2 Timothy 2:20&21 “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”
“How can we know what we’re to believe when one bishop says one thing and another bishop contradicts him?” This is an objection you occasionally hear. Are you being serious in raising that objection or are you using it simply as an excuse for not reading the Bible or listening to the Bible being preached? We have to acknowledge that there is enormous confusion in the Church of England and in the Free Churches. If the Church of England believed in its 39 Articles (which I tell you that I believe except for a couple of minor points) then they would be more united in telling England what England should believe, and the Church in Walessimilarly. The passage before us is most helpful in dealing with the objection you’ve mentioned. Jesus talks about a big house and the various utensils that you find there, come common and others costly.
- WHAT IS THIS HOUSE AND WHY IS IT BIG?
There has been great interest all over the world during the last five years in a television drama called Downton Abbey, its portraits of personalities and life in a mansion in England a hundred years ago, before, during and more recently after the First World War. There is a great class divide in the house, and the story lines revolve around the activities of the servants downstairs, while upstairs is the family who own the house and the estate. It is a great country house like Blenheim Palaceor Sandringham or Versailles or the great castles on the Rhine. There are many mansions like Downton Abbey all over the United Kingdom. What does such a ‘great house’ represent to the apostle Paul? He is using this building to describe the Christian community in its broadest sense. This is the only place in the New Testament where you get such a picture, and it is not helpful to build a whole doctrine on one verse in Scripture. But the picture is helpful. The large house includes the Roman Catholic church with its liberal and conservative streams. It has a whole wing in this house. The Greek and the Russian Orthodox churches have smaller wings, as do the Protestant denominations, the modernists as well as the evangelicals. All the Christian cults are represented there. The major cults that emerged in North America in the 19th century are large rooms in this house as well as the legion of African cults that emerged in the 20th century. They have smaller rooms. All the para-church organizations also have rooms in this house, the mission societies, the seminaries, the publishing houses, the evangelistic agencies, the magazines, the TV preachers – they all have little rooms or alcoves in this vast house. Nothing that claims to be Christian is left out. They are all in this house and that’s why it’s so large.
So our vast divided Christian community is being compared to a great mansion with all its furnishings. In this large house you will find everything claiming to be Christian. You will find heretics like Hymenaeus and Philetus who denied a future resurrection. You will find churches that have turned against the teaching of the apostle Paul. You will find the Galatian legalists, but you will also find Paul and Timothy and the truth. So the large house, I believe, refers to the professing Christian church and to the Christian community and to Christendom.
That is not a little house. I can tell you a parable. Here is a very private couple, married for fifty years, living in a tiny house, 2 up and 2 down. They have virtually no relatives. No one visits them. No one enters that house; the meter readers know that the meters are at the back of the house on the wall. No tradesmen or postmen or evangelizing members of the cults are ever invited in. The husband and wife see eye to eye on everything and they go about their daily and nightly routines like clockwork, with no variation. They never talk to their neighbours; they never take a daily paper or watch TV or read the newspapers. They do not possess a phone or Email or Twitter. They go to the shops once a week; they pay their bills and keep themselves entirely to themselves. They are virtual hermits. That is a small house (we call it in Welsh ty bach twt) and in no way can you say that that cottage is a picture of the professing Christian church. We are involved in and reacting to a large house.
So what are some of the lessons we learn from this?
i] The context of this ‘large house’ metaphor in the second chapter of the second letter to Timothy is important. Paul has just described for us the church, and he has done so in two ways, first, he has told us that they are the people whom God loves, of whom the Lord says, “They are mine.” The Lord knows those who are his. Paul also says that there’s another inscription which is the second mark of the church, that everyone who names the name of the Lord turns away from wickedness. The people of God are divinely loved. The people of God shun all evil behaviour. Now that raises a problem, and it is this, that in the churches surrounding Timothy were heretics preaching in the name of Christ like Hyemenaeus and Philetus and yet they were denying a fundamental Christian truth like the resurrection of the dead. Why should God allow heretics to be busy and disturb the peace and unity of the people he loves? If he commands all his people to depart from wickedness why should he allow such wickedness to be practiced and to enter his church? There are a number of answers to that question but one answer is here in this verse. All the people who make the profession, “We believe in God” are in the eyes of the world all living in this huge Christian house. There are tons of different religious folk with tons of ideas as to what Christianity is and they are moving around within the house, going from room to room, and moving out to the world and mixing with the world. Some of them are like Paul and Timothy and they affirm the gospel but others have added to the gospel or taken from the gospel. That is how it is today and how it’s going to be in our fallen world until it ends. A great mixture of religious people are living in this big house. A cross section of men’s hearts are found here, stony ground hearers are here, Judas lived in this house once, others are being strangled by the cares of this world, while others are there who bring forth much good fruit. Paul tells us that we are to be sure of this that the Lord knows and loves his own people; and that they depart from error and wickedness and they live a holy life, but they are embarrassed by the teaching and claims and denials and lifestyles of other people who in the eyes of the world occupy the same religious house as they do. “You are all Christians,” the world says. You all inhabit the Christian house. Then let me make another point.
ii] You hear it claimed that the early Christians were all expecting the world to end very quickly, certainly in their lifetime, that there would a rapture and the disciples would all be taken up to heaven. But here we see a very different picture, that the people professing to be Christians are compared to a very large mansion with hundreds of rooms and millions of people, many at loggerheads with one another. Here is a huge skyscraper, durable and extensive, and in it there are tensions and conflicts. So we have been told in the previous verses that all the churches in Asia had turned against Paul and his teaching. They are in this house. We also learn of movements and leaders rising up challenging basic Christian doctrines; some were insisting that Gentiles Christians need to get circumcised to be saved. That is the confused picture we have here. It will always be like this, and so the picture of the great house is telling the early church that it is in for the long haul. Maybe it is going to last as long as the pyramids or Stonehenge have lasted or even longer. But there is another lesson we learn from the big house metaphor.
iii] The professing church is going to present a messy picture to the world. We are not to be surprised that there are divisions and errors found in the community that calls itself ‘Christian.’ Hymeneaeus and Philetus were not at all unusual in their making fundamental denials of biblical truth. In what period in the past 20 centuries has there not been error and heresy? I remember in a church history lecture at seminary a fellow student asking our professor how in the world could God have allowed the church to wander away so quickly and defiantly from the truth of the gospel? But the Bible teaches human responsibility very strongly. We quickly learn that Adam and Eve’s family had Cain in it; the first man born of woman murdered his own brother! Think of it! In the home of Jacob there were many sons who did not walk as they should have walked. In the people delivered from Egypt there rose up Korah and Dathan and Abiram who challenged Jehovah. The Lord Jesus himself said to his disciples, “ I have chosen you twelve and one of you has a devil.” Christ warned us about wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing and the devil coming as an angel of light. It was no surprise that it was in the first generation of Christians that there was departure from the gospel. Don’t you know something of the power of indwelling sin, what disturbing thoughts and doubts and imaginations you can have? Don’t you know something of the pressures brought upon you by the frowns and smiles of the world? We are not ignorant of the devices of the devil. Then it should not be surprising to you that within the first century after the death of the last apostle the church went off at a tangent. Or that there would be denominations and cults that claimed to be the only true church and that they spoke infallibly. What is amazing is that there is so much gospel truth and so many gospel congregations in the world today. Until Jesus returns again in the clouds with great glory we must expect to find nothing less in this world than wheat mixed with chaff, goats with the sheep, and dead flies in the perfume. The Christian community is like living in a huge house of discord with a cacophany of loud music of all kinds, and shouting, and smells and bells coming from hundreds of rooms all at the same time and it never ends. It never ends.
- WHAT ARE THESE ARTICLES IN THE HOUSE, THE CHEAP AND THE COSTLY?
“In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble” (v.20). It is a familiar enough picture. In Windsor Castle there are occasional banquets to honour a visiting head of state, and the very best china and cutlery is taken out, and the tables are laid with the crispest white linen and the most delicious courses are served. There could also be Doulton vases containing fragrant flowers on the tables. But there are also staff who live in Windsor Castle, chaffeurs and maids and administrators. They occupy rooms at the back of the building and they eat there from plates and dishes and mugs that don’t match and with ordinary knives, forks and spoons, some of which are disposable plastic. In Paul’s day it was much the same. There were wooden and clay dishes for everyday use, and then when the Emperor paid a visit the proconsul would unlock the rooms where the gold and silver plates were kept under lock and key and they would be taken out and used. Paul is pointing out that the value of these articles lies in how they are used. He talks of the noble purposes of some and the ignoble purposes of others – in other words the latter have a menial use. Some brushes are used for brushing your hair, other brushes are used for cleaning the toilet or brushing the floor. Some vessels hold perfume or old wine while other vessels are chamber pots. Their use will determine their value.
What is the point of this metaphor? In this large house of Christendom there are gold and silver teachers, and there are wood and clay teachers. A faithful preacher-pastor is like a gold or silver vessel that brings honour to Christ. His ministry and life reflects our Saviour. He serves and loves the Jesus of the Bible. He preaches about him, he brags about him, he exalts him as our prophet, priest and king. To that preacher the Lord is all and in all, the way and the truth and the life, the altogether lovely one, the bright and morning star, the light of the world, the rose of Sharon, the resurrection, the alpha and the omega, the pearl of great price. He is everything to the faithful minister, and he wants all who listen to his sermons to make Jesus their everything too. So he sets out, as it were, gold and silver utensils for the congregation every Sunday; there is the reverent clear reading of the Bible, there are the great hymns that are sung, there is the effectual praying and there is the proclamation of the word – he is setting out the very best utensils – gold and silver – which are full of the glories of Christ. They all give honour to our Lord.
The kindly and faithful American pastor, Warren Wiersbe, the former minister at MoodyMemorial Church, Chicago, writes of his visit to the Tower of London to see the crown jewels. You know that there is a conveyor belt walk-way in front of the bullet-proof glass, behind which are displayed the monarch’s magnificent crowns and tiaras and priceless table vessels and utensils. Hundreds of them are there. Warren Wiersbe says that looking at them, “I was overwhelmed with their glory and beauty.” He wanted to stand before them for ages and gaze and gaze at some of the largest diamonds in the world. But you can’t because you are standing on top of a remorselessly moving conveyor belt and it is taking you away from all that perfection. Remember the man whom the Lord Jesus spoke about. He was shown the largest and most perfect pearl he’d ever seen. He fell in love with it; he had to have it for himself; he sold all that he had to have it for himself. That is Jesus to the empty longing heart. We want to gaze and gaze on him. We must have him for ourselves. We will sell everything to have him.
When we hear heavenly anointed preaching that glorifies the Son of God we have the same experience. How often did I listen to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preaching and after an hour he would say, “I must finish; let me say this in closing . . .” and someone would call out from the congregation, “Go on!” Don’t finish! I heard members of the congregation saying that on a number of occasions. We’ve been given a new vision of Christ, and how glorious it is, and we want to see him again, more and more about Jesus would we see. “Don’t stop!” That is the kind of beauty God enables his servants to display to the church, men who handle the word of God faithfully as Paul has exhorted Timothy to do – be straight with the Scripture and straight with the people, not crooked, and not ignoble. Hymenaeus and Philetus couldn’t do that with their serious errors. They weren’t gold and silver utensils; they were disposable plastic forks and plates.
Let me explain this picture in this way. There is nothing wrong with earthenware pots or wooden cutting up boards. They are as grand in their use as gold or silver plates and jugs and cruets are grand for their use. But if something is not being used for what Paul calls twice in our text “noble purposes” then the article itself is being dishonoured. Imagine a silver knife being used to hurt an animal, or kill a child, or a bottle being used to assault someone. That is an ignoble purpose for a noble article. You see how Paul is using this picture? Here is a pulpit, and there are a million of them being used right at this moment in the world. Now the climactic aspect of Sunday worship (after we have prayed and sang and spoken to God) is the response, when God speaks to us through his servants and through the Book about the Lord Jesus. The preacher is to show us the salvation that is in the Lord Jesus and how wonderful he is so that at the end we want to sing, “Oh for a 1,000 tongues to sing our dear Redeemer’s praise.” That is the noble purpose of the wooden pulpit and preaching from it, praise to the Lord Jesus. But when Hymenaeus and Philetus preached there was no doxology given to Jesus. That was an ignoble use of their pulpits.
Pots and brushes, wood and clay are fine things in themselves but they are dishonoured by the use to which they are put. Think of the series of cartoon films Toy Story. The toys all have a noble purpose in view. Whether they are the five star toys, Buzz Lightyear, Woody and Rex, or some of the lesser toys, Mr. Potato Head, Jessie and Bulls Eye. They all have a noble purpose and that is, to give pleasure to loving children who will care for them. That is all they want. They don’t want to be kicked around and thrown into a dark cupboard and never used. That is an ignoble purpose. They want to be loved and to give pleasure to their owners and to be used.
Children you know more about Toy Story then your parents, and so I have used the characters in the film to explain to Mum and Dad what is the noble use of our lives and your lives to and the noble use of our lives is this, to give pleasure to God by the way we spend our lives. It is not enough to be a church member. It is not enough to be living in the large house called ‘Christianity’ because there are some people who, while they are in this big house, are not glorifying and pleasing God. God is not happy with how they live and what they teach other people. They are cheap and useless articles, and what they are doing is all wrong.
- HOW WE CAN BECOME NOBLE, HOLY AND USEFUL TO THE MASTER.
“If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (v.21). So we are finally told how we can be someone in the loving hands of God, not just being in the big house called ‘religion’ but become someone whom God likes and uses for a noble purpose. I have to try to make you all see the wonder of this, that you went to church one winter morning, and the preacher explained clearly to you how you could be delivered from living a wasted life, but rather that you lived a life of purpose, of noble purposes, made holy and useful to God your Maker and prepared for any good work. Let me break it down by following these fascinating phrases of the apostle.
i] You must cleanse yourself from every kind of ignoble purpose and become the very opposite. So that is where it starts, not in any kind of complicated philosophical or religious language. “Clean up your life,” it says. Your life has been messy, and the reason for that is because you’ve lacked a purpose in living. What is man’s chief purpose in life? Do you know this? In other words, why did God create you and has blessed you in so many wonderful ways? What is God’s purpose for your life? I will tell you. It is to glorify him and enjoy him for ever. Any other purpose is an ignoble purpose. There was once a woman who heard those very words and she was covered with shame. She realized she had never tried to glorify God in anything she had ever done. Never! She was going to die, and after death is the judgment, and she had never fulfilled her chief end in life. Then it was that she began to turn to Jesus Christ for mercy and help and the Lord did help her. He can change our souls. He really can. There was a criminal to be executed for a horrible crimes in the town of Ayr, but while he was waiting for the date of execution God worked in his heart day by day changing him and given him assurance of forgiveness. On the gallows he was given opportunity to speak to the crowd. He cried to them, “Oh, God is a great forgiver! He is a great forgiver!” Aren’t there times when you feel dirty inwardly? The Lord Jesus can cleanse our hearts from their defilement and guilt. He is a great forgiver and that is where you must begin – with inward cleansing from your sin
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
ii] You can be made holy. That is why the Lord Jesus died; “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” That is why the Son of God went to the cross, in order to make favoured men and women holy people. This is what he achieves for everyone who has entrusted himself to Christ. There were some great words about being a holy man that were once spoken by John Newton at family devotions. He said, I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I wish to be. I am not what I hope to be soon . . . soon. But though I am not what I ought to be, not what I wish to be, not what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was – a slave to sin and to Satan, and I can heartily join with the apostle in saying, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’” Those are the words of a man made holy by the grace of God.
iii] You can live a useful life for the Master. Is there anyone here who doesn’t long in his heart to achieve that end? I want to live a useful life for God. I will tell you how.
ONE, by taking a realistic view of your sin. Cheer up! Your sin is far worse than you can ever have imagined. Every imagination of the thoughts of your heart is only evil continually. The only power that can deliver you from it is God’s, through Jesus Christ his Son, and you are called to do battle with sin day after day until the hour you die. Then you will begin to live a useful life for the Master.
TWO, by appreciating that deliverance and forgiveness comes through the Lamb of God alone. Whatever your experiences may have been God’s grace – his omnipotence obtaining our redemption – is ours only by the redeeming love of Christ. Only by him can we live a useful life for the Master.
THREE, by sitting under the best ministry of the word that you can possibly hear, and by thinking about what you’re hearing, and by applying it to your situation every Sunday and turning those truths into praise. Then you will begin to live a useful life for the Master.
FOUR, by being conscious of how quickly this life vanishes away, and being convinced that only what is done for Jesus Christ will last, and so always being ready for death. Then you will begin to live a useful life for the Master.
FIVE, by being aware how comprehensive and complete is the Christian’s life in the world. So you must be convinced of the usefulness of reading, and the excitement of reading, and the benefit of reading. Then you must dig deep and dig well into the Bible and the best books about the Christian faith, books by such men as Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Iain Murray, J.I.Packer, Donald Macleod, John Murray and J.C.Ryle. You may discover that you are spending too much time on matters like entertainment and sport if you exceed the biblical proportion which is this, that one seventh of one’s time is to be given to recreation and rest. Then you will begin to live a useful life for the Master
SIX, by seeking to be an encourager, that is, a voice calling people back to the old paths of truth and wisdom. If that voice increases in volume, confidence and winsomeness as the years go by then you are beginning to live a useful life for the Master.
SEVEN, by keeping one day special every single week, and giving it to God so that it’s not just the 20 minutes you spend on most days, reading the Bible, and praying but the whole day of Sunday is a period when you turn from the prizes and fascination and rewards of the world to remembering your Creator, and growing in love with the Lord your God, and increasingly loving your neighbour as yourself, and so you learn to live a more useful life for the Master.
iv] You can be prepared to do any good work for God. You are ready to respond to the phone call, you bumop into a needy stranger, you get invited to a meeting. For example you may be a Samaritan walking with your donkey to Jericho when you turn a bend in the road and you suddenly see a man who has been attacked and robbed and left half dead lying in front of you. And you know exactly what to do. Or you arrive at a meal and no one takes responsibility for the guests washing before the meal, and you are prepared to do what needs to be done for God. Again, the greatest speaker in the world that there has ever been or ever will be is in your home. He is speaking, and you dismiss any thoughts of enhancing your reputation as a cook, and you sit down as close to him as you can not to miss anything he has to say. Again, a woman, the wife of your boss, tries to seduce you, and you are prepared to do what you have to do, you run a mile. Again, God asks you to make a very great sacrifice and you immediately do what he requires from you. “God can raise the dead,” you reason, “so what can I lose from obeying him?” Again you stagger ashore from a shipwreck and your first thoughts are how you can get a fire going to warm and dry your freezing fellow passengers.
Again, you know the two leading women in the congregation are at loggerheads and you address them both publicly. You exhort them to deal with it, and you tell them of the humbling of God the Son even to death on the cross that we rebel sinners might be reconciled to God. God’s grace will prepare you even when the challenge comes right out of the blue and these are uncharted territories you are able to do these good works for God. Then you live a life of noble usefulness and God uses you week by week because you have made yourself usable.
21st February 2016 GEOFF THOMAS