Like attempting to surf an ironing board down a concrete stairwell.
Likewise, some quotes and clichés seem really profound when we first hear them, but upon later reflection, they don’t really make much sense.
Like this one:
“God doesn’t call the qualified! He qualifies the called!”
I’ve heard it many times. Almost always in a sermon. And almost always as an encouragement for someone to do something for God.
It’s poetic. It’s nicely balanced. It even seems deeply spiritual, as if God is thumbing his nose at a cloister of theologians with clipboards and checklists.
I even think I know what it really means. (I’ll get to it at the end of this post.)
But does it actually make any sense?
God doesn’t call the qualified!
Really? He doesn’t call qualified people to do things?
For the moment, let’s set aside the pedantic observation that God’s calling in Scripture almost always refers to the act by which he draws people to Christ (e.g. Romans 8:30; Ephesians 4:1), and we’ll try to take it the way it’s probably meant. In our cliché, I think calling means inviting, asking, or even commanding some form of Christian service.
But still, he doesn’t do this for qualified people?
I started thinking about this while reading 1 Chronicles 26:6-8, where the Lord notes that the gatekeepers of the Temple were men with the strength and ability for their task.
Then there’s 1 Timothy 3:1-7 or Titus 1:5-9, where Paul gives Timothy and Titus the divine qualifications for men who would be pastors of churches. Most people today would say that’s a calling!
And what about the Apostle Paul himself? Did his legal mind have nothing to do with the way he wrote the letter to the Romans? Did his Jewish education have nothing to do with the way he preached Jesus in the synagogues? Was this “Hebrew of the Hebrews” not the ideal candidate to preach the Gospel that united Jew and Gentile under Christ?
I suppose we could say that God gave these men everything that qualified them for their callings, but then we’d also have to say that he called the qualified. Or…
…Does God Qualify the Called?
In each of our examples above, the men were qualified before they were called, so it seems like that’s the normal order of things.
But there’s a little more to it.
When God gives the qualifications for pastors in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, he follows it with qualifications for deacons in vv. 8-13. In verse 10, he specifically says that a man’s qualifications should be demonstrated before the church entrusts him with such an office.
Similarly, Jesus offers numerous parables that show how God tests a person before giving them responsibility. We can summarize the parables with the proverb, “He that is faithful in little shall be faithful in much.” (e.g. Luke 16:10)
Of course, we have to ask the reverse question: Does God call the unqualified?
It’s a legitimate question, for if God doesn’t call qualified people but only qualifies the called, then he must be calling unqualified people!
At first this is a little silly, and we can imagine what might happen if a polygamist said he was called to be a pastor, despite God saying that a pastor must be the “husband of one wife.” (1 Timothy 3:2)
But it gets serious when men and women respond to guilt or pressure and feel like they have to do something that God has not equipped them to do!
Like the guy who surrenders his life to God and feels like he should become a preacher, despite the fact that he has no gift for public speaking.
Speaking of Moses…
In Exodus 4:1-17, Moses argues with God. He attempts to convince God that he is not the right person to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He finally pleads a speech impediment, and God basically says, “I made you the way that you are. Now go do what I’ve told you to do!”
Verse 14 actually says that God got angry with Moses. That’s because Moses kept saying “I can’t,” when God knew what he really meant was “I won’t.”
That’s a big difference.
And I think that’s where this cliché came from.
Too often, Christians find themselves unwilling to do what they know God wants them to do, and they search for excuses. We look down the road as far as we can see, and frankly, it looks difficult.
“God, I can’t.”
“God, I’m not qualified!”
There’s our escape hatch. Surely God wouldn’t want an unqualified person serving him in the church, any more than we would want an unqualified person running the forklift at the warehouse.
So, preachers – in an attempt to be helpful – have tried to eliminate that excuse. In effect, the cliché is trying to say: “If God wants you to do something, he’ll give you all the strength you need to do it. It’s not your lack of qualification that’s holding you back; it’s your lack of faith.”
And a lot of times, they’re right.
The truth is, just like God said to Moses, God has made us exactly the way we are. He has given us personalities, gifts, strengths, talents, and even orchestrated our experiences so that we are who we are right now.
The point is that whatever God leads us to do, he has already qualified us!
If we fail to meet the qualifications that Scripture lays out for us, I’d say he’s not calling us!
But where Scripture clearly indicates we should be serving – evangelism, discipleship, hospitality, etc. – we can be confident that God has equipped us to do exactly what he wants us to do, exactly how and when he wants us to do it.
He’s good like that.