The word of the day is “honorable.” In today’s reading of 2 Timothy, 2:20-26, 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), that is, “for common use” (NIV 2 Timothy 2:20).
The term household “vessels” that Paul refers to are all sorts of utensils, not necessarily containers (Strong’s #4632, 232). Therefore, the comparison is not of the contents that the container holds. The contrast is of the composition of the implements. What they are made of determines what they are used for. One does not use a silver punch bowl as a washbasin, nor a wooden spoon to serve as a serving ladle.
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.
The Criteria for Evaluation
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 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 for a time with mesmerizing words and fashionable topics. 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.
The Qualification of Cleansing
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, Paul lists some examples of what needs purging. Among these passions are “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 their role is.
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 is the process of making believers “holy.” Their work for the Kingdom is, therefore, “set apart for God” and “consecrated” to Him (Strong’s #37, 3). Consequently, their service to Christ is pure. It has no other motive or concern than to please God and to share the love of Christ.
Thus, having been cleansed, the members of the Body of Christ are “prepared for every good work” (vs. 21). They are ready (Strong’s 2090, 104) to do whatever the Lord asks of them. It makes no difference to them what the calling is. They have yielded their will to the will of God, and they only want to serve their 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).
As we begin the final week of the secular year, we might take stock of what we have done in service to the Lord. But how will we evaluate what we have accomplished and what reward should we expect for our work. Today’s reading teaches us that the worth of our work does not depend on how others view it, whether it is esteemed or despised. It depends on whether we do it without selfish motives or thought of reward. The test of the usefulness of our service in God’s eyes is whether our single thought will be to serve our Master faithfully and to share His love generously. Thus let us resolve that we will follow the counsel of Paul who wrote, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:23). So, in the coming year, may we carry out the roles and duties to which the Lord calls us purely and perfectly in Him and for Him. Then Paul assures us that our work will be useful to God, whatever it is.