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2 Timothy

Be A Vessel of Honor

2 Timothy 2:20-26
20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. 21 Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. 22 Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. 24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.

Theme: Christians should be vessels of honor useful for the Lord's service

Key Verse:

2 Timothy 2:22
Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Teaching Comments:

This section is a new paragraph in many of the modern translations; yet, its thoughts are still based upon the preceding verses. In a way, it serves as a practical summary of the "theology" of the chapter. God's people are to be approved workmen. Last week we looked at this concept in detail, including God's part in remaining faithful to us and our part in remaining obedient to God. Remember that Timothy's name means "honoring God," so Timothy may have seen some "word play" in this section.

This lesson looks more closely at the description of our daily life.  First Paul provides a general description of "the vessel." We are the vessel. Then, he provides still another list of things to avoid and things to cherish, closing with a statement as to why these two ideas of putting on the clothes of Christ and putting off the clothes of the world are so important to us. By putting on Christ, we are able to be witnesses whom God can use to draw others out of the snare of Satan into the kingdom of God. This is our Mission in life, to draw others into God's family!

Paul uses the picture of household utensils to demonstrate the idea of holiness. This is what Paul is talking about. We cannot be approved workmen without being holy. Holiness is taking on God's character and is the goal of our Christian growth (sanctification). Holiness in its purest form is to be totally and completely devoid of any sin. We will not achieve this condition until we are in heaven with God, but meanwhile we must remember God has called us to a "holy calling" (1:9). Here, Paul reminds Timothy, and us, of what this means.

"But in a great house" brings us to a picture of the entire Christian community, while the vessels represent our bodies and how we treat them spiritually. Just as a house has both "good" service settings and "common," every day settings, so too, is your spiritual condition composed of daily bouts of sin, repentance, and holiness. When we "walk in the spirit" God sees us as being made "of gold and silver" (v20). Just as the gold and silver represents the fine or honorable things of the household, so do we do things "for honor" when we walk with God.

Unfortunately, too many of us slide back into the ways of the world.  We are like the common utensils of the house, made "of wood and clay." These are the vessels "for dishonor." Our dishonorable behavior takes us out of God's fellowship.  When we act in an ordinary or common manner we cannot be approved workmen. 

Paul's admonition to Timothy is to be clean "inside."  In many of his other letters, the Apostle describes this as "walking in (or by) the Spirit." Paul draws his thoughts from the words of Jesus. 

Matthew 15:16-20 (NKJV)
16 So Jesus said, "Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. 20 These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man."

Here, Paul comments on the words of Jesus by telling us that "if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor" (v21). In other words, if a man gets rid of the dishonorable traits of life, he will become honorable or holy. Such a man is "sanctified."

To be "sanctified" is to be set apart. The translation comes from the same Greek word sometimes translated as "holy." It is the word which in the plural is translated "saints." The setting apart carries both the concept of being "set apart to God" and "set apart from evil." In this one word we find the idea of both "putting off" and "putting on."  The NLT translates the opening phrase with this thought: "if you keep yourself pure." This is what Paul points us toward.

When we are sanctified, we will be "useful for the Master." God will be able to use us, for we will be "prepared for every good work." We will be the solder ready to follow his commanding officer (2:3-4). This is why we are to grow spiritually.  This is a very common thought in Paul's writings. Later in this letter the Apostle tells us the source of our growth:

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV)
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

In order to become so equipped, God has given us helpers.

Ephesians 4:11-12 (NKJV)
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

Colossians 1:10 (NKJV)
10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

Titus 3:1 (NKJV)
1 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work,

Hebrews 13:21 (NKJV)
21 make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

If we are to be an approved workman, prepared for every good work, we must be honorable vessels, that is, holy persons. Paul frequently uses the concept of getting undressed and dressed as an example of cleansing ourselves of the dishonorable traits and embracing the holy traits of Christ (Col 2:11; 3:8; Eph 4:22). He uses "lists" as examples of those behaviors we are to put on and take off. Other virtue lists appear in Paul's writings at Galatians 5:22-23, Colossians 3:12-15, 1 Timothy 6:11, and 2 Timothy 2:2 and 3:10. He essentially does the same thing here.

His list in 2 Timothy is tailored to fit the theme of the letter, the need to hear, learn, preserve, and pass on sound doctrine. We are to "flee also youthful lusts" (v22) and to "avoid foolish and ignorant disputes" (v23). In other words, we must put off youthful lusts and argumentative, undiscerning attitudes. At the same time, we should put on or "pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace" (v22). This is especially true of teachers (James 3:1).

Paul tells us those who put on these Christ-like characteristics are like all others who "call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (v22). In other words, when we seek God's guidance he will provide us spiritual growth. While James tells us God gives us wisdom in abundance (1:5), we do not always like God's methods of teaching and giving. Too often for our "human tastes," these lessons come as severe trials in our lives. We become too absorbed in the unfairness of the situation to realize the great blessings of love, grace and mercy we receive. 

One example I heard recently is that we should read our life like a Hebrew Bible. True Hebrew Scriptures are written right to left and from back to front. The idea is that we should read our life from the back, that is, after the event so that we may look back at our circumstances in order to understand what God wanted us to learn and how He brought us through that particular storm.

Paul gives us a reason for desiring to put on the clothes of Christ and to take off the clothes of dishonor. He addresses his comments to the specific points we are to take off, the avoidance of "foolish and ignorant disputes." We are to avoid such actions because we know "they generate strife" (v23). In other words, how can we be peaceful and loving if we become involved in strife. 

This is a point we too often overlook. In our zeal to witness and protect the Faith, we become too dogmatic in discussions. We essentially end up "hitting people over the head" with the Gospel. This turns them off to our approach and to Jesus. They generate "good" debates without planting any seeds or accomplishing any purpose, except to make us pleased with our knowledge of Scripture. In other words, these approaches generate strife. 

Last week we touched upon the need to evangelize and to understand apologetics.  Apologetics comes from the Greek apologia. It means to give a verbal defense or a reasoned statement or argument in support of a position.  In other words, apologetics is to provide a reasoned defense of the Gospel.  The most frequently used verse to support the idea of Christian apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15:

15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;

In the NKJV, apologia is translated as "defense." Other versions translate the term as "answer" (KJV, NIV) or "logical defense" (The Amplified Bible). The NLT gives a good interpretation of this verse:

1 Peter 3:15 (NLT)
15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.

Note that Peter tells us we must practice apologetics in "meekness and fear." Meekness is a gentleness of spirit. "Fear" means to be respectful. More particularly, it is a fear of God's responses in your life to your methods that are being cautioned. The NLT translation of "worship Christ" captures the concept well.  We are to evangelize and witness, to practice apologetics as Jesus would practice them.

The closing verses of this lesson are Paul's versions of apologetics.  We are not to generate strife, for to deliver a good defense of the Gospel means we "must not quarrel." We must not be offensive. The Gospel may offend people, but we should not. We must deliver the entire Gospel with love and kindness. We must be peacemakers who are humble and show mercy. We must exercise the traits set out by Jesus in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12). 

Here Paul lists (v24, 25) the specific traits of:

This is parallel to Peter's meekness and fear. Paul says we must be humble when we are "correcting those who are in opposition" (v25). Paul tells us we must exercise this caring attitude toward the unbeliever so that "God perhaps will grant them repentance."  This will allow the unbeliever to "know the truth," the "pattern of sound words" the apostle discusses throughout this letter. The truth is the Gospel of God as set forth in the Scriptures.

This approach is important because the unbeliever needs to "come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil" (v26). I do not believe Paul is attributing all sinful behavior to the devil, but he makes it clear that since people are sinful, they fall under the control of Satan and, thus, cannot knowingly escape his clutches.  Satan is "the prince of the air" (Eph 2:2) and the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). In this position, Satan has used our sinful nature as a means to take us "captive by him to do his will."

It is only the power of the Gospel that may free an unbeliever from this dreadful position. Only the power of Christ can defect the rule of Satan in a person's life. We cannot do it on our own. That is why it is so important that we never be offensive in presenting Jesus to an unbeliever.  While the Gospel message itself may be offensive, we need to maintain a manner and attitude that allows us to fully present the Gospel to a lost person so that God can do His work in that person's life. We must forever be gentle and humble, full of love and meekness whenever we witness to unbelievers.

This is an important lesson for teachers in particular because within this list is Paul's description of how we are to teach. By including the teaching ministry within this list, Paul is telling us that our teaching must be accomplished with this same meekness and fear, in gentleness and love. We must teach in the spirit of Christ. We must be bold. We may be confrontational. But we must be loving in doing all of this. The moment we slide into any sense of divisiveness or unloving approach, we become offensive rather than allowing the Gospel to be offensive. This creates a difficult burden for all of us. 

From Discipleship Journal, Issue 137, Sep/Oct 2003, page p28, "Faith, Hope, Love" by Jamie Winship, an article about his witness to a Muslim neighbor.

Azam recalls the first time he met a Christian. Two men knocked on his door three years after he had immigrated to the United States, and invited him to visit their church. "When I said I was Muslim, they seemed upset and told me that the prophet Muhammad was either cracy or demon possessed and that the Qur"an was a lie. It hurt my feelings very badly. These men didn't care about me; they were there to attack my faith and get me into their church."

After that visit, Azam recommitted himself to Islam.

How would you have reacted?





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