“When in doubt, start from the outside and work your way in.”
To a young college student who had never attended a formal dinner with multiple forks, spoons, and knives, this sagely advice came in very handy. Each utensil on the left and right of the plate sitting on top of the charger had a specific function. And those forks, spoons, and knives were designed to excel at that function.
Formal table-scapes and the Church have something in common—at least, the Apostle Paul would see a connection. In 2 Timothy 2:20-21, he writes:
20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. 21 Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.2 Timothy 2:20-21
New International Version
The Apostle Paul had been counseling Timothy to avoid the pointless arguments with false teachers in the Ephesian congregation. He furthermore had been instructing Timothy to stay separate from them because the truth was what Timothy stood on. In the passage we’re looking at today, Paul is elaborating on his counsel to his protégé Timothy.
To really get the emphasis Paul is making, we need to travel back to the first century in our minds. In the homes of people of first century Rome, there would have been some utensils used for eating and some used for removing excrement. It would be important to not get these utensils confused.
In a wealthy person’s home, there would have been a special set of dishes, goblets, and utensils made of gold and silver—similar to today’s “fine china”. These were only used on truly special occasions.
With that in mind, the metaphor starts to come into focus. The “large house” Paul refers to here is an entire congregation. In every congregation, there are those who serve for noble (or honorable) purposes and those who serve for their own gain.
In other words, they’re faithful and unfaithful Christians in the same congregation. Before our minds wander too far, let’s not put words into Paul’s mouth (well…under his ink and quill). He’s not telling Timothy to avoid the Christians who need a little more attention. He’s talking in the context of the intentionally disobedient compared to the obedient and growing Christians.
Paul is telling Timothy to focus on the ones who are “useful by the Master and prepare to do any good work” (verse 21).
In other words, as Timothy poured into the growing disciple of Jesus, they will grow even more. If Timothy attempts to pour into those who are only doing it for themselves, he will not only waste his time, he will be unproductive in his mission.
If you been involved in any level of leadership in a congregation, you’ve seen the “utensils” making you scratch your head and wonder why they’re involved. They don’t seem to enjoy serving. Matter of fact, they seem downright miserable.
Paul would probably tell us not to invest a whole lot into those people. Instead, spend time with the “rusty, unsharpened knife” who is a baby in Christ but is growing in their faith. Invest in those in whom you can see the Lord removing the rust and sharpening them.
They are the faithful “utensils” who can be used for honorable purposes in the hands of the Master.
They are the people who often ask for you the least. But they are the also the ones who benefit most from your influence.
They demand the least, but produce the most fruit. They may get complicated at times (Who doesn’t?), but ultimately, it is the faithful of the Lord who will turn their world right-side up for Jesus.
Equip them. Sharpen them. Prepare them. And then watch the gourmet meal the Master makes through those noble utensils.