. If you follow and apply these words you have been taught then you can avoid many mistakes and scars in life. What a great blessing to be taught God’s truth by your parents and grandparents!

God has a vision for your life. He is calling you to be in His family forever and continue to build His Kingdom, which will never stop growing. As the speaker said, you have your story too.