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Maintaining Spiritual Traction in a Shifting Culture
Make Right Choices, Part 2
Choose to be a Vessel of Honor
2 Timothy 2:19-22
Bruce A. Hess
If you would, please take out your Bibles and turn in them, in the New Testament, to the book of 2 Timothy, and chapter number 2. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there should be one under a chair in front of you and you can take that Bible and turn in the back part to page 166, and you would be at 2 Timothy, chapter 2.
Most of us know about the famous painter, Leonardo Da Vinci. He was the one who painted the famous Last Supper painting, where you have Jesus with all His disciples at the last supper. When it came time, as he was working on that painting, to paint the face of Christ, he said, ‘I need a model. I want to find someone who exemplifies the qualities of Christ. Someone who looks almost like an angel.’ So, he went to a church in Rome where he found an angelic looking choir boy, whose name was Pietro Bandinelli. He had Pietro come and sit in his studio and he painted his face as the face of Jesus. Of course, he thanked Pietro afterwards for all the help that he gave, and the boy left.
What you may not know is, Leonardo Da Vinci put that painting on the back burner [put on hold, not given immediate attention] for many, many years. He was working on a number of other projects and it was later in his life when he decided, ‘I need to go back and finish The Last Supper.’ When he went back to it, he realized that he had painted the face of every person in the painting except for Judas Iscariot. He thought, ‘If I am going to paint Judas Iscariot, I want to find someone to be the model for his face who is a hardened person, who has been beaten down by a life of poor choices.’ So, he decided to hit the streets of Rome. He often found himself in the area where there were homeless people. Finally, one day he found this homeless man who had lived a very difficult, painful life. You could just see it on his face. He asked that homeless guy to come to his studio so he could paint his face, to be the face of Judas Iscariot, and he did that.
Even as he was painting the painting, Da Vinci was thinking, ‘This man has weathered many storms in his life.’ After his face, the face of Judas, was completed, he thanked the man and then he said this to him, ‘Before you leave, what is your name, so that I can know who you are?’
The homeless man said, ‘My name is Pietro Bandinelli, you painted me when I was a child. I am the face of Christ in this same painting.’
The same vessel can be used for honor and can be used for dishonor. The difference is the choices that one makes in life.
A very similar idea is raised by the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy, chapter 2, verses 19-22. We are in a section of 2 Timothy where it is emphasizing that our choices are a key to spiritual steadfastness in our life. It is a key, our choices are, to steering clear of spiritual catastrophe. We are in a section in chapter 2, where he is emphasizing that we are to make right choices. In fact, that is what we want to talk about, in part number 2, this week. We talked about making right choices, in part number one, last week. This week is part number 2 and we are going to look at verses 19-22. So, I would invite you to follow along in your Bible as I read these verses.
Verse 19, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.’ 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 anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
As we have stated, the whole emphasis of chapter 2, of 2 Timothy is on spiritual steadfastness. He wants to point out to us, and to Timothy, that we should make right choices. In fact, there are three of them in the middle part, and the end part, of this chapter. We looked at the first right choice last time, choose to be a diligent workman. We saw that in verse 14 to the first part of verse 19.
Now we come to the second right choice and that is to choose to be a vessel of honor. Here is the outline as we look at this second right choice that we are to make. First of all, we are going to look at the pivot in verse 19. We are going to see that verse 19 is really a pivot verse between the first two choices. Then, we are going to look at the choice in verse 20. We are going to look at the path to making that choice in verse 22. Then, we are going to look at the benefits of this choice in verse 21.
So, we are going to look at the pivot, the choice, the path, and the benefits. Let’s begin by looking at the pivot. We are calling it a pivot because verse 19 is really a pivot between the very first choice, choosing to be a diligent workman, and the second choice of choosing to be a vessel of honor.
I want to back us up to last week. Remember, we were talking about, last week, truth distorters. We were talking about their destructive doctrine. We talked about adolescent attitudes and we pointed out last time that these truth distorters, with all that they do, have negative ramifications. Their negative ramifications in the assembly of the church and their negative ramifications in the individual lives of believers. Remember how he said, in verse 14, at the end of the verse, regarding the truth distorters, what they do “leads to the ruin of the hearers.” It causes spiritual trouble in their life. In verse 18, at the end of that verse, regarding the truth distorters, it says “they upset the faith of some.” They actually undermine people’s faith.
Right at that point, it raises a question. Here is the question, I think Paul anticipates this question, those who have their faith undermined, do they lose their salvation? If someone is a follower of Jesus, and they are derailed by a truth distorter, are they then drummed out of [dismissed] the family of God? And anticipating that question, he addresses that issue with the first part of verse 19.
Notice he says, “Nevertheless…” Even if the truth distorters do undermine the faith of some people, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal.” Even when a follower of Jesus is derailed, or their faith is undermined, the firm foundation of God stands. The picture is, there is a foundation stone on the church and on that stone, that foundation stone, is a double inscription.
The first part of the inscription is an encouragement for us. The second part of that inscription is an exhortation for us. So, notice he says, “The firm foundation of God stands, having this seal,” here is the first inscription, “The Lord knows those who are His.”
Jesus said, in John 10:14, “I know My own.” I am fully aware of those who trusted in Me for salvation.
Then, John, chapter 10, verse 28, one of my favorite verses in the Bible. This is what Jesus said, “I give eternal life to them,” I know who My own are. And, He says, they will never perish, and I have that word “never” in red and underlined because it is a reflection of the way the language is in the original. We could easily translate it this way, ‘I give eternal life to them, and they will absolutely never, ever perish, no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.’
You may be derailed, but you cannot be lost.
This first inscription is an encouragement of our assurance of salvation that when you trust in Christ, you are not going to be lost. No one can ever snatch you out of the Father’s hand.
But, again, verse 19 is a pivot between the first choice and the second choice. The second part of the inscription is the exhortation to us. Notice, there in verse 19, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” A very picturesque language here. Literally it means ‘to stand off from wickedness, to back up from wickedness.’ The clear aim that he is emphasizing for you and for me, is that we are to live rightly, we are to live holy.
Paul communicated this idea to others in New Testament era, in 1 Corinthians, chapter 6, verses 19 and 20. He says to the Corinthian believers, ‘Don’t you realize that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself. For God bought you with a high price, so you must honor God with your body.’
Peter wrote to the believers and he said this in 1 Peter, chapter 1. “As obedient children…like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior.” I think the thrust that he is making is that we are to keep character a priority in our spiritual life, to keep character a priority.
You know what is really interesting about our culture today? We live in a culture where there is a current character crisis. Chicago Sun Times columnist Sydney J. Harris wrote this, “Since most of us would rather be admired for what we do, rather than for what we are, we are willing to sacrifice integrity for achievement.” What our culture is beginning to think is something like this, who really cares about character as long as you get something significant accomplished? The culture is buying into that thinking more and more and of course the danger is, because the culture is pushing on us, is that the church might begin to buy into that also.
We live in a culture that is downplaying, diminishing, de-emphasizing, character as essential, de-emphasizing character as being crucial. We see this especially true, I think, when it comes to those who are leaders of our cities and leaders of our states, and yes, even leaders of our country. Our culture is leaning away from character. We are underestimating it, under-rating it, under valuing it. What difference does character make as long as you get something done?
You know what is amazing, to me, about that? That is so illogical. It is so totally inconsistent. Think about it, if you had a sum of money and you desired to put that into the care of someone else, would their character make a difference to you? You would say, ‘Absolutely. I want someone with character to handle and invest my money.’ If you were going to get somebody to care for or train your children would character make a difference? Of course, it would. Absolutely it would. But, isn’t it interesting how the culture is beginning to underestimate, under-rate, and under value character? Ultimately, what we are determines what we do.
If we are going to steer clear of spiritual catastrophe, if we are going to experience spiritual steadfastness in our Christian life, that brings us to the choice that we must make, in verse 20, where he talks about choosing to be a vessel of honor. Look at verse 20 again, “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.”
You are going to have, he is saying, in this house, this large house, you are going to have gold and silver vessels. You are going to have utensils made out of gold and silver. They could be containers, they could be bowls, but also in that same house, you would have vessels of wood and earthenware, which is just clay and pottery. You would have wood and clay vessels, utensils, they might be buckets, they might be jars of some sort.
He says some of these vessels are vessels for honor. They have a noble use. You might use these vessels to eat from, to dine from, to drink from. That is a very noble use. But you would also have some vessels, he says, which are vessels of dishonor. They have an ignoble use. You may have a vessel that you use to dispose of garbage, you throw garbage into it. It is not something that you want to then turn around and eat your food out of or drink out of. You might have a vessel of dishonor for the ignoble use of dealing with human waste. We are, in modern days, we have this modern plumbing, and there are certain things we do with that [toilet], but we wouldn’t think about drinking the water out of it. Our dog might think about drinking the water out of there, but that is too ignoble a use, that we want an honorable vessel to drink water from.
I want to remind you that, when he wrote this, they were the pre-plumbing days. In pre-plumbing days they would have what might be called a chamber pot or a chamber bucket and it would be something that would have a lid on it and if you had to do certain business during the night or when it was really cold out, you would use this chamber pot, put the lid back on it, wait til the next day to go and empty it outside.
Some are vessels of honor that have a noble use, some are vessels of dishonor that have ignoble use.
What is the goal for us? Look at verse 21. He says, “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor.” He is saying, to you and to me, choose to be a vessel of honor. “If anyone cleanses himself from these things,” that is daily choices that we have to make, “he will be a vessel for honor.” He will be a noble, she will be, a noble vessel that God can use.
The New Living Translation puts it this way, “If you keep yourself pure, you will be a utensil God can use for His purpose.”
I like the words of Chuck Colson, he said, “Holiness is the everyday business of every Christian.” Isn’t that true? It is the everyday business of every Christian. It evidences itself in the decisions we make and the things we do hour by hour and day by day. Holiness is the everyday business of every Christian.
I am a very practically minded person; I always want to know how am I supposed to do that? How am I supposed to choose to be a vessel of honor? Well, the path is laid out for us down in verse 22. Verse 22 gives us the practical how-to. How do we choose to be a vessel of honor? He is going to tell us here that there are some things we are to flee, some things we are to avoid, and there are some things we are to pursue, those are some things we are to embrace if we want to choose to be a vessel of honor.
Look at verse 22. He says, “Now (I want you to) flee from youthful lusts.” That word that is translated ‘flee from’ in the original language is the word ‘fuego’ f-u-e-g-o. We get the word ‘fugitive’ from fuego. The New Living Translation puts it this way, “Run from…”
One of my favorite movies is the movie, The Fugitive. In fact, I got into the story of The Fugitive because…I am older person, I grew up with the TV series, The Fugitive…in The Fugitive, Richard Kimble embodies this idea of fuego, fleeing from. He spends the movie, or he spent the series, it went on for several seasons, fleeing from the authorities who were trying to arrest him. He was always running from the authorities, fleeing from them.
By the way, this is in the original language, a present tense, which just simply means this is to be a pattern in our life. We are to do this, not just once, but over and over again. The pattern of my life, and your life, should be that we flee from certain things.
Well, what are we to flee from? He says in verse 22 we are to “flee from youthful lusts.” The NIV says, “The evil desires of youth.” It is just the basic word for ‘strong desires,’ but obviously it is referring to negative ones. There is a whole litany of things that could fit into the category of fleeing from the evil desires of youth. I want to highlight a few of them.
One of them would be: sexual sin. We should flee from sexual sin. I will remind you that Timothy is at Ephesus and he had been there for quite a while and you may or may not remember that in the city of Ephesus they had this incredible religious temple, the temple of Artemis. One of the functions inside the temple, for those who came to worship there, was temple prostitution. Think about that for a moment, think about coming to assemble together as a church at Wildwood, and part of what we would do on Sunday morning is, we would have temple prostitutes here. And, part of the spiritual experience we would encourage you to do, is to get involved sexually with those temple prostitutes. That is the kind of environment that Ephesus was. Part of what we need to do, to choose to be a vessel of honor, is to flee from sexual sin.
Leadership Journal did a very extensive survey of pastors. They asked these pastors if certain behavior had occurred during their career as a pastor. It was an anonymous survey. Here is part of what they found. They asked these pastors:
Since you have been a pastor have you done something sexually inappropriate with someone who is not your spouse? 23% of the pastors said yes.
They asked the question: if you have had sexual intercourse as a pastor with someone other than your spouse. 12% of the pastors said yes.
How about other forms of sexual conduct and contact like passionate kissing and fondling, have you done any of that with someone other than your spouse? 18% of the pastors said yes.
Pretty startling numbers. You know, if the pastors are doing it, if the shepherds are doing it, the sheep are probably following. They did another survey of believers at large and they found that the numbers almost doubled.
As a Christian, have you done something sexually inappropriate with someone not your spouse? 45%-yes
Have you had sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse? 23%-yes.
As a follower of Jesus, have you been involved in other forms of sexual conduct, like passionate kissing and fondling with someone other than your spouse? 28%-yes.
Backing up to the pastors, it is interesting. With whom did you get involved in this sexually inappropriate activity? 17% of them said with a counselee, 30% said with somebody else in the church congregation, 31% said with someone else outside the church congregation. There are some things we need to flee from.
Dwight Moody said character is what you are in the dark. It is a good thing to ponder. Character is what we really are in the dark. When there is really only us and our computer. What are we in the dark?
Employing the Joseph response, remember Genesis 39? The Joseph response is very essential when we are faced with temptation of sexual sin. Remember Joseph, when he was confronted with the opportunity for sexual sin, what did he do? Fuego! He just fled away from it. He got up and physically ran. That Joseph response is essential if we are going to experience spiritual steadfastness in our spiritual life, if we are going to steer clear of spiritual catastrophe, a spiritual crash. We are to flee from the evil desires of youth.
One would be sexual sin. I am just going to list a few others. How about the love of money and stuff? In fact, Paul addressed that in his first letter in chapter 6, verses 6-10. There are some ways we are to deal with that. If we are going to choose to be a vessel of honor, there are certain things we need to flee from.
We need to also flee from, I would list, contentiousness. It gets back to that adolescent attitude that we talked about last time, where we have people, even in the church, who just savor debating. They just savor being right all the time.
We need to flee from…another one might be the pursuit of approval, really an evil desire of youth, where the focus is, ‘I’m just thinking about what other people think about me. I want everybody to think the right thing about me,’ rather than what does God think about me?
So, if we are going to choose to be a vessel of honor, there are some things we need to flee from and then notice verse 22 says there are some things we are to pursue. There are some things we are to chase after. Let’s go back to The Fugitive for a moment. You have Richard Kimble and he is fleeing from the authorities, but what is he doing also? He is pursuing, he is pursuing, pursuing, pursuing, pursuing the one-armed man, who really killed his wife.
One of my favorite television programs is on the A&E network, it is entitled Fugitive Taskforce. It is the U.S. Marshalls and they are pursuing with zeal these bad guys, tracking them down to arrest them. That is what we need to be doing. There are some things we need to be pursuing, we need to be hunting them down with zeal and resolve.
He lists several things here. If we are going to choose to be a vessel of honor, we need to pursue righteousness, pursue right doing, doing the right thing to other people. That ought to be a pursuit, we go after that with a zeal. Every day we wake up I want to pursue doing right with people.
We need to hunt down and pursue with a zeal, faith. Trusting God despite the way the circumstances are squeezing us in or piling on us, despite the difficulties. Part of our passion is to pursue trusting God. We are to pursue righteousness, faith, and we are to also hunt down love. Pursue that with some zeal and resolve.
Often I have shared the definition, the Biblical definition of love is this, love is a commitment of my will to your needs and best interests regardless of the cost. We are to be pursuing that in our life with the people around us.
We are to pursue righteousness, faith, love…and then we are to pursue, to chase after, peace. It is the opposite of strife. It is peace that we should be after, that we hunt down and we chase after. Peace with our parents and peace with our children and peace with our neighbors and peace with our extended family and yes, peace with other believers in Jesus Christ. We are to pursue tranquility with people, not conflict with people.
Then, there is a very interesting phrase that comes up in verse 22, it is easy to miss. I think it is pretty important. We are to flee from youthful lusts, we are to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, but we are not to do it alone, are we? We are to do it with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. See, God never designed the Christian life to be a Lone Ranger Christian thing. ‘Well, I just have my own little spiritual life, I just do it over here. I really don’t need the church. I really don’t need to be connected with others.’ Wait a second, now, part of the purpose of the church family is, we are not doing this alone. We are not fleeing from and we are not pursuing after, by ourselves. This underscores the necessity of being connected with other believers.
I also want you to notice, we are to be connected with the right kind of other believer. We are to flee and pursue “with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
When I was young, in my growing spiritual life, I often listened to a gentleman, an evangelist by the name of Bob Harrington. Part of what Bob Harrington used to say frequently was this, “If you hang around with doubters you are going to doubt, if you hang around with pouters you are going to pout.” What he meant was, if you hang around with the wrong kind of fellow believer, it will have a negative impact on you. So, we are to do this with those who call on the Lord but they are calling on the Lord from a pure heart.
What are the benefits of this choice? Well, they are given to us in verse 21 and there are actually four of them listed there. “If anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor.” That’s the first benefit, to be a vessel for honor, that God can use to accomplish noble things in His kingdom. Anybody here really want to be…I mean, we all want to that, right? We want to be a vessel for honor. We want God to use us to accomplish noble things for His kingdom.
Those who choose to be a vessel of honor also end up being sanctified. The NIV says, ‘holy.’ Being set apart as different is the idea. You know, we are just different from the culture, we are not just like the culture. We are different and that is attractive.
We are also useful to the Master, he lists there. What a tremendous thing to think about. Useful to the Master. You know what? When you are useful to the Master, guess what? God will use you and it is exciting to have God use you. It is fulfilling to have God use you.
Then, our fourth benefit is, we will be “prepared for every good work.” The way I look at that is this way, we are prepared for anything God might want to do. And, you know what? I can tell you that God wants to use you in ways that you never even imagined. God wants to use you in ways that haven’t even crossed your mind yet.
When we choose to be a vessel of honor we are prepared for every good work. He will be ready to surprise you. Too often, here is what happens to us, we psych ourselves out. We compare ourselves with somebody else. Hopefully you are not comparing yourself, necessarily, to me. I have that same struggle, I can compare myself with someone else and I think, ‘I can’t get used like that so I must be fairly worthless.’ No, when we choose to be a vessel for honor, we are prepared for every good work, God will use us and He will use us in ways we haven’t imagined.
You see, it’s not great talent that God blesses. By the way, there’s a whole sermon on that. It’s not great talent that God blesses so much as a great likeness to Jesus that He blesses. If we are going to be spiritually steadfast, we need to choose, daily, to be a vessel of honor. As we make right choices in our spiritual life, we can have the face of a young Bandinelli rather than the face of an older Bandinelli.
Having looked at these verses and looked at this choice, to choose to be a vessel of honor, we want to talk about some life response we can have. I can think of three things, revolving around three words that begin with ‘R.’
This is what we can do next. Number one, Remember, you are never trapped when tempted. The enemy wants us to think that way, but that is not reality. In 1 Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 13, Paul says that God is faithful, He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand, but when you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure. We need to remember we are never trapped when we are tempted.
Secondly, by way of life response. Repent and confess when you do veer off course. I’ve veered off course. Every one of your leaders in this church have veered off course to some level or another. When you veer off course, repent and confess. In 1 John 1:9 it says, “If we,” what a beautiful verse, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” That is awesome!
We need to Remember, we need to Repent, and number three, by way of life response, Rely daily on the Holy Spirit. We may be weak, but God is not. He has not left us powerless. When is the last time you really took some time to meditate on the truth that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? That means that the Holy Spirit lives inside of us. The Holy Spirit is 100% God. A 100% God lives inside of me? If you know Him personally, yes. And, we need to rely on the Holy Spirit daily.
Let’s pray together. Father, we just thank You so much for this instruction, this exhortation, for us to make a right choice and that is to choose to be a vessel of honor. I have a 100% confidence that when we choose that You are going to use us, You are a God of great economy, You want to use us and to be used of God is such a cool thing. So fulfilling. Choosing to be a vessel of honor in light of what You have done for us, is the least that we can do. Father, we want to acknowledge that it is not us who are great, it is You who are great. Honor You in our life we pray. Amen.
Questions for Reflection: (week seven)
–Isn’t the promise of John 10:28 totally amazing? Take time to praise God for the assurance we have of the security of our salvation.
–Cite some situations (they could be in the spheres of business, politics, education, entertainment, the church, etc.) where you have observed our culture downplaying and de-emphasizing that character is essential.
–When it comes to the “evil desires of youth”: sexual sin, loving money and stuff, contentiousness, and the over-pursuit of approval from people, Paul says to “flee from it.” How do we often respond? Cite some examples.
–The clear teaching of this passage and the New Testament is that a follower of Jesus ought to live a life that is distinctly different than those around us. Name some practical ways that we can do that..
–Chuck Colson said, “Holiness is the everyday business of every Christian. It evidences itself in the decisions we make and things we do, hour-by-hour, day-by-day. Cite some instances from this past week where you made some decisions to embrace holiness.
–List at least three ramifications of the truth from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in us, and was given us by God.
-I remember hearing evangelist Bob Harrington say, “Hang around with doubters, you’re gonna doubt. Hang around with pouters, you’re gonna pout.” What does this say about the company we should keep with believers? With seekers? What is the balance in this?
–“It’s not great talent that God blesses, so much as a great likeness to Jesus.” How have you seen this played out in other’s lives? Your own life?
–Is there any behavior in your life that God (through the Holy Spirit or through fellow believers) is prompting you to address? (Be honest!)