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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Instruments in the Master's Hand
Text:2 Timothy 2:20-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 149:1,2                                                                                  

Ps 11:1,2,9

Reading – 2 Timothy 2

Ps 135:1,2,9,10

Sermon – 2 Timothy 2:20-21

Hy 52:1,2

Ps 134:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, what do you have inside your house? If you’ve ever had to do an inventory, you’ll know that a typical house can have so much inside it: it’s full of furniture, all sorts of appliances and equipment, countless containers and boxes. Back in Old Testament, even God’s house—the temple in Jerusalem—was full of things; inside his house there were golden utensils and bowls and tools, there were tables and candle-stands and more.

And the same is true for God’s house in this New Testament age. The church is now God’s house—and by “church” I don’t mean this building with walls and a roof. The people, the believers, you and I, are the new temple of God, a building founded on Christ. And his church is full of “vessels,” says Paul: “vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay” (v 20). For this is the equipment that God will use for his work!

Who are the “vessels” that he’s speaking about? In a way, we’re all vessels in God’s house—we’re all instruments, called to perform the tasks of the LORD in that place of life where He’s put us. Every one of us is involved in temple service. But when the Holy Spirit talks about these “vessels” in 2 Timothy, he’s got someone specific in mind. He’s thinking particularly of the church leaders in God’s house: those men given a task of service among the other members of the church.

And this is how the Lord exhorts these brothers who are leaders and servants among us, “If anyone cleanses himself from [dishonour], he will be a vessel for honour, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (v 21). This is our theme from God’s Word in 2 Timothy 2,

Be a vessel of honour in the great house of the Master!

  1. cleansing yourself from dishonour
  2. being prepared for every good work


1. cleansing yourself from dishonour: When a young pastor enters the ministry, there are definitely some days that he has more questions than answers. The work of shepherding a flock of believers brings unexpected challenges and tough scenarios, and sometimes it’s hard to know how to handle them in the right way. This was the situation that Pastor Timothy found himself in. Timothy was a young man starting out in Christian ministry, and he was finding the work pretty hard. One reason for this might’ve been that he was in Ephesus, a major city of the Roman Empire. There were lots of people there, and lots of pressure. His congregation was a mix of Jews and Gentiles, and both groups were struggling with how to leave their past life behind. Some were leaving the proud ways of legalism, others breaking with the carnal ways of paganism—and it was hard. So Timothy had lots of teaching and pastoring to do!

What made things even harder for him was the influence of false teachers. There were some who were spreading lies and heresies. At the same time, they were opposing the young man Timothy, and hindering his good work. Timothy was intimidated by these teachers, and he was even starting to doubt his ability to be a pastor. Maybe he wasn’t cut out for the job, after all… These were tough days, days of discouragement.

But he wasn’t doing the work on his own! The Lord was on his side. And God gave him some very much-needed guidance and exhortation; He gave it through one of Timothy’s older colleagues in the ministry. That’s what we have in these two letters to Timothy—some basic training for work in the church. Timothy’s mentor was none other than the apostle Paul. Pastor Paul knew first-hand about the difficulties of ministry, and he knew also the grave harm that false teachers can inflict. So Paul warns Timothy in this letter not to fall prey to their deceptive words. Yes, it was going to be difficult. Yes, they’d try trip him up, and cause trouble in the flock. But for Timothy there could be no quitting. This was his calling—a holy calling!

The apostle just described Timothy as “a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (v 3). Then he called him “a worker” for the gospel (v 15). And the point of these terms is that a task in the church is always going to involve battle and striving. You’re a soldier, you’re a worker—so count on some challenge and strain! Today too, it’s a demanding position to serve in the church, and there’s always more to be done. It takes an effort. If you’re not busy as an elder or deacon or minister, then you’re clearly not doing your job! It’s meant to be hard, yet it’s also immensely rewarding. That’s because we get to work among the Lord’s people, bringing the gospel of Christ with us, letting that powerful Word do its work.

It’s that gospel, says Paul, which is our solid foundation. It’s our foundation, even when there might be some people shaking things up—like “Hymenaeus and Philetus” who were “saying that the resurrection is already past” (v 18). What does that mean? Hard to say exactly, but these two seemed to be claiming that the future resurrection was not important; they put all the emphasis on our present experience, our life today. If you’ve had a mystical conversion and you’ve gained some secret knowledge of God, then you were all set. Then your “resurrection” had already happened, and your future glory was now.

With doctrines like this, the false teachers were “overthrowing the faith of some” (v 18). And no wonder! Because what if you hadn’t had yet a special experience of God? Did that mean you were outside the kingdom? Did that mean you didn’t really know the Lord? Paul says, “Never mind all that. Don’t listen to them.” Why? Because verse 19: “The solid foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are his.’” Notice that image of the church’s one foundation, resting solidly on Christ. As God’s people we’re built on him alone. And so all who believe can be assured of their salvation, no matter what the heretics say: “The Lord knows those who are his.” 

That image of a foundation gets Paul thinking about houses, because now he wants to say something about all the instruments and tools that fill a house. True and faithful servants of God are like vessels found in the great house of the Master. And in that house they’re employed by the Lord for holy service!

Now, we need to be clear what is meant by “vessel” in our text. We’re not thinking about those big boats that sail the seven seas—not that kind of vessel. The Greek word in our text is general; it can describe almost any household object: tools, utensils, furniture, and so on. But Paul’s got in mind especially “vessels” like jars and dishes, containers for storing things like food, water, or wine. This kind of container is something you’d need around the house every day, sort of like Tupperware: simple in design, but durable, and useful. That’s what an office bearer is supposed to be like!

It’s not the only time that God’s servants are called vessels. Paul himself was described like this in Acts 9:15. God was speaking to Ananias about the persecutor Saul, now blinded in Damascus: “Go,” the Lord said, “for he is a chosen vessel of mine to bear my name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” God would use Paul, the greatest of sinners, to carry his glorious revelation to all the world.

Or later, in 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul’s speaking about his ministry and he says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels”—jars of clay! Because next to the great glory of the Saviour Jesus, an office bearer is nothing. He’s weak and lowly, an unlikely messenger for such a wondrous message. It’s like storing your money in crumbling mud pots, like hiding your best jewelry in an empty margarine container. It’s not what you’d expect. Yet God uses weak vessels like us to carry his beautiful gospel.

With the same comparison, Paul now wants to make a different point. For the kind of pot that you are is very important. Verse 20, “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor.” The same is true in our homes: we have those plastic containers for yesterday’s leftover spaghetti, but then we also have ceramic dishes for cooking, and glass bowls for serving, and maybe even a fancier set for special meals. In our houses we have many kinds of vessels, for different purposes and different occasions.

So does this text mean simply that each believer has a different job in the church? That some of us “vessels” seem more honourable—are more prominent—yet every “vessel,” great and small, is essential in God’s service? Another person might read our text and wonder, “Can we really choose whether we’re a vessel of gold or silver? What if God made me a vessel of clay? Can I still be useful if I’m only wood?” But notice something very important. Every one of us is called to be a vessel of honour! We all need to be instruments of gold and silver, so we can be useful for the Master.

For remember that there’s also those who aren’t useful, but harmful. Timothy is called a gold or silver bowl in order to make a contrast with those false teachers, who were only vessels of wood or clay. Back then, a container made of precious metal was reserved for special and noble uses, while a container of wood or clay was used for lowly and menial purposes. You’d use a clay pot to handle household garbage, or maybe to bring human waste out to the backyard pit. Contaminated and smelly, such bowls would soon be ruined and then discarded.

“So cleanse yourself,” the Spirit says to every office bearer—and yes, He says that to every member of the church. “Don’t be an instrument of impurity. Don’t be a tool of little value around God’s house, but be a vessel of honour. Be formed of gold and silver, not of wood and clay.” Because you want to be used for great things in Christ’s church!

“So cleanse yourself.” How are you supposed to do that? There’s a strong suggestion in verse 16, “Shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.” Shun these things! “Cleanse yourself” of them. If you want to be an effective instrument, this is what you first need to do: reject false teaching, and separate yourself from false teachers. Avoid every contamination of heresy. And be a vessel that’s filled up with the true grace of God. Those who’ll serve must dedicate themselves to knowing the pure doctrines of God’s Word.

For sound doctrine inspires sound living! As verse 19 insists, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” That’s true for every Christian—and for Christian leaders first among them. In fact, God holds our leaders to an even higher standard. Deacons, elders, and ministers are called to set a living example of holiness, departing from iniquity. They have to show that the things they teach among God’s people are real and true and applicable. As gold and silver vessels, they have to shine and sparkle with the evidence of God’s work.

This is why Paul often calls Timothy, and every office bearer, not just to embrace sound doctrine but to lead a godly life. Just look at the next verse after our text, “Flee… youthful lusts, but pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace” (v 22). If the office bearers will be honourable vessels in God’s house, then they ought to be cleansed from sin. They need to be thoroughly scoured by the Spirit, cleansed by him and purged, so that their whole way of life is consecrated to God. Only then can they be effective.

Becoming a vessel of honour takes work then, it takes striving. Like verse 22 says, “Pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace.” Run after holiness with single-minded devotion. Put to death in your life whatever is still the old style of living, whatever is the way of the flesh. Make it your aim to grow in zeal, through being in the Word more often, and in prayer more faithfully. And when we do, we’ll be cleansed, ready and prepared to be used by the Master.


2. being prepared for every good work: We should become vessels of honour, like instruments made of polished gold and silver. But we aim for this, not so we can get put into the china cabinet—behind glass, and dusted once a year. No, as instruments we need to be put to use! Be ready to be scuffed and scratched through constant service around God’s house. As we read in verse 21, “Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.”

“Prepared for work…” This verse made me think of how we sometimes have the wrong impression of what makes the good life. We say, “When I don’t have to work anymore, when I can retire from active service—that’s ideal. When all I have is free time, no commitments, zero obligations—that’s my goal.” But that’s a waste! Beloved, it’s only through working for God that we find our true purpose. It’s in serving and labouring that we do what we were made for! We must be vessels for honour, the Spirit says, “sanctified and useful.”

 “Usefulness” takes different shapes for different people. We have a variety of gifts, individually. There’s also those unique stages of life, when the kind of service that we can present will change. A young man in university, and a woman with five young children, or a couple who’s in their sixties, will each be serving God in different ways. But whatever your position or age or giftedness, strive for this, that you get “prepared for every good work.” For whatever the Lord will call you to do in his holy house, be ready, and be willing.

This comes across in the word that’s used to describe a vessel of honour. An office bearer is to be “sanctified” (v 21). Think about that word “sanctified.” It means that God doesn’t give us a futile purpose, something wasteful or shameful. God sets us all apart for important work! And let’s relate this to office bearers in particular. These men in the church are reserved for an essential service. They carry out work that is divine and heavenly and eternal.

And Paul says that not to give Timothy (or anyone of us) a swollen view of himself. It’s to impress on us just how urgent is the work. An office bearer is busy with the very people of Christ, busy with those lives that were bought with the precious blood of God’s Son. An elder and a deacon gets to be a golden instrument in the house of God—taken in hand, and used by the LORD himself. Employed by the King to minister to his people and to bring them benefit!

It’s true, the work doesn’t always feel like that. Being an office bearer has its share of frustration, and worry, and fatigue. Most of us can feel much more like that crumbling clay and flimsy plastic, than shining silver. But our position in God’s sight is never based on how we’re feeling on that particular day. Our feelings aside, we have a permanent status before God in Christ: we’re already sanctified, already anointed with his Spirit, and set apart for service. That’s what Christ has made us for—so that’s the reality we ought to work with, every day.

We’re “sanctified” and also “useful for the Master” (v 21). Do you wonder who the Master is? Look back to verse 19, “The Lord knows those who are his.” Remember who this house belongs to. Remember who built this place—how He built it on himself. It’s Jesus Christ, who has made possible eternal salvation, God dwelling among us again. He’s now our glorious Master and Almighty Lord. He’s in charge of this house, and of all who have a place in it. The Master is none other than the great King, the one seated in glory at God’s right hand in heaven! No wonder we need to be vessels of gold and silver! And no wonder we need to be instruments that are carefully cleansed and purified. Because the King himself—the Lord God—will take us in hand, and He’ll put us to work.

So as a vessel in God’s house, make yourself “useful.” And that’s whatever your position in this life or in this church—whatever your place, you have a calling to serve, to be busy for the Kingdom, to be slaves of your gracious Master. Make yourself useful through a life of prayer for the saints. Make yourself useful through generously contributing your gifts. Through teaching others and encouraging. Perhaps we can be “useful” in ministering to someone who is in need, or reaching out to someone who’s on the fringes of church life. The point is, if we’re sanctified vessels of the Spirit, then we have to seek out ways to serve. We don’t want to stay behind glass. We want to be active, for that brings our God the glory.

We’ve been saying our text is focused on the office bearers. As they work in God’s house, they must give full attention to the task that the Master has laid upon them. Visiting with the members. Praying for the members. Showing mercy to the needy. Making decisions for the church’s benefit. Dealing with sin, rebuking the wayward, teaching those who need instruction. There’s much to do. But never forget that the task is a great honour, a holy privilege! For you’re being an instrument in the Master’s hand. You’re being employed in service of the King.

If this is how you see your task, then you’ll surely be, as Paul concludes, “prepared for every good work” (v 21). There’s a note of expectation in that phrase: you’re ready to go, waiting for a job, even eager to be put to toil. And in that readiness, we have a calling. This letter emphasizes our need as God’s servants to prepare ourselves: “Be strong,” the Spirit says. “Endure hardship. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God. Continue in the things you have learned. Be ready in and out of season. Be watchful.”

So as any brother serves in church office, he has to give his attention to being prepared—being a vessel that’s full, an instrument that’s useful. Be prepared to meet the needs of God’s people. Be prepared to bring the Word in encouragement, in exhortation, in rebuke, in prayer. Be prepared to teach, and to correct. Be prepared also to be unfailingly patient, ever-gentle, and truly humble. So an office bearer must dedicate himself to progress and training in the Word.

As the Spirit says in chapter 3, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (vv 16-17). Listen to that last phrase again: It’s through the Word that we are “thoroughly equipped!” Through the Scriptures we’re prepared for service, and made useful to the Master. A vessel can only bring goodness to others when he’s filled to the brim with the Word, filled to the brim with the Spirit.

And isn’t that true for every believer? When we’re trained in the Scriptures, we find all kinds of uses for this holy knowledge. It teaches us about our redemption. It rebukes us when we sin. It corrects us when we’re confused. It trains us in the holy way of living. The Word gives us a task among God’s people, and a task in this world.

So cleanse yourself from all impurity, and be prepared for service! Become a vessel of honour, and know that the Lord can use you! Know that the Lord cherishes those who serve him, and He rewards those who do his will. Wherever God has placed you in his house, be useful to your Master, and be prepared for every good work!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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