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.
2 Timothy 2:20-21
Have you ever thrown a food container away because it had held something that had gone bad? I know that I have – something left in the back of the refrigerator too long, forgotten about for weeks and suddenly discovered. Regardless how hard I cleaned it, even if no hint of the matter was still discernable, I could never feel the same way about that container again. Out it went with the garbage.
The greatness of the grace of God is seen in the amount of sin that He can forgive and cleanse from our lives. Some of us are notorious for what things we have done, others because of what we have thought about doing, and some for both. God forgives all sin and cleanses all who come to Him through Christ in repentance and faith. The word “articles” in the NIV above is elsewhere translated “vessels” and the image of the passage, not to be vulgar but to clarify what Paul depicted, was given before indoor plumbing was invented. He did not have to go into detail to help his original readers to understand – this was part of their daily living. It was also before modern porcelain was known in the Mediterranean world. Vessels and household containers could not be easily cleaned, they would retain some trace of what was left behind, and one used to hold filthy items would not be used to hold clean items.
Our lives also are like vessels and our experiences and associations fill our lives with either noble things or unholy and ignoble things. This is the image that Paul painted. Can someone who has used his life to delve into the most unholy matters still be cleansed from sin and be used for holy purposes? Our memories retain impurities and these allow the devil to dredge up old things from past years to tempt us and distract us from purifying our thoughts. Are we just to be thrown out by God, never again to be used for anything holy and pure? The passage above affirms that no matter what unholy things our “vessels” or our lives have held in the past, if we confess our sin, forsake these things, and turn to God for cleansing and filling, we can be fit for every good work, we can “call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
Of course, some people will throw us away. For some who have known about what went on in our past life, we still have the stench of the garbage of the world about us – if only in their minds. It is often difficult for us to get past the memory of past sins, either in our lives or in the lives of others, which is why we need to major on the grace of God.
A word of warning is also found in this passage: be careful of insincere “repentance” and a half-way act of contrition. Where we know we are weak in temptation, from those things we should flee, and we should pursue the right things. As the next verse proclaims: “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace.” The acts of confessing, forsaking, avoiding future temptation, are balanced by claiming the grace of God, pursuing the holy things of God, and associating with holy people in life.
Lord, convict us of anything impure in our lives or in our thoughts or even in our past. Let us accept the forgiveness and cleansing You offer through Your life given for us. Build us up in our faith and create a hunger in our hearts for holiness. Amen.