"For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). This statement by Christ should lead us to ask several clarifying questions. Who is called? Who is chosen? Finally, what is the manner of their choosing?
Who is called?
Jesus’ statement is made at the conclusion of the parable of the wedding feast. In this parable two groups of people are called to the wedding feast. The first group rejected the call and killed the messengers of the king:
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, “Tell those who are invited, ‘See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’” But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them (Matthew 22:2-6).
I believe this first group represents the Jews of Jesus’ day. Messengers proclaiming the gospel were sent to the children of Israel. But the Jews, for the most part, rejected the call of God. Jesus said in Luke 13:34: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” Stephen said something very similar before the counsel in Jerusalem: “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers” (Acts 7:52). After this Stephen too was killed. The Jews were called first.
The Gentiles are the second group of people depicted in this parable:
Then he said to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests (Matthew 22:8-10).
The Jews of Jesus’ day rejected the call, and the call was extended to the Gentiles. In Acts 13:46 Paul declares this quite plainly, “Paul and Barnabas spake out boldly, and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you. Seeing ye thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.’”
The scriptures emphatically declare that all are called, both Jew and Gentile. Paul tells us in Acts 17: 30 that God “now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” Again Paul tells us in I Timothy 2:3-4: “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.” Who is called? All are called.
Who is chosen and what is the manner of their choosing?
As is depicted in the parable of the wedding feast, only those that respond to the call can be considered chosen. This parable also instructs that simply responding to the call is not sufficient. In verse 11 a scene is depicted where the King finds a man who is not properly attired for the wedding feast. The king has the man bound hand and foot and cast into outer darkness “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13). This event in the parable brings forth the implication that the call contained more information than a simple invitation to come to the feast. The call must have also contained the additional requirement that the guest be attired in an acceptable manner. The punishment for not abiding by the requirements is akin to punishment for not answering the call. Simply showing up is not enough for the Lord.
The chosen are those who answer the call and comply with the requirements of the invitation. The Lord calls us out of the world and asks that we follow him. There are many in this world that believe they have answered the call and are among the chosen. But Paul reveals that unless they are also following the commandments of the Lord they will not be saved:
Brethren, my heart’s desire and my supplication to God is for them, that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:1-3).
The guest without a wedding garment depicted in Jesus’ parable answered the call, but not in the manner required by the Lord. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21).
We are called by the Gospel out of the world into the service of the Lord: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). It is through the gospel that we learn the Lord requires us to leave behind our fleshly habits and tendencies and follow him:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:1-2).
Simply put, the Lord chooses servants who choose to serve him according to his will.