Still thinking about the damage that false teachers were causing in the church, Paul turns to another metaphor (v.20). In a large house, there are typically all kinds of household articles. Some are costly, highly valued and reserved for noble purposes; others are cheaper and used for ignoble purposes. It would be unacceptable to use a golden vessel as a rubbish bin. Likewise in the church, there are true servants and false ones, faithful teachers and charlatans. God will use only those people who are true to Him.
How would Timothy ensure that he was a useful instrument to the Master? The answer is given in verse 21. There are two ideas to be noted here: people who cleanse themselves, and instruments that are made holy. The former focuses on what we need to do in order to cooperate with God’s grace. We need to repent and make efforts to keep sin out of our lives. The other focuses on God’s sovereign grace. It is He who ultimately makes us holy through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:2; Romans 15:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13).
The Lord prepares us to do His good work by purifying us and producing holiness in us. As a clean musical instrument is useful to the musician, so will a cleansed and holy disciple be a useful instrument in God’s hands. No one can really do any effective work for the Lord without such holiness. In the modern social climate where character and competencies are divorced (your personal life does not matter if you can get the job done), God’s principle is all the more to be remembered. When a revival broke out in Samaria, a sorcerer apparently believed the gospel and was baptised, but God revealed his true condition. When he wanted special spiritual powers, Peter told him off by declaring that his heart was not right with God and that he was a captive to sin (Acts 8:18–23).
Timothy is to watch his personal holiness. He must remain a clean vessel. Leaders who are unclean vessels will deal with opponents through politics rather than ministry. They will be more concerned with self-preservation than in preserving the gospel. We must ensure that there is purity of life and doctrine within our hearts.
Why is it that the church may have both true and false servants? Consider the Lord’s parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24–30). What lessons can we learn?
How do you understand the phrases “a man who cleanses himself ” and “made holy” (v.21)? Why is holiness necessary to be useful to the Master? Consider your usefulness to the Lord.