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CALLED OR CHOSEN?

In the NIV translation of Matthew 22:14, we read the words “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” The KJV reads “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Two other alternative translations of called occur: “summoned,” and “asked to come.” “Called” and “invited” are the most common. Almost all the translations I have consulted use “chosen,” although “chosen ones” and “chosen to stay” are also found.

These stories will probably not help everyone, but I have two personal analogies that help me exegete and understand the meaning of the verse.

In 1957, Joice and I accompanied another 30 or so couples and singles to the Mexican state of Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border. All of us had been “called” to serve the Lord in Bible translation and went to be trained by our organization (WBT) in “survival” techniques. We were allowed one duffle bag and flown to a small village where we began our training for 6 weeks. We listened to lectures, took hikes, built rafts, and tried to learn some of the Tzeltal language. Upon completion of the “base camp,” we hiked for a day or so into the jungle and began our “advanced camp” for another 6 weeks. There we heard more lectures, but we also had to first build our own hut using “bush” materials. We learned to use a compass, took river, jungle, and survival hikes, and so on. Until our hut was completed, we slept in jungle hammocks and in them on our numerous hikes.

At the end of the session, each couple or single was called into the presence of the camp leaders for evaluation. Some were told that they didn’t make it: they were not invited to go on for further training and an overseas assignment in Bible translation. They were not chosen, but Joice and I (and others) were.

Did that make us special? No, because it was dangerous to be chosen. We would have an uncertain future, filled with unexpected dangers and problems. There would be responsibilities that the called would not have to face. Those called were destined for a different future from those who were chosen.

I have another personal analogy of what it is like to be chosen. In 1958, Joice and I were assigned to PNG and began studying the Kewa language. After about 3 years, a professor from the University of Michigan came to help language workers with their linguistic problems. The Director of our work “called” about 24 teams to attend a “workshop” that was conducted by the professor. Later, the professor “chose” some of us to be trained as future consultants. Did that make us special? I suppose there was some fleeting pride, but I was scared. The professor wanted me to go on to graduate school, earn degrees, consult, and teach others. I was not thrilled to be “chosen” and I don’t think Joice was either.

I wonder how Peter and the other disciples felt about being chosen. They had to leave everything, as Peter later reminded Jesus, when they were chosen. There were many called followers of Jesus, but very few were chosen to be disciples and those who were sometimes complained about the cost.

Paul is another example. He was an outstanding, learned Jew, who harassed the Christians. Jesus called him in a special way and chose him to minister, in particular, to the Gentiles. We read of some of the cost to him in 2 Corinthians 11.25: he was beaten with rods, pelted with stones, shipwrecked, had a night in the open sea, as well as having dangers from rivers, bandits, fellow Jews, Gentiles, false believers, and wild animals. Being chosen included a stiff price that Paul had to pay when he followed Christ.

There are other common analogies of calling and being chosen: during a war, many men and women are called into the military, and some are chosen for specific and often dangerous missions.

In BibleGateway and the NIV, there are 121 results if you ask for verses with “chosen.” We are a chosen people (1Peter 2.9). Abraham was chosen (Genesis 18.19), and so were many other individuals, as well as clans and families. David was chosen to be king (2 Samuel 16.18) and his story is not always a pleasant one. Moses and Aaron were chosen, as were Jacob, Mary, the disciples, and even Rufus—the list is a long and favored one! Those who built and served at the temple were chosen, as were some servants, cities, and God’s dwelling place. But the primary chosen one of God was Jesus (Luke 9.35; John 1.34), servant and even our friend.

I have often heard that all Christians are “called” to be missionaries, that is to take the Gospel to whomever we can. That is certainly true, but I do not think we are all “chosen” to be missionaries. Some see it quite differently, and a cynical anthropologist once told me, “If all the missionaries in the world were laid end to end, that would be a good thing!”

Peter reminds us of why we were chosen: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 1.2), Called out of darkness to declare God to those we meet.

Karl Franklin

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