4/15/10

How to Be Used by Christ

By Becoming a Vessel of Honor
By: Jonathan Harris

The following is a transcript from a sermon I preached last year on the topic of being used by Christ. Audio is available to stream on youtube, or to download here.

For today’s message I have chosen to address a topic which I believe is certainly relevant to the lives of everyone this morning.  It’s certainly an area in which I fall short and miss the mark, so as I pass on what God has already declared I want to be sure it’s understood that I’m also speaking to myself. The passage we are going to examine this morning is taken out of 2 Timothy 2 starting in verse 20, however we are going to read the whole chapter so we have a clear context. We are going to look at the conditions God requires us to abide by in order to be used by Him. Please read with me as I read aloud. 2 Tim. 2:1-26

    Some of you may remember from the book of Acts, that the last chapter ends with Paul being held as a prisoner in Rome under house arrest. After being released he quickly picked up where he had left off, and preached the Gospel. One of his missions was to revisit churches which he had already planted in order to make sure they were strong. Paul took Timothy with him and left him in Ephesus to help correct some doctrinal issues they were having. As Paul continued to travel he wrote the letter of 1st Timothy to provide instruction and encouragement. The letter of 2nd Timothy is written a couple years later at which point Paul finds himself again in Rome, however this time he is not under house arrest, he is in a cold dark cell awaiting his execution. This was during the Christian persecution under Nero, and Paul realized that it was his last chance to impart final instructions, and summon Timothy to his side before his death.

    Now, it’s important that we understand the relationship between Paul and Timothy. As you may know, Paul led Timothy to Christ during his first missionary journey, and had Timothy accompany him during his second. Timothy became Paul’s closest associate assisting Paul wherever he needed help whether it was serving as a scribe, or ministering to church’s Paul had started. Paul refers to him on numerous occasions as a son. During the final chapter of Paul’s life Timothy is still ministering in Ephesus. He’s probably in his late 20s or early 30s at this point, and Paul encourages him numerous times to be strong and to suffer hardship for Christ. It seems fairly evident from reading the book that Timothy’s spiritual fervor is growing dim, and Paul seeks to remind his Son of the godly heritage which they both share, and the importance of correct doctrine.   

    When we get to verse 20 of chapter 2, Paul is in the middle of charging Timothy with a list of godly actions which will serve to “kindle afresh” his spiritual gifts of power, love, and discipline, and in the same token overcome his present spirit of “timidity”. Paul instructs his son to: Be strong in grace, to entrust correct doctrine to faithful men, to suffer hardship, to remember Christ, to remind the church of correct doctrine, to be diligent, and to avoid worldly and empty chatter. In addition, Paul offers three analogies to remind Timothy of his goals as a Christian starting in verse 4 of chapter 2. He compares Christians to soldiers who aren’t to be entangled in civilian affairs (frivolous pursuits) because their aim is to please their officer. This means that we as soldiers in a spiritual battle, should not form connections with things not relating to the war effort - The war against sin, the war against the devil, the war for lost souls, the war for sanctification in Christ. Paul’s second analogy is that of an athlete. He tells Timothy, “And also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.” “Timothy, your life must be marked by following the Word. Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts, don’t do things the easy way. Do things the right way.” A farmer serves as Paul’s third analogy. In his day they didn’t have all the fancy farm equipment which cuts down time tremendously. They had hand tools. Farmers worked vigorously for long hours. Their reward was the crops they produced. Paul’s saying, “Timothy, work yourself to the point of exhaustion that you may harvest the maximum amount.” What’s the harvest? Wheat, as opposed to tares. Those who are true believers as opposed to the false teachers who were causing turmoil in the church. These false teachers were likely spreading a brand of Gnosticism called “antinomianism.” They believed that the natural world was evil and the spiritual world was good. As a result they denied a bodily resurrection as verse 18 states. They caused church members to doubt whether or not a spiritual resurrection had already occurred, or whether a bodily resurrection was to occur. Many Gnostics believed that it was permissible to sin with one’s body since it was the Spirit which was actually holy. Bringing this philosophy to its logical conclusion resulted in sensual excess. Doing what feels right to the senses instead of what is right. It’s with these instructions, and this situation of false teaching creeping in the church, that we come to verse 20.

    Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.

The word “vessel” has in mind an implement used for a specific task, probably holding a substance of some kind much akin to a jar or container. When I think of this idea, I imagine the basket my brother uses to collect eggs from our chickens. We wouldn’t, after collecting eggs use this particular basket to display our biscuits during supper. Why? Because it’s dirty, and we want our food to be clean. However, if we stopped using it for collecting eggs, and cleaned it out real well, I think we could use it to put food in (not that my mother would ever let us get away with it). There are those in the church who can rightly be called “approved workman,” not needing to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth, and then there are also those who entertain worldly speculation and philosophy. Paul makes it clear in Romans 9 that there are some vessels whose sole purpose is destruction. Do all the common vessels represent unsaved individuals? I don’t know, Paul doesn’t reveal that to us in the text. But that’s not the point. The point is that in order to be set apart and useful to our Master, we must be cleaned out. There are many people out there saying, “If God would only use me, I could do so much.” They’ll stay in the same place just waiting on God to present opportunities, meanwhile rejecting every opportunity he’s sent because it doesn’t fit their fancy. How will God use them in big things if they can’t even be faithful in the small areas? As a result, they have zero impact in their work environment, on their campus, or in their home. There are folks (because I’ve met them) who think somehow they will accomplish great things for God while either believing false doctrines, or living in a perpetual state of sin. Isn’t that the reasoning behind the ecumenical movement? If we just compromise our beliefs like the Gospel we can feed people and make their lives better? That may be true, but make their lives better for what purpose? So that their ride to hell is more comfortable? I’m not decrying feeding people, but one must be sanctified in order to have clean motives when doing anything, otherwise, from God’s perspective, it’s not a good work, it’s an unclean action. It’s doing a good action from a cruel heart. Every Christian should endeavor to be used by God, however this requires a clean heart. Paul offers a recipe in the next two verses for how to cleanse yourself and maintain a pure heart before God. This doesn’t mean absolute perfection, it means sanctification. A life that is Spirit-led and marked by humility. Let’s look at what Paul has to say in verse 22:

    Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

There are two basic commands in this passage. One positive, and one negative. We are to flee youthful lusts, while pursuing godly characteristics. The term “youthful lusts” clues us into what’s being discussed. These are the desires, passions, longings, to which Timothy as a young man was especially susceptible. Many people suppose that the primary issue at hand is sexual purity, and while this is a significant aspect of the term, I believe there is much more being examined here. Ultimately the sin we are to flee is pride. It is the root of all sin- the idea that we know better than God. Those who are younger and who lack life experience, like myself, have a tendency to be cocky and suppose themselves to be smarter than they are. It is this heart condition which gives licence for other lusts being fulfilled such as sexual deviance, theft, murder, and blasphemy. Isn’t it interesting that the antidote for combating youthful lusts is not combative at all. Paul simply states, “flee.” He doesn’t tell Timothy to fight, he tells him to run! In Ephesians 6 Paul instructs the church at Ephesus to put on the full armor of God in order to “stand firm” against the schemes of the devil, but here he says flee! Look for the way of escape and take it! If your sitting in the movie theater (or pick your scenario), watching you-tube, hanging out with a bad crowd, being alone with someone of the opposite sex who isn’t your wife, and you know what your doing could potentially be tempting to you or to the people your with, why keep yourself in the situation? It defies logic, yet professing Christians do it all the time. They’ll say things like, “Well, nudity doesn’t bother me,” or, “I don’t gossip, I just listen to folks who do.” Who are you fooling? Man? Maybe? God? Absolutely not. If Paul told Timothy to run, flee, shun, and escape lusts, why would we think it doesn’t apply to us? Another reaction some people have (and this is a dead giveaway that they are in fact giving in to temptation) is when they say, “It’s no big deal.”“Yeah, I loose it sometimes and become extremely angry, but that’s just how I get on a bad day.” “I’ve seen porn before, it’s not the end of the world, everyone does it.” I can tell you what Christ’s reaction is to such claims.

    And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell.

Christ was using hyperbole to stress the seriousness of sin. We were never meant to maim our bodies as a way of purging sin. That’s what ascetics unsuccessfully attempt to do. However, we are required to repent and flee from sin because His body was maimed for us. Sin is serious, so serious that God sends those who commit them to an eternal lake of fire if they have not repented and placed their faith in Christ.

    So the next logical question is, “How do we flee?” If we as believers want to be used by God, we must be clean and set apart. If we want to be clean we must flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. So how is it that we submit ourselves to the first command leading to sanctification? How do we flee? This questioned is answered in 1 Cor. 10:30 which states:

    No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.

When temptation arises whether it’s greed, inappropriate sexual desire, or anger, don’t ponder it, don’t strategize, find the exit sign and take it. Sometimes for the sake of pride we can deliberately choose not to follow God’s leading. I remember when I was about eleven years old there was a place called “The World of Science” in the South Hill’s Mall. They had all sorts of interesting hands on activities like a soap bubble you could stand inside and a green screen with all sorts of neat backgrounds- and I remember one time I was there, there was a group of hasidic jews who had brought their children to enjoy all the activities. I noticed that they dressed differently, but was to involved in all the activities to give it a second thought. When we were exiting the science center into the main thoroughfare of the mall though, something stood out to me. There was a young man, probably about as old as I am now, walking very fast with his head pointed directly downward. I’ll never forget what he looked like because no sooner did I think it was peculiar, than my mom pointed it out to me, and explained what the man was doing. He didn’t want to see the slightest hint of something which might cause an inappropriate thought to jump into his mind. Anyone who’s gone to the mall knows what I’m talking about. He walked fast so he could exit the situation as quickly as possible. That’s fleeing. That’s the same action Job took when he made a “covenant” with his eyes not to gaze on a virgin.  I’m not advocating that everyone needs to walk briskly and look down all the time because the Scriptures don’t command us too. But I am saying that you need to do whatever it takes to avoid temptation. If I were to say to you, “Don’t think about blue!” What’s the first color you just thought of? Blue. You see, we can’t automatically program our minds to not be tempted, but we can keep them from acting on those temptations, and it’s ultimately the Word which keeps us from playing out our sinful desires. Approved workman are not ashamed. Why? Because the Word of Christ dwells in them richly. Why does it dwell in them richly? Because they have hidden God’s word in their hearts, and why have they hidden It in their hearts? So they might not sin against God. You get to the point where you can hardly get into a good sin without having twenty Bible verses running through your head. And that’s how the Holy Spirit uses what God has already declared to mold us. It’s at the point of temptation when our true character is tested, and we find out what type of vessel we really are. Flee youthful lusts.
               
So just to reiterate. If we want to be used by God- if we want to be a vessel of gold and silver useful for His service, we must cleanse ourselves. In order to cleanse ourselves we must flee youthful lusts, but there’s also a second component. We aren’t merely to avoid evil, but we are to also pursue good. Verse 22 specifically offers up four distinct qualities- righteousness, faith, love, and peace. You see, the primary youthful lust is pride. I’d like to suggest that the common vessels being described a couple verses earlier were marred by pride, and therefore unclean. However, righteousness, faith, love, and peace lie in diametric contradiction to pride. You can’t be righteous when you’re following your own rules, you can’t have faith in God when you believe in yourself, you can’t love others when your looking out for number one, and you can’t have peace when you aren’t in a right relationship with God because your sins aren’t forgiven. Let me ask you a question. What’s the difference between the four qualities we just referred to, and youthful lusts? Yes, one comes from a heart of pride, and the other from a heart of humility. But what else? One is temporary, and the other is eternal. You see Christ has already commanded us to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, and reject youthful lusts. He said
   
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;

So here’s another question. How do we pursue these qualities, because they certainly don’t come from within us? We can’t pursue these qualities individually. We rely totally on His grace. However, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” So how do we pursue them? Through humility. We submit ourselves to God by recognizing the contrast between our position and His. I’ll tell you, there’s nothing which helps me submit to God more than focusing on the cross, and it’s when I’ve lost sight of the cross that I sink into pride. Realizing what Jesus did and from what position He did it from, melts away all boasting, and we say, “Lord you’re worthy, and I’m wretched.” It’s important that we pursue these qualities with humble hearts, under God’s grace, and also with other believers. “With those who call on the lord from a pure heart.” You don’t become pure before God by hanging out with dirty vessels. You don’t become clean by playing in the mud. In fact, Paul says starting in verse 23 to

    refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. And the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

“Timothy, correct the impure vessels, and reject their foolishness.” You become pure, able to be used by God, when you fellowship with those who are pure, as iron sharpens iron. So how can we be used by God? By cleansing ourselves? How do we cleanse ourselves? By fleeing youthful lusts and humbling ourselves with those who are cleansed. You know, C.S. Lewis had it right. He said that
   
    When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others---not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one.

Is your mirror dusty? Are you a reflection of Jesus Christ, an approved workman, a golden vessel, or are you unclean lending your ear to foolish and ignorant speculations. I pray that it is the former.

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