We certainly know that the church is not a physical building made of wood and stone; the church is people. But, the inspired Paul likens the church to “a great house” (2 Tim. 2:20) and referred to the church as “the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). It is, therefore, appropriate to visualize the church as a mansion, the palace of the king, a great house with many inhabitants. And, as we consider the residents of this house, we notice a variety of people that Paul refers to as vessels. He says, “…there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth” (2 Tim. 2:20). In the church the people have a variety of talents, abilities, levels of usefulness. When Paul describes the church under the figure of the human body, he describes the members of the body functioning in different ways and with different purposes (1 Cor. 12:12-27).
Here in 2 Timothy 2, Paul emphasizes that these vessels (people) in the great house of God can be described as being in two groups “some to honor, and some to dishonor” (2 Tim. 2:20). Surely, all of us should desire to be honorable in our service to God. There are only two alternatives. The choice is ours. There is no middle ground. If we are in the great house of God, we are either a vessel unto honor or a vessel unto dishonor. We cannot be both; we must be one or the other (Matt. 6:24; 12:30). What then is necessary for us to be vessels unto honor? God through Paul tells us precisely what we must do.
Consider carefully 2 Timothy 2:21, “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” First, notice that this is a conditional statement. The word if cannot be over-emphasized. Meeting these conditions is absolutely necessary in becoming and being a vessel unto honor. These conditions are things a person must do if he is to be a vessel of honor. Let us examine each of these necessary conditions.
“If a Man Purge Himself From These”
Purge is found only here and in 1 Corinthians 5:7 where Paul instructs the brethren to separate themselves from the sinner among them lest the entire congregation be defiled by their association with and acceptance of his sin. The key idea of the word purge is to separate oneself by deliberate action. Purging does not just happen automatically; it requires decisive action. From these, according to the context means two things: 1) Moral impurity, and 2) Doctrinal impurity. Notice:
Moral Impurity. Earlier, Paul had stated emphatically, “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (1 Tim. 2:19b, emphasis mine). Later the instructions are: “Flee youthful lusts, but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). This idea of separation from sin is taught throughout the New Testament. We are told: “And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed…” (Rom. 12:2). “Love not the world…” (2 John 2:15-17). “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17). In Romans 6, the case is made throughout the chapter that conversion means a determined, absolute separation from sin. Notice, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin ye became servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18). “Keep thyself pure” (2 Tim. 5:22). When individual Christians are pure in life, the church is pure (Eph. 5:27).
Doctrinal Impurity. Moral purity is dependent on a Divine standard and is obtained only when we are guided by God’s Word. Doctrinal purity is the result of following that Divine standard in teaching (doctrine). Again, the context here dictates a separation from every deviation from that standard. Paul had warned, “But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness” (2 Tim. 2:16). He mentions Hymeneus and Philetus by name and warns against their false teaching. “Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some” (2:17). In the larger context, Paul had stated early in his first letter to Timothy, “…that thou mightiest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which in faith; so do” (1 Tim. 1:3-4). All faithful Christians must separate themselves from false doctrine and those that teach false doctrine (2 John 9-11; Eph. 5:11; Rom. 16:17).
Sanctification (related words: saint, holy, hallowed, holiness, sanctified) appears several hundred times in the New Testament. It literally means to “set apart.” It does not mean sinless perfection for it is used of the Corinthians, “To them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2). These people before their conversion engaged all kinds of sins, but then after their conversion Paul told them “…ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). This process of their sanctification and justification is briefly described by Luke, “…and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).
According to the New Testament, obtaining sanctification involves a number of essential things. Sanctification is obtained by five things:
By the truth of God. Jesus said, “Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
By faith. When Jesus gave Paul his mission purpose, he said, “to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:18).
By the Will of God. “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10). Paul told the Ephesian elders, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
By obedience to the Word. “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth…” (1 Pet. 1:22).
By water and the word. Speaking of the church, Paul wrote, “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). In summary, people are sanctified when they are obedient to the Word of God and are baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:3-4).
“Meet For the Master’s Use”
The idea here is to be available and willing to be used in the service of the Master (Jesus). This same word is translated profitable in 2 Timothy 4:11. This person not only allows the Master to use him in His service, but also desires that service and is eager to serve.
We are all someone’s servant. “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16). Everyone is a servant: we either serve satan to our own destruction or we serve Christ. There are only two alternatives. Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad” (Matt. 12:30). The master that we serve is determined by our willingness to yield ourselves in that master’s service. Unless we yield ourselves in service to Christ we are servants of satan. Service to Christ begins when we begin to obey Him. “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Rom. 6:17-18; cf. 6:3-4). Read the entire sixth chapter of Romans and notice the emphasis throughout the chapter on the importance of our conscious yielding of ourselves completely to Christ now that we are Christians.
In God’s view, every person is important. In the preaching of the gospel, “every creature” is to hear the good news (Mark 16:15-16). In the church every member (vessel) is important. “…according to the effectual working in the measure of every part [i.e. every vessel unto honor, lk], maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). Regardless of the number of talents we have or the quality (according to man’s view) of those talents are, God can use us effectively (Matt. 25:13-30). Every member is important. “Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary; and those members, which we think to be less honorable, upon whom we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part that lacked” (1 Cor. 12:22-24).
There are some in the church that God cannot use. There are some who live like they want to, attend only when they want to, and serve only at their convenience. There are those who are unwilling to give their lives to God as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:2). There are others who believe only; that is, those that believe without doing. These are vessels unto dishonor. Clearly, Christianity is not only abstaining from evil, but also doing what God calls us to do. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). James emphasized, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (Jam. 1:22).
Are you meet for the Master’s use?
“Ready Unto Every Good Work”
Readiness involves willingness (Acts 21:13), preparedness (Acts 23:23) and having the proper equipment (Eph. 6:13f). A vessel unto honor must have a ready mind when it comes to God’s work, willing to be used in His service. He must be yielding his life in the service of the King. A vessel of honor must prepare himself for that service through the study of God’s Word and equipping himself through the application of that Word. Notice three passages where the phrase, or its equivalent, “every good work” appears.
First, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be prefect, throughly furnished unto all (every, ASV) good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We learn what good works are from God’s Word. Surely a knowledge of the inspired Word of God is essential to being a vessel of honor in the great house of God. That knowledge comes from study (2 Tim. 2:15). Knowing God’s Word is essential to answering questions that are raised by others (1 Pet. 3:15) and to being able to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). After all, everyone is ultimately going to be judged by that Word (John 12:48). We need to know the Word of God.
Second, “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16). These people were hypocrites because they said and taught the truth, but their lives were absent of good works; they failed to display the good works authorized by God. They thereby denied God by their lack of good works. Jesus described the scribes and Pharisees in the same way, “All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say and do not” (Matt. 23:3). The presence or absence of good works, the fruits of life, determine are faithfulness to God (Matt. 7:21), “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20).
Third, “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work. To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing meekness unto all men” (Titus 3:1-2). Here the context indicates the need to be good citizens and good neighbors. Vessels of honor who are ready unto every good work are obedient to the laws of the land (unless they conflict with the law of God, Acts 5:29); they are exemplary citizens who “render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:21). Honorable service to God requires that we be good neighbors. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle to all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Honorable vessels use their good lives to influence others to become Christians and live the life pleasing to God (Matt. 5:16).
To Honor: To Glorify
In summary, we are vessels of honor in the great house of God, the church, when we devote ourselves to glorifying God. Jesus said of himself, “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work, which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4). We glorify God when we accomplish the work that he has given us to do. “We must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4, ASV).
Jesus again states, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciple” (John 15:8). We honor God and the Christ by bearing abundantly the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and by producing through teaching other disciples of Christ (Matt. 28:19-20). Notice here the emphasis Jesus made on not only bearing fruit, but also on bearing much fruit. Growth is important.
Finally, Peter wrote: “but if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name” (1 Pet. 4:16, ASV). God is glorified when His vessels wear His name honorably. Paul urges all Christians to “walk worthily of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Eph. 4:1). “…He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31).
Let us all be vessels of honor in the great house of God!