“Vessels of Honor, Part 2: How to be Useful” – 2 Timothy 2:22-26
“Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But 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.”
This is the final paragraph of the Paul’s larger argument in vv. 14-26. This section began with a charge for Timothy to keep himself and the men under his discipleship focused upon the task at hand (vv. 14-19). Their mission is to teach the Word and feed the sheep. There is no time to become distracted with meaningless and godless noise. Even in the face of apostates and heretics, Paul gave great encouragement that God is sovereign, and nothing will topple God’s firm foundation (v. 19).
The next section (vv. 20-21) contains an illustration of a large house and the beautiful vessels that one would find inside. Yet not every vessel in a grand house would be made of gold and silver. Some are quite common and destined for dishonor. Timothy must remove himself from such vessels if he is to be a vessel of honor, useful to the Master.
These verses build on everything that has already been mentioned. Paul knows that Timothy is indeed a useful vessel of honor, yet he gives Timothy some very specific instructions on how he can be useful and honorable in his current situation. But it is not enough to simply provide the answers if one does not understand the principles from which these answers come. After giving Timothy pointed and specific instruction (telling him what to do), Paul turns to explain the biblical principles from which these instructions come (how to know what to do).
Three Commands for Usefulness (vv. 22-23)
“Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.”
There are three imperatives or commands in these two verses; flee, pursue, and refuse. Some argue that these many commands indicate that Timothy is clearly in danger of tempted by these false teachers and their empty rhetoric. In fact, these commands make the exact opposite point. These commands are given in the present tense, which communicates the idea of keep doing this command. Paul is not rebuking Timothy. Paul is encouraging Timothy to maintain the course that he has always been on. As a dying man, Paul is encouraging Timothy to continue fighting the good fight. That fight requires a guarded spirit.
Retreat From Immaturity (v. 22a) – I don’t think we need to belabor the concept of fleeing. It means exactly what you might think, to run away. The issue is over these youthful lusts that Paul commands Timothy to retreat, run away from, or flee. Some are tempted to suggest that lusts (ἐπιθυμία) here indicates carnal sexual impulses that are so often found in society’s youth. The problem with that is of the 34 uses of ἐπιθυμία in the New Testament, only 5 occurrences are explicitly referring to sexual impulse. In fact, there are two uses which are clearly used in a positive context (Phi. 1:23; 1 Th. 2:17). The term simply indicates a strong desire or passion. Only the context can determine the nature of the desire. Here it is clearly negative, thus the command to flee them, but that’s a far cry from making this about sexual impulses (of which all of society suffers, not just the youth).
Given the context of what follows, these youthful passions likely indicate the manner in which Timothy might engage these false teachers or the way in which he might rebuke their false ideas in others. Rather than flying off the handle or becoming angry, Timothy is here commanded to continue keeping a cool head. Never give in to youthful passions as you separate from dishonorable vessels.
Charge After Holiness and Holy People (v. 22b) – The Christian life is a life of motion and action. Any Christian who is remaining still is a useless vessel indeed. It is not enough to flee youthful and immature reactions; Timothy is commanded to keep pursuing godly virtues. What good does it do to flee a fire only to run off of a cliff? As he continues his retreat from immature overreactions, Timothy must also continue to chase after godliness.
There are four godly virtues that are listed here. Each of them speak to the transformed life of a true Christian. These are the results of salvation and the fruit of sanctification. Righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) describes a state of accuracy, correctness, and appropriateness. This single term captures the character and nature of God, who defines what is correct and always acts with precision and appropriateness. Faith (πίστις) means trust or belief. To one who has already been sanctified and already been prepared for every good work (v. 21), this indicates one who is trustworthy or faithful. Timothy is to pursue trustworthiness and reliability that marks one who has saving trust in Christ. Love (ἀγάπη) is a love that is completely selfless and looks only and always for another’s best. In the context, this is likely referring to the love of others, specifically other believers. Peace (εἰρήνη) is so much more than a lack of conflict or hostility. The term means harmony or tranquility. It looks past the cessation of conflict to the prosperity that can only occur in a state of harmony. These virtues are to take hold of Timothy and these must be the object of his life’s pursuit.
The final phrase focuses Timothy’s attention on who must be the beneficiaries of his pursuit. Those who call upon the Lord with a clean heart refers to true and genuine Christians. Paul references Joel 2:32 yet again (v. 19) but adds the disclaimer “from a pure/clean heart.” The heart of man is where decisions are made. It is the seat of volition and it is thoroughly wicked (Jer. 17:9). Those who call upon the Lord are not simply those who show up to the worship service, but those who worship Him with a new and clean heart; i.e. those who have been redeemed and given a heart to believe and obey. This phrase encompasses all of these godly virtues, not only peace. And yet it is that pursuit of peace that makes the transition to the third command.
Disengage From Ignorant Fights (v. 23) – To refuse (παραιτέομαι) means to avoid, reject, or decline. This is a command to refuse to become engaged in foolish and ignorant speculations. Another way of translating this phrase (crassly, though accurate) would be stupid and ignorant debates. Disengage from debates/disputes that are utterly moronic on the surface and built on a foundation of ignorance. The world does not contain enough books to write down the examples that we might provide of such stupid and ignorant debates; Darwinism, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, Pentecostalism, Catholicism, and Mormonism just to name a few. What Paul has in mind here is specifically the Ephesian heresy: the spiritualization of the resurrection and the denial of a future perfected physical state. This heresy is stupid on the surface and is clearly propounded by men who are ignorant of the Scriptures. Paul’s orders are clear: disengage.
The final phrase makes it clear why it is important to refuse to engage with such stupid and ignorant ideas; it only leads to quarrels. I have never seen or even heard of a debate where one of the speakers repents of their position. I can’t even think of a situation where someone in the audience was convinced to leave the position they came with in favor of the opposing position. If you want to start a conversation (a polite way of saying start a fight) then a debate may well be the ticket. But Christians are never commanded to start conversations. We’re heralds of truth. We’re preachers, not debaters. We don’t start fights, we shine light.
Two Principles to Inform Future Action (vv. 24-26)
“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.”
These instructions and commands to Timothy did not come out of a vacuum. Paul is encouraging Timothy from principles that he already knows to be true. What follows is a reiteration of these principles. In fact, these verses are very similar to Paul’s list of the overseer’s qualifications in 1 Tim. 3:1-7. What follows is directly applicable to pastors, elders, and overseers of Christ’s bride, but I’m sure that we all can find implications that will convict and encourage us.
The Duty of the Lord’s Slave (vv. 24-25a) – The NASB translates δοῦλος as bondservant. This not abundantly helpful. The term is a generic word for slave, one who does the bidding of another. But this is far from a demeaning term. There are only a handful of people in the Bible who are called Yhwh’s slave/servant. Men like Moses, Joshua, and David are a few examples. The Lord’s slave speaks of the high office of elder/overseer/pastor; one who proclaims truth and feeds the sheep. This man cannot be a fighter, but a compassionate teacher.
We first read what the Lord’s slave is not; he is not quarrelsome. We just learned that engaging in stupid debates leads to quarrels. If the Lord’s slave is not to be quarrelsome, then why engage in activity where quarrels are unavoidable? Yet Paul spends much more time and ink describing what the Lord’s slave is. The Lord’s slave is kind (ἤπιος) or gentle. This term speaks to one who is mild-mannered rather than boisterous or domineering. This gentleness must not be mistaken for the pacifistic nature of a limp-wristed sissy. This becomes clearer when we see this in line with the other attributes of the Lord’s slave.
He must also be able to teach. This is the same requirement we see in 1 Tim. 3:2. Many take this as the divine ability to communicate well; the spiritual gift of public speaking. That makes about as much sense here as it does in 1 Tim. 3. Both lists contain character traits, not spiritual giftedness. The thought here (as well as in 1 Tim.) is the ability to teach because he knows the content that must be taught. There are many fine orators in many a pulpit, yet few men who are able to teach because they are vastly ignorant of the Scriptures. Going back to the need for the Lord’s slave to be gentle/mild, this does not mean that he will not preach with power, conviction, and vigor. But he is preaching God’s Word, not his own opinions or desires. There is a massive amount of difference between the two. A gentle man is never harsh, but that doesn’t require him to be a marshmallow.
The Lord’s slave is also patient when wronged. This is necessary to point out, because a gentle man that preaches truth is likely to be wronged on a regular basis. If the Lord’s slave is going to refuse to be harsh, yet boldly be the mouthpiece of his Master, then he is going to frequently play the part of the pinata. This is not for the faint of heart. In fact, these are not possible for men who rely on their own strength, intelligence, or ability. Yet these virtues are necessary for the Lord’s slave to fulfill his duty: with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition.
The word gentleness at the beginning of v. 25 is better translated humility. The Greek πραΰτης expresses the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s importance. This correction is not conducted out of a need to be right or seen as having superior intellect or understanding. Correction must happen. But only in a manner that diminishes self and magnifies truth.
In short, the duty of the Lord’s slave is to point to his Lord in word, thought, and deed. His whole life must reveal and proclaim the handiwork of his Lord and thus represent his Lord accurately. Yet this duty must never forget or neglect the goal.
The Goal of the Lord’s Slave (vv. 25b-26) – These words look at the same event from two perspectives. From the divine perspective we see repentance being emphasized. This is from the divine perspective because it is a gift from God alone. If God does not grant/give repentance, man will never repent. The slave of the Lord must bring the truth to bear in the event that God graciously gives wretched sinners the precious gift of repentance.
From the human side we read that they may come to their senses. This carries the idea of awaking from a drunken stupor. When God regenerates a life, a sinner sees and understands as if for the first time. The sin that he so loved is now abhorrent. The Scriptures that he hated and now adored. The Savior whom he mocked he now magnifies. Timothy must correct the opponents in the hope that God will give them repentance and they might awake from their stupor, because they are in great peril.
These opponents have already been trapped by the devil. The snare/trap refers to the false teaching that they have drank in like Kool-Aid and now holds them spell-bound for the devil’s own purpose. Only God can give them repentance to escape this snare. Only corrective teaching will wake them up from their stupor. From a human standpoint, there is only one thing to do: preach the Word. From a divine standpoint, there is only one thing to do: preach the Word. The Lord’s servant preaches with humility and as one who exemplifies his Lord, but he must preach.
These verses speak very directly and pointedly to any and all that man the pulpit more than they address the faithful in the pew. As I write this post, I find myself writing mostly to myself. There is no indication that Timothy was on the verge of falling into any specific temptation or that his ministry had become hard-edged and lacking compassion. But every minister must be reminded of these things. Sin and false teaching must never be ignored, winked at, or allowed to remain. But we are given very clear instructions how to deal with such issues. The balance between firm and gentle is always a necessary one. The line is down the center of selfish pride. Our Lord never lifted a finger to defend Himself, yet made a whip to drive out those who blasphemed His Father’s temple. May our words be reserved to proclaim Him. Soli Deo Gloria!