The Clean VesselMay 18, 2007
Next in Paul’s image gallery in 2 Timothy chapter 2 is the clean vessel. This vessel, in its cleanliness and purity, should be a picture of the pastor as he goes about his work. Paul writes: “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself for the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)
The image Paul uses was familiar to his day. In all but the poorest households there were several dishes that could be used – and in a “large house” an even wider selection. Roughly speaking, these dishes could be divided into two categories. On the one hand, there were the vessels for ‘noble’ use; on the other, those deemed ‘ignoble.’ We have the same kind of categories today even though the terminology alters. Whenever we bring out our “dishes for guests” we are in effect producing our ‘noble vessels.’ The ‘ignoble’ batch gets hidden in the cupboard!
Now Paul, we understand, isn’t just talking about crockery. The idea of vessels (or ‘instruments’) was ofttimes used in the New Testament to describe those servants of God who were ‘vessels’ for God’s service. Such a designation, for example, was used of the newly converted Saul of Tarsus. The called apostle was “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15). Paul later uses the term to identify his fellow-laborers: “we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” (2 Cor 4:7)
If we’re on the right track then, what Paul is referring to is therefore “noble” and “ignoble” vessels of Christ; noble and ignoble ministers. Its the territory of comparing the shameful minister with the unashamed servant again. As Paul contrasts the two, his evident desire is that Timothy should be a vessel of the ‘noble’ kind. In the words of McCheyne, Paul’s aim for Timothy is that he might be “a holy minister” who is an “awful weapon” in the hands of Almighty God.
So what will this involve? The apostle has two basic instructions
1) Flee – Timothy is to “flee the evil desires of youth” (v 22). This will involve consistently and speedily running in the opposite direction from the obvious sinful pursuits that consume so many other youths. Sexual impurity, the lust for success, money, power and fame – and of course pride – all must be must fled from like Potiphar’s wife! But positively….
2) Pursue – In Paul’s language: “pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace.” (v 22). A beautiful addition, which reminds us that the pastor’s life is not only about denial but devotion. Not simply about protection from sin, but pursuit of sanctification. In fact, we may go so far as to say that fleeing and pursuing are interconnected. The pastor who does not flee from sin cannot pursue a righteous life; while the pastor who does not positively seek after a life of faith and love, cannot flee his sin for very long.
Fellow ministers, in a world polluted with sin, may we seek to be clean vessels!