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Monday, April 19, 2010

Useful An Honorable Vessel

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

Paul in writing to Timothy uses an illustration that deserves closer inspection. In a great house there are vessels, or instruments of service (utensils) of gold, silver, wood and clay. Some for honorable use, and some for dishonorable—but which is which? Perhaps we take it for granted that the gold and silver utensils are for honorable use and the wood and clay are for dishonorable. Paul does not say.

Clay is used to make fine China, ash-trays and toilet bowls; that is, clay can be used in an honorable or dishonorable fashion. Wood can be used to cook our meal, or deliver food to our mouths in the form of chop-sticks, or bowls (I bought a beautiful serving bowl with serving utensils for my wife while I was in Africa). Silver may accompany your fine china at home, but I know people who make whisker-pullers (you read that right) from silver. Wedding rings seem to be the cultural norm for gold, but do you suppose this person was thinking of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin’s 1921 saying, that toilets of gold would serve as a useful reminder of the waste of capitalist warfare?

A utensil must meet three criteria to be useful for honorable service in God's house: first, the instrument must be clean; that is, purged from everything dishonorable. Commonly heard on the street when talking about sin is, “well, God just forgives.” This is said with the hope that God will simply overlook all wrong-doing. The reality is that God forgives those who recognize they have nothing good in themselves because of sin and must be cleaned by faith in the blood and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul already said in verse 19, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

We have an older dishwasher, and given the number of people in the family, it can be heavily loaded at times. As one is unloading, it does not hurt to inspect the plates, bowls or “silverware” because there may be a place that was not fully cleaned. Sure, the bowl went through the cycle, but the bowl 1) cannot clean itself; and 2) must be cleaned fully before it can return to its place on the shelf for honorable use in my house.

Second, to be a vessel of honorable use in God’s house, one must be set apart. This is called “sanctification” and by this we mean separation from the world. We are to be “in” the world but not “of” the world. The greatest example of this is the distinction between God and the world; that is, between God and His creation. God, the Creator, can be in the world, but He is not of the world (the same as or intertwined with). Paul goes on with specific instruction about what this separation looks like:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2:22-23)

Finally, one must be readily available to use as a clean, separated vessel. Manford Gutzke shares an observation from his childhood that will helps us understand what all this means, from his book “Plain Talk About Christian Words” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965). He writes:

“I grew up in a small country town and an important place in that town was the railway station. Passenger trains went through twice a day. One went east and the other went west. This was an event in a small town, and it was an exciting thing to be at the railway station when the train went through. The long platform on the railroad station was made of wood and the railroad station was also made of wood. The town was too small to have a fire department, and its only water supply was the town well. If there ever was a fire, it was a matter of carrying the water from the well to the fire or at best stretching a long fire hose from the well to whatever place in the town was burning. Usually, the water reached the place a long time after the fire was over, but that was the fire protection we had. The railway station did not want to be dependent upon the Volunteer Fire Department; therefore, they had their own arrangement. On the station wall was a glass case filled with tools and underneath were the words for fire only. Those tools were not to be used for anything else. The expression for fire only actually meant sanctified for fire. They were set apart for that use. Big barrels of water were placed on the platform and beside each barrel was a pail painted red with white letters, F I R E, on it. The pails were not tied down; they were just sitting there. They were the kind of pail every farmer used in connection with his daily work, but no one ever took those pails. Everyone understood that they were for fire only. They were “sanctified” pails, set aside for a particular purpose.”

We live in a world that attempts through its own lofty ideas (2 Corinthians 10:5) to cast off the rule of God (Psalm 2). God intends for us to engage this world as an honorable vessel that is unlike the world. Our attitude to those in opposition against God is to be the attitude of kind teaching with patient correcting gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24-25). A dishonorable, dirty, undistinguishable vessel cannot do this. The only way the adversary will be converted is when they spiritually come to their senses “and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:26) We cannot cause the conversion, but are God’s utensils for God to use to accomplish His work in the lives of others; in other words, the world will not be changed until we are changed.

Ask yourself:

1) What kind of vessel am I (wood, gold, clay or silver) and why does it matter?
2) Am I clean, and if so, how?
3) Am I set apart, separated for honorable use?
4) Are you ready?

The most useful part of a vessel is the empty part.

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