The word of the day is “honorable.” In today’s reading of 2 Timothy, 2:20-27, St. Paul teaches the way to become a more useful servant of the Kingdom. The Apostle contrasts church members who are effective as “vessels of honor” and those who are “instruments of dishonor” (vs. 20).
The term household “vessels” that Paul refers to all sorts of utensils, not necessarily containers (Strong’s #4632, 232). Therefore, the comparison is not to the contents of what is contained. The contrast is to the composition of the implements. What they are made of determines the nature of their use. One does not use a silver punch bowl as a washbasin, nor a wooden spoon to serve as a serving ladle.
Golden Goblets and Clay Pots
The metaphor compares such household items to the members of a congregation. Some are like golden goblets. Others like clay pots. Some are more valuable than others. Some are more useful than others.
But the utensils’ worth and effectiveness do not depend on whether the service that the members perform is considered higher or lower, more essential or less useful, more proficient or less adept. Rather, “honor” and “dishonor” in the moral and spiritual sense are the criteria for evaluating the members.
In the vineyard of Christ, it is moral and spiritual purity that makes one valuable and useful to the Lord. A great preacher may enthrall his audience with mesmerizing words and fashionable topics for a time. But if he is impure in thought and deed, his work will come to ruin. An intelligent member of the Church Council will lead the other leaders astray if her motives are impure. A member who cleans up after coffee hour may spoil the congregation’s fellowship if his attitude is sour and resentful.
Changed To a Vessel of Honor
How then can one attain and preserve this essential qualification of workers in the parish? A wooden spoon can hardly change itself into a silver ladle. But Paul says that one can change from being a dishonorable vessel to a “vessel of honor” (vs. 21). To do this, Paul teaches that one must “cleanse” oneself. The word “cleanse” means that the member should “purge” himself (Strong’s #1571, 60). Of what? In our reading lists some examples of what needs purging: “youthful lusts,” “foolish and ignorant disputes,” “quarrels,” and “opposition” (vs. 22-25). These represent the type of conduct that makes the Lord’s servants ineffective, no matter how important and beneficial their work seems.
God has given the Body of Christ several means for this cleansing. First is the primary cleansings in the waters of baptism. The second is the renewal of our baptism, the Holy Mystery (sacrament ) of Confession. Finally, our reading gives another example of a means of the cleansing of the Lord’s servants. It is the admonition of those who are in error and even in opposition (vs. 25).
Sanctified for Service
Paul writes that those who use these means to cleanse themselves are “sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (vs. 2:20). Sanctification means that the member is made “holy.” His work for the Kingdom is, therefore, “set apart for God” and “consecrated” to Him (Strong’s #37, 3). Consequently, His service to Christ is pure. It has no other motive or concern than to please God and to share the love of Christ.
Moreover, having been cleansed, the member is “prepared for every good work” (vs. 21). He is ready (Strong’s 2090, 104) to do whatever the Lord asks of him. It makes no difference to him what the calling is. He has yielded his will to the will of God, and he only wants to serve His Lord and Master.
The Lord told this parable: “But which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep when he has come in from the field, will say to him, “Come at once and sit down to eat’? Will he not rather say to him, “Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise, you, when you shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do’” (Luke 17:7-10).
How does Paul’s teaching of the attitudes and actions of “honorable servanthood” reflect the message of the Lord’s parable?