The Internal and External Call

“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty” (v. 3).

- Acts 6:1–7

God’s will is something that we should seek to discern no matter what area of life we are talking about. Frequently, however, the person who is seeking the will of God for his life has in mind the question of vocation. What he really wants to know is what the Lord would have him do for employment.

This is an intensely spiritual question; even if our Father has not called us to earn our living through gospel ministry, He has called each of us to be active members of the one body of Christ. Christians are called to serve one another in love (Gal. 5:13), and there are innumerable ways to do so. We may serve other people in the church if we are elders or deacons, work in the nursery, teach Sunday school, help the youth group, visit the nursing home, and so on. Yet what we can forget is that even our work outside the church is a way to serve others. Doctors serve sick people by providing medical care to those who are unable to give it to themselves. Mechanics serve others when they make repairs for those who lack the skills to keep their cars running. The list goes on and on.

Regarding the call to full-time service in the church, such as the call to the pastorate, we often speak of both the internal and external call. The internal call is that inward, subjective desire on the part of the individual to serve the church and the personal sense that God has in fact chosen him for that task (1 Tim. 3:1). In most denominations, the internal call is not enough for ordination; the candidate must have an external call as well. Following the leading of the Holy Spirit, the potential pastor must be recognized as such by other Christian leaders because we can mistakenly think the Lord has called us to a task that He has in fact not given as our vocation. Today’s passage describes an occasion on which the external call was issued in the early church (Acts 6:1–7).

Scripture speaks of the internal and external call primarily with respect to vocational ministry in the church, but this word applies secondarily to other labors. We can justly expect God to reveal our calling by giving us a desire for a certain vocation, the skills or opportunities for training to perform this calling, and confirmation from others that we are indeed made for such a task.

Coram Deo

Tomorrow we will look at some of the ways we can discern our calling. Today, ask yourself what you believe the Lord has called you to do. Have you ever shared this information with another believer? Have they agreed or disagreed with you? Have you ever been put into circumstances where this calling was tested? Did you prove up to the task? If your sense of internal calling does not match your external call, ask yourself if you have discerned God’s will rightly.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 41
1 Samuel 16
Luke 2:22–35
Galatians 2:1–10

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.