Vessels of Honor

By Daniel H. King Sr.

We all have many choices to make in life. Most are trivial and a few are significant. When we wake up in the morning we may puzzle over which breakfast cereal to have, or whether to have cereal at all. A lady considers which color lipstick to wear today, which dress to put on, and which type of shoes is best for today, heels or flats. Tomorrow we probably won’t even remember how the decision turned out. Many such inconsequential things are thought through and decided by us on a daily basis. We hardly recall the result from one day to the next.

Occasionally, however, we must decide about important things. So many have been the trifling issues in our lives, that if we are not careful, we may tend to treat them as trifling also and not give them the care and attention which such vital matters deserve. The determination to become a Christian is an issue of such consequence that most of us give it much thought and reflection before making the commitment.

This decision puts us into the “house of God” of which Paul speaks in 1 Timothy 3:15. But how much thought have we given to whether we shall be a vessel of honor or of dishonor in that house? In the second epistle to Timothy, Paul considers this question in Timothy’s case. For, Timothy, you see, was making daily decisions which determined which type of vessel he would prove to be in God’s house:

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some unto honor, and some unto dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, meet for the master’s use, prepared unto every good work (2 Tim. 2:20-21).

The Lord’s house is a great house, not a small one. It is composed of people of all types and descriptions. And, like a grand mansion which has special fine china bowls in which to serve the most dignified guests, so is God’s house. Yet that same great mansion has also a lowly bowl for feeding the dogs, and a container for holding the trash. The point which Paul is making is that we may choose what type of vessel we are to be in the Lord’s house, whether unto honor or dishonor. And, just because we have decided to be inside the house does not mean that we have also decided to be a vessel of honor. The two are not necessarily the same.

Who, then, is that person who is a vessel unto honor in the Master’s house? Here are the apostle’s thoughts on the subject:

1. The Man Who Purges Himself Of Sin. “If a man therefore purge himself of these…” writes the apostle. “Let everyone that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness,” he had said earlier (v. 19). And later in the chapter he said, “But flee youthful lusts…. (v. 22), and `But foolish and ignorant questionings refuse..: ” (v. 23). His point is that you do not put the trash in the fine china. If there is trash in it, then it is not a vessel of honor. Nor do we feed the dog in a sterling silver vessel. If the dog is fed out of it, then it is not a vessel of honor. How it is used and what is put into it determines if it is a receptacle of esteem or of contempt. But Paul does not stop there.

We need to see ourselves in that light. If our lives are filled with the practice of sin, then we are vessels of shame. If, on the other hand, our lives are purified from these shameful things, we may be suited for service in the Master’s house.

2. The Man Who Is Sanctified. The idea of sanctification, mentioned in this context and elsewhere by the apostle Paul, is no great mystery. The notion is actually rather simple, though the word is intimidating to some of us on account of the eccentric, and even sometimes bizarre, interpretations which have been forced upon it by theologians. All it means is that something or someone is “separated,” “set apart” or “set aside” for special uses. Most Bible dictionaries and lexicons define it as “to separate from the world and consecrate to God. To sanctify anything is to declare that it belongs to God.” That pretty much says it all. In the Old Testament such items as the tent of meeting (Exod. 29:44), the holy altar (Exod. 29:36), the offerings placed upon it (Exod. 29:27), the Sabbath day (Neh. 13:19-22), and the whole nation of Israel (Exod. 19:5, 6) were sanctified by God for his special uses.

The root from which the word “sanctify” comes is the same as that from which the word “saint” is also derived. We are “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in every place” (1 Cor. 1:2). Do we see ourselves as living to please ourselves or to please the one who “sanctified” us?

3. The Man Who h Meet For The Master’s Use. The NIV renders this line as “useful to the Master.” A person who loves God wants not merely to be identified with him, but to be useful to him, helpful in his purposes and his work. Each of us has talents which may be beneficial to the cause of Christ, but whether they will be “useful” or not is another question. A hoe or shovel which has a broken handle is not very useful in the garden. A rake with many loose tines will not serve its purpose well in raking the yard. Likewise, a Christian whose life is not in proper order cannot be “useful to the Master.” This will ever be a matter of priorities. “Christ has no hands but our hands to do his work today, he has no feet but our feet to lead men in his way…” When we recognize that we, in the church, are the Lord’s only workers today, it becomes the more important that we live up to our responsibility to be “useful to the Master”!

4. The Man Who Is Prepared Unto Every Good Work. The vessel which can serve a useful purpose in the service of the Master is the one which is ready to hand. A container which is hidden in the deep recesses of a closet or a cabinet will not be of much value. Neither will the one which is still enclosed in the fancy box it came in, stored safely in the attic. The vessel of honor, the Master’s “favorite” is the one which is ready for use when work needs doing.

Every cook has her favorite pots and pans, often well used, and sometimes dented and scratched in the process. They may not look like something the TV chefs would use, but she would not part with them at any price. A new frying pan or kettle would have to be “seasoned” and that might take several weeks or even months. The old one is ready for work. It needs no preparation because preparation is al-ready over. As God’s people we go through a similar process. We are at first clumsy and of little use in the Lord’s kingdom. Over time, though, we become more and more useful if we have weathered the preparation stages as we should. This is where we need to be heading, so that we may be “vessels unto honor” in the service of our God. Once prepared, we need to remain ready, prepared for every opportunity to do good.

Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 1 p. 14-15
January 5, 1995