14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.2 Timothy 2:14-26
I have thoroughly enjoyed looking at these But GOD moments in this series. We have seen them be as simple as trusting Christ in salvation and as beautifully complex as Him bringing those who are dead in their sins to life in Christ. We have seen God change the trajectory of men – change their entire lives by saving them and working through their lives. We have seen those men share Him with others and God give life to the seeds of their work by changing the trajectory of future generations, even unto our own.
I do not know whether or not I realized it when I set out to write this series, but I think – deep down – it has always been my goal to emphasize that there must be a change in the lives of those who profess that they were once lost but GOD saved them. If one’s testimony is that they are in Christ, it is that they were once dead but God made them alive. Remember that the conjunction “but” means that all before it is cancelled out by what comes after. So, if all of our past life is cancelled out by God, what comes after should be characterized by Him – we should be different. Our trajectory should be heavenward, even while still on the earth.
A Worker for Christ: Unashamedly Handling the Word
Paul’s second letter to Timothy is markedly different than his first. This is largely because both Timothy and Paul were different. They were both older. Timothy was no longer the young pastor who needed a guidebook for starting out. He had blossomed beyond needing to be reminded to not let his flock “despise [him] for [his] youth” to one whose “example” needed a bit of correcting (1 Timothy 4:12). Paul was at the end of his life and ministry in Rome, having “fought the good fight”, “finished the race”, “kept the faith”, and ready to accept that which was “laid up for [him by] the righteous judge [with] all who loved His appearing” (1 Timothy 6:7-8). He loved Timothy like a father loves a son and wanted to remind him to continue in what he had “learned and…firmly believed, knowing from whom [he] learned” it (2 Timothy 3:10, 14).
We need to be reminded that – despite the trials, tribulations, and trip-ups – God brings us from death to life to live for Him (Ephesians 2:10)! So, let us look at the reminders that Paul gave to Timothy and see how the Holy Spirit wants to remind us. Just as Paul wanted to remind his spiritual son of who he was in Christ, let us be reminded that we are sons and daughters of the King and we are who He says we are!
How we talk matters!
He mentions this several ways in this passage: “not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (v. 14), “avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene” (vv. 16-17), “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies [which] breed quarrels” (v. 23), “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach” (v. 24), and “correcting his opponents with gentleness” (v. 25). All of these point to how difficult it is to control our speech; so much so that James says that if “anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2) and that “the tongue is a fire” that sets the whole life afire via hellfire and “staining the whole body” (James 3:6)! It is no accident that Paul emphasizes it so much here.
If we are going to profess that God has changed our lives, our speech will be the first to betray the depravity of our hearts. We can see how Jesus condemned the Pharisees with the same evidence in Matthew 12:34 and 37:
“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks…. …[F]or by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
I realize that this concept seems harsh, but the fact remains that if one’s life has been changed by Jesus there should be evidence in that life of it.
In the earlier years of my marriage, my wife would be quick to tell me that “I’m sorry” loses its meaning if there is no change to follow it. How can repentance mean anything if our speech is still as quarrelsome as those who do not profess Christ? How can we “speak…all the words of life” (Acts 5:20) if our irreverent talk spreads like an infection through the body of Christ?
How we handle the Word matters!
Just as how we talk illustrates the reality of our heart, the place we give to the Word of God shows our hearts, too. I know that I have been guilty of proclaiming that I believe the Bible to be inerrant, infallible, and inspired, yet only following it on a level that was visible to church-folks around me. There was a certain amount of acting that was not being a doer of the word and deceiving myself and others (James 1:22).
Our lives will indeed reflect what we believe about the Bible. Several things that Paul reminds Timothy of in this passage reflect this: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (v. 15), “let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity” (v. 19; cf. Isaiah 26:13), and to be “able to teach” so that “God may perhaps grant…repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (vv. 24-25). I can already hear the counterarguments of how no one will be able to be perfect and that all of us sin. Yes, and yes. I agree with you wholeheartedly and see the same difficulties in my own life. But I will respond with the same question I have to ask myself: what is God doing in your life, and what evidence is there that He has worked in it and is working in it now?
When Paul tells Timothy that he should do his best to be an unashamed worker, it is not a command to act a certain way or simply not to fail. No! It is a testament to following Christ. It is a testimony to the fact that repentance is necessary to continue following Christ despite our hang-ups and mis-steps. He is not telling Timothy to seek to earn his salvation but reminding him that the esteem given to the Word – the respect, focus, and usage (mileage, even) that it holds – will impact his following. Just as David wrote in Psalm 119:9 – “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your Word.” – if we, like Timothy, will be willing to rightly handle the Word of truth, we will have no need to be ashamed because we will end up face-to-face with our Savior before His throne.
Usable Vessels and Willing Doulos-es
If God has changed our lives, we will actively follow Him. I do not believe that the Bible leaves room for a fruitless, evidence-less Christianity. Now, you could argue faith versus works and pull you a few proof texts (Ephesians 2:8-9 v. James 2:14-17), but, if we are rightly handling the Word and believe that all of it is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), we need to recognize that all of its teachings are true and let its reproof and correction bring us to repentance. So, if you claim to belong to Christ, you must be willing to be His vessel.
Paul uses the illustration here of a house and the different kinds of vessels that can be found in it: gold and silver for honorable use, wood and clay for dishonorable. Much of Churchianity (a made-up word for churchy-religion in the place of biblical Christianity), gets caught up in who gets to be an honorable vessel and who gets to be dishonorable. In fact, too much focus is given to whether we are being honored at all. I want to help us all with a bit of perspective: 1) none of us are honorable until Jesus saves and redeems us, 2) this means that we are all wood/clay until Jesus gives us the value (His value) of gold/silver, and 3) it is much better to be a terracotta chamber pot in the household of King Jesus than a golden toilet in any kingdom of this world (yes, I went there).
If you are in Christ, be thankful for His cleansing (1 John 1:9)! Be thankful that He takes the dishonorable and gives it honorable usage (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)! Be thankful to be set apart, useful to Him, and excited for the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10)! But there is more to Paul’s reminder than we are comfortable with. Not only do we need to be willing to be His vessel; we also must be willing to be His doulos.
In verse 24, we see the phrase “the Lord’s servant”. Before I dive into the original Greek word translated “servant” in the ESV, I believe that the best place to begin is with the meaning of the Greek word for “Lord” in that same phrase. The word “Lord” is kurios, and it means Lord, master, or owner. It speaks of one who has authority over the entire life of another and goes beyond the realm of employer. In the context, doulos would refer to one who is in bondage to serve the kurios. This goes beyond being willing to be used – it recognizes that if we are in Christ that we “are not [our] own, for [we] were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This is uncomfortable because of all the – rightful – negative connotations that go with slavery (both in the historical sense with early America and Britain and in the modern sense with human trafficking). But this ain’t that.
This concept goes back to the beginnings of salvation. In these devotions, we often quote Romans 10:9 as a guide to help us see what needs to happen to come to faith in Christ: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”. This is the submission that takes place. He is Lord/kurios, and we submit and lay down our lives to become His/His doulos. This is a willing submission that sees us go from death to life, from lost to saved, from bound to hell to bound up in His love, grace, and mercy. This sort of submission means that we entrust our past, present, and future to Him. It means that we step out of the driver’s seat and trust Him to lead, and, in that trusting, submitting to live like He has called us to live.
For many, this is a deal-breaker. This is why many people reject Christ and do not follow Him. They do not want to submit to His will. This is also why many who follow cultural Christianity eventually fall away; they simply cannot abide with Christ being Lord and walk away when their will conflicts with His. This is also why I am bringing this up to you today, dear Sojourner. It is not a minor detail that can be dealt with later. It is foundational to who we are in Him – or not.
Look at how Paul shows how much this submission is going to cost Timothy. It is going to cost him some earthly comfort, respect, and put him in a position to receive some dishonor as he serves out his honorable purpose in Christ. To illustrate, let us walk through verses 24-26 to see why. There will be times where a quarrel will seem logical (or even right) and potentially personally-satisfying, but Timothy will have to choose to be kind and endure the evil. There will be times where his opponents will need clear correction, but Timothy will need to remember that kindness is commanded rather than seeking retribution as he corrects. There will be times that call for harshness, but Timothy will have to respond in gentleness. Why? First, because that is exactly what Jesus would have done (and does for us). Second, there is more at stake than Timothy’s (or our) honor – those who oppose him and are currently enemies of his and God’s are people who need Christ. And they are people that God allowed Timothy to be the honorable vessel to preach Christ to them.
Where do we go from here?
There was a time in my life where, if you had asked me what my life verses were, I would have given you 2 Timothy 2:24-26. They were my way of showing how humble I believed I was at the time. I first encountered them in a seminary class, and I felt that I was receiving more dishonor than I thought I could bear. I was encountering more opponents than I could count and used this as my mantra to show how much better I was than them. But, rather than seeking for God to grant them repentance, I became more and more self-righteous and highlighted and bemoaned my trials rather than preaching Christ to them.
I eventually dropped out of seminary and quit on those life verses. I even quit preaching Christ entirely for a time. During that time, I found myself clinging to that self-righteousness. I wore what I perceived to be mistreatment by “church-folks” and the dishonor that I felt I had suffered to be my reason for burning out and walking away. But GOD was not done with me!
God allowed my dishonorable vessel to be cleansed and filled once more. He reminded me of these things not through quarreling but His kindness. He gently corrected me, loved me because I am His, and granted me repentance that lead “to a knowledge of the truth” and allowed me to come to my senses and “escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (vv. 25-26).
He can do the same for you, and that’s good news! I do not know where you are in your walk with Him, but I would be willing to wager that you could desperately use a but GOD moment in your life.
Maybe you realize that you do not know Him and want to come to faith in Him. I would love to talk with you or help point you to a Bible-preaching/believing church where you live!
Maybe your vessel has gotten dirty and been used for the wrong tasks. I would love to pray with you and help you seek God in His Word and find cleansing in Him.
No matter your situation, know that you are loved, prayed for, and not alone! No matter what is going on in your life, if you are in Christ, Paul’s reminder to Timothy is both an encouragement and a challenge to us today:
“But GOD’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’” (v. 19)
Hallelujah, and amen!