Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Prepared for Every Good Work

"But in a great house there not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessels for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work." - 2 Timothy 2:20-21

Ancient households, such as the ones Paul knew of, used vessels of various types not only as carriers, but as storage, waste disposal, plumbing, and preservation. In a great house such as the household of Caesar, some would have been beautiful vessels of gold and silver, used for show and eating; others would have been used for the much more mundane purposes of waste and garbage disposal. These would be made of wood and clay, both because they were of little value but also because of what they were used for.

Note that Paul does not allude to how the vessels came to be what they are: some are of one nature, some are of another, but all can be used for honor (serving food) or dishonor (disposing of garbage or waste). However, the use of a vessel could be changed if it was cleansed (the Greek word here means "Thoroughly cleaned out" or "To completely purge"), if it was scoured and washed and rinsed until no sign of its previous use was visible. At that point, it could be put to another use.

The vessels to whom Paul was writing was directly Timothy, and indirectly his congregation and use today. We all have the same potential to be used mightily by God for His purposes (though not in the same way). However, there is a prerequisite: we must be cleansed from all filth. Paul does not seem to be talking about salvation here, as 1) He is speaking to Timothy, a believer who already have cleansing of his sins through Christ; and 2) Paul uses the phrase "cleanses himself". Paul vigorously defended the concept of salvation by faith alone and the complete inability of man to cleanse himself of sin. Instead, he seems to be alluding to the filth of the world around us, whether the sin that we revel in or the knowing error we engage in. Only after we have cleansed ourselves from those things which we can, says Paul, can we truly be a vessel of honor, sanctified (set apart) for the Master (the Lord), ready for good works.

How actively am I seeking to cleanse myself of the sin that so closely clings to me? Does it mean I'll fully do it? No, at least not in this life. But there are plenty of sins that I indulge in because I am lazy, or seeking to justify leading a less than fully spiritual life ("If I'm not going to be used by God, I'm just going to do ____.") because I don't feel I am of use. Could it be that God is waiting for me to actively remove these from my life so that I can be of greater use to Him, ready for every good work?

If you've every had light from a dirty lamp, it's not the light you notice but how dirty the lamp is. Only when a lamp is clean so that the light shines through it does the lamp truly fulfill its purpose of providing light by not interfering with the transmission of that light; we see and think of the light as bright, not of the lamp as being clean.

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