What are the contents of your average home?
Go inside and you’ll find sundry pieces of furniture, implements of different kinds, containers and equipment. A house will contain many objects for daily living, for whatever task is at hand.
Even God’s house—the temple in Jerusalem—used to contain such things; there were golden utensils and bowls, tables and candle-stands. So it is for God’s New Testament house, the church founded on Christ. Within it there are many “articles,” says Paul in 2 Timothy 2:20: “articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay.”
Just who are those “articles” he’s speaking about? In a way, we are all implements in
God’s house, made for doing the work of the Lord. But when Paul mentions these “articles,” he has got someone specific in mind: the church leaders, particularly. In these letters to Timothy, the apostle is giving some theological “distance education,” instruction in how the servants of the gospel are to conduct themselves.
It is that gospel, Paul said in verse 19, which is our solid foundation. The image of a foundation apparently gets Paul thinking about houses, because now he wants to say something about the instruments and tools that fill a house.
He says that all servants of God are like articles or vessels found in the great house of the Master. Paul spoke of himself this way already in 2 Corinthians 4:7. There he is reflecting on the ministry of the gospel, and he says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay.” Next to the great glory of Christ and his promise of salvation, a minister who works with that message is so feeble and so lowly. It is like storing your sparkling treasures in crumbling mud pots.
With the same comparison, Paul here makes a different point. He says in verse 20 that the kind of jar you are is of great importance:
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.”
It’s just like in our homes today, where we have those plastic containers for yesterday’s leftovers, but then ceramic dishes for cooking, and glass bowls for serving, and maybe even silverware for special events—many kinds of vessels, for different purposes and occasions.
Now, is Paul simply saying that believers have varying tasks within the church, that some of us “articles” seem more prominent or important than others, yet that all are essential? That is probably not his point. Paul is calling on us all to be vessels of honour, to be those instruments of gold and silver in God’s house. For see in verse 21 how he exhorts us to “cleanse” ourselves from dishonour, and how he calls each one to be holy and useful for the Master.
He says this because in Timothy’s congregation there were corrupt people having a bad influence through their lifestyle and teaching. Paul speaks of Timothy being a gold or silver vessel in order to contrast with those other articles, those of wood or clay. Back then (just like today), a container made of precious metal was reserved for special and noble uses, while a container of wood or clay was for menial purposes: maybe for handling household garbage, or throwing out human excrement. Ignoble and contaminated, such articles would soon be ruined and then discarded.
“So cleanse yourself,” Paul says to Timothy, to every minister—and to every member of Christ’s church! Flee every false teaching, and every evil desire. Don’t be an instrument of impurity, a tool of little worth, but be a vessel of honour for the Lord. Show yourself to be made not of wood and clay, but of gold and silver.
And not because you want to be placed in the china cabinet and there admired, behind glass and out of circulation. But because you want to be used! Ready even to be scuffed and scratched through constant service around the house, “prepared to do any good work” (v. 21).
It is then that we’ll be “useful to the Master” (v. 21). Who is the Master? Look back at verse 19, “The Lord knows those who are his.” Remember whom this house belongs to, who built this place. Remember how he built the church upon himself. It is Jesus Christ, who has made it possible for the holy God to dwell among us once again.
No wonder then, we have to be those articles of gold and silver! And no wonder we have to be utensils that are cleansed and sanctified.
Because the King himself—the Lord God—desires to take us in hand and to put us to work for his glory.