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7. Becoming a Person God Can Greatly Use (2 Timothy 2:20-26)

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Now in a wealthy home there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also ones made of wood and of clay, and some are for honorable use, but others for ignoble use. So if someone cleanses himself of such behavior, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart, useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.

2 Timothy 2:20-26 (NET)

How can we be greatly used by God?

In 2 Timothy 2:20-26, Paul uses the illustration of a master with a great household. In this household, there are many vessels both for special purposes and common ones; there are also servants (v. 24). However, not all vessels and servants have the same usefulness. In 2 Timothy 2:21, Paul says, “So if someone cleanses himself of such behavior, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart, useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” There are various aspects to our usefulness including God’s sovereign choice; Romans 9:20-21 describes how God is the potter and he makes one vessel for special purposes and another for common purposes, simply out of his sovereign choice—based on no merit of the person. But in this text, the opportunity to be used or not used is based on our actions. We can all be used by God; however, the extent is up to us.

When we look at Scripture, we see many vessels that God used for special purposes: We have the likes of Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Hannah, David, Mary, the disciples, and Paul. Yes, God divinely chose them for a special ministry, but they also made decisions that enabled them to be special vessels.

What are qualities of the people God uses greatly? Paul challenges Timothy, and us, to be someone God can use for special or noble purposes. In this text, we will learn five qualities of people greatly used by God.

Big Question: What are qualities of someone that God can use greatly, as discerned from 2 Timothy 2:20-26?

To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Separate from Ungodly Relationships

Now in a wealthy home there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also ones made of wood and of clay, and some are for honorable use, but others for ignoble use. So if someone cleanses himself of such behavior, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart, useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.

2 Timothy 2:20-21

Interpretation Question: What is this large house? Who are the various articles/vessels?

The metaphor of the large house clearly refers to God’s church, as it is called God’s building and the temple of God in other places (1 Cor 3:9, 16). However, who the various articles are is more difficult to discern.

1. Some believe that the vessels for special or honorable purposes refer to true teachers and the vessels for common or dishonorable purposes refer to false teachers. (John Stott takes this view).1

In the context, Paul has been challenging Timothy to be an approved worker who correctly handles the truth (2 Timothy 2:15), and not an unapproved one like the two false teachers—Hymenaeus and Philetus (v. 17-18). Therefore, many believe the vessels represent true teachers and false teachers.

2. Some believe that the vessels for special or honorable purposes and the vessels for common or dishonorable purposes refer to true believers—distinguished between the faithful and the unfaithful. (John MacArthur takes this view).2

Those who make this argument point to the preceding verses in 2 Timothy 2:18-19 where Paul says:

They have strayed from the truth by saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and they are undermining some people’s faith. However, God’s solid foundation remains standing, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil.”

Here in this context Paul refers to the faith of some being ruined by the message of the false teachers. However, even though some fell away, true believers—the solid foundation sealed with inscription—stand firm. The true church does not fall away; in fact, they flee wickedness including all false teaching. Therefore, the vessels in the house would be all true believers, but they would have varying usefulness based on the character of their lives.

3. Some believe that the vessels for special or honorable purposes refer to true believers and the vessels for common or dishonorable purposes refer to false believers including false teachers. (William MacDonald takes this view).3

Those who take this view refer to 3:1-9 in the following chapter (cf. 2:17-18). Paul warns Timothy that in the last days, Christendom will be especially godless. They will be lovers of themselves, money, and pleasure instead of lovers of God. They will be boastful, proud, and abusive. They will have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof (3:5)—meaning they practice the outward forms of Christianity but aren’t really saved. Timothy should have nothing to do with these professing believers (3:5). He should particularly stay away from the false teachers among them that tend to focus their ministry on trapping gullible women and leading them astray (3:6-9). Timothy and other believers should cleanse themselves from these dishonorable vessels in God’s house.

Since the primary context is about false teachers (2:17, 3:6), their message (2:16-17), and those who follow them who are kept from true faith (2:19, 3:5-9), the third view seems to be the strongest, as it’s the most inclusive.

Observation Question: How can one become a special vessel—one that is useful and prepared for every good work (v. 21)?

Paul says, “So if someone cleanses himself of such behavior, he will be a vessel for honorable use.” The NIV translates it, “those who cleanse themselves from the latter.” The NASB says, “if anyone cleanses himself from these things.” Since “the latter” and “these things” refer to the vessels of “ignoble” or dishonorable use, it probably refers to ungodly people (cf. 2:17-18), instead of their ungodly behavior as interpreted by the NET. The word “cleanse” means “to clean out thoroughly, to completely purge.”4 Our relationships affect how much God can use us. If our relationships are primarily with “professing believers” who compromise with the world, love sin, and/or are caught in false doctrine, it will hinder our usefulness. I heard it said that where we will be in the next ten years is largely affected by the people we associate with and the books we read. Certainly, this aligns with Scripture. Proverbs 13:20 says he who “The one who associates with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” First Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” Partnering with those who live compromised lives always negatively affects us. It affects our character and usefulness to God.

Again, this is not referring to relationships with unbelievers—though it has applications for such relationships. We are called to witness to the world and be salt and light to them, but we must never be in yoking relationships that pull us away from God. These yoking relationships include intimate friendships, dating, marriage, business partnerships, and even the types of entertainment we watch, listen to, and read (cf. 2 Cor 6:14). As mentioned, Paul is referring to vessels in the house of God—the church. We must avoid intimate relationships with professing believers who live compromised lives.

No doubt, when God called Abraham to leave his father’s household and go to Canaan (Gen 12:1), part of the reason was because of their compromise, as his family members were idolaters (Josh 24:2). Abraham had to leave his family to be used. In Genesis 11, we see that he didn’t leave his family—he brought his father, Terah, and his nephew, Lot. On their way to Canaan, they stopped in Haran and stayed there (Gen 11:31)—delaying the promise. Scholars believe they stayed there around fifteen years.5 When Abraham’s father died, Abraham resumed his travel to Canaan. Then, eventually, he separated from Lot in Genesis 13. He needed to separate from ungodly relationships to be fully used by God, and so must we. When we do, God prepares us to be vessels suitable for every good work. These good works are not limited to serving in church but in various arenas, including family, friendships, business, government, and even with nations. Sadly, many Christians are like Abraham in his infant faith; relationships keep them back from full obedience to God, full blessing, and full usefulness.

Are any relationships keeping you back from being greatly used by God?

Application Question: Why is it so important to separate from dishonorable vessels? What makes this separation so hard to do? What should the process of separation look like (cf. Matt 18:15-17, 2 Cor 5:9-13)?

To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Flee Evil Passions

But keep away from youthful passions

2 Timothy 2:22a

Interpretation Question: What are the youthful passions that Timothy was commanded to flee?

The word “keep away,” also translated “flee,” comes from the Greek word “phuego,” from which we get the English word “fugitive”. It is in the present tense, meaning that we must ‘continually flee’ so that we won’t get caught in these sins.6 The passions of youth refer to evil desires that are especially prominent in adolescence or young adulthood. Paul does not tell us what they are, and therefore, we are left to discern them. Several passions come to mind both from the context and experience. What are the evil passions of youth?

1. Being argumentative is a youthful passion we must flee.

In verse 23, he calls for Timothy to avoid foolish and stupid arguments that lead to quarrels. He then tells Timothy that the Lord’s servant doesn’t quarrel (v. 24). Arguing and fighting over doctrine or ministry methods is very common for a young believer who is growing in their knowledge of Scripture. They are right to be passionate about truth, but the manner that they demonstrate their passion can often be harmful. It’s common to find them fighting over doctrines like Arminianism and Calvinism, the use of spiritual gifts, male and female roles in the church, etc. There is nothing wrong with discussing doctrine with the hope of coming to the truth; in fact, that is good. However, we must be careful of a contentious spirit that wants to prove oneself right at all cost, even if it means fighting. We must flee the tendency to be argumentative. It ruins the faith of the hearers (v. 14) and hinders our own usefulness (v. 21).

Are you argumentative? Do you always have to win arguments?

2. Being impatient is a youthful passion we must flee.

Youth are known for their impatience. They want everything now and have problems waiting. This lack of patience often leads them into various sins: They can’t wait for a godly spouse, so they compromise in their dating. They can’t wait for God to show them their next steps or open doors, so they get mad at God. They can’t wait for others to change, and therefore they complain, argue, and stay in a state of frustration.

Impatience is a characteristic of youth, but patience is a characteristic of the aged. If we are going to be used greatly by God, we must flee impatience and learn how to wait on God and others. Every person God used greatly had to wait: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Jesus, and even Paul.

3. Selfish ambition is a youthful passion we must flee.

The young are commonly focused on making themselves great. From a young age, we had to be first in line and the first chosen for our sports. We had to be the cutest, the smartest, and the most successful. This often transitions into our spiritual life as well; Christ’s young disciples often argued about who would be the greatest in the kingdom. Sadly, this is all too common among ministers today—leading to competitiveness and worldliness. Selfish ambition also leads to insecurity, jealousy, and even depression when our ambitions are unfulfilled. It leads to pride if we become successful.

Christ said that if we want to be first, we must be last and the servant of all (Mk 9:35). If we are going to be greatly used by God, we must flee selfish ambition. In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul says: “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.”

Spiritual immaturity manifests itself in trying to make our name great; while spiritual maturity manifests itself in trying to make God’s name great and edify others. Are you fleeing selfish ambition?

4. Lust is a youthful passion we must flee.

In 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul says: “Flee sexual immorality! ‘Every sin a person commits is outside of the body’—but the immoral person sins against his own body.” Obviously, sexual immorality is an especially dangerous sin, as it is a sin against our own bodies. It causes emotional scars, spiritual bondage, and at times physical disease. This is something that all believers must avoid because of its consequences. It is especially hard to break free from, and it hinders our usefulness. If God is going to greatly use us, we must flee from the evil passion of lust.

Many of these passions decrease with age, but they never totally leave us. Therefore, we must constantly flee from them. We must flee being argumentative, impatient, selfish, and lustful. As we flee these, and other sinful desires, God can use us in a greater way; we become vessels for special purposes.

Are you fleeing sinful passions?

Application Question: Which of these passions are the greatest battle for you? What are some general principles to help us flee and stay free from sinful passions?

To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Pursue Godly Character

But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace,

2 Timothy 2:22

The word “pursue” can also be translated “to run after” or even “to persecute.” When one persecutes another, it means that he keeps attacking that person. In the same way, no matter how many times we fall, we must keep getting up and pursuing godly character. Proverbs 24:16 says, “Although a righteous person may fall seven times, he gets up again.”

Observation Question: What aspects of godly character must a person pursue, as mentioned in 2 Timothy 2:22?

1. We must pursue righteousness.

Righteousness refers to right behavior in conformity with God’s Word. It includes various deeds that both honor God and others like giving, sharing the gospel, ministering to the hurting, teaching God’s Word, etc. It also includes right thinking which ultimately leads to right action. If we are going to be used by God, we must pursue righteousness.

2. We must pursue faith.

Faith refers both to being faithful and to trusting God. We must become people who are dependable—our yes must mean yes, and our no must mean no. Those who are faithful with little can be trusted with much. God will give them more responsibility. However, we must also constantly pursue greater faith in God. Hebrews 11:6 says without faith it is impossible to please God. We must believe his Word and trust his promises to both please him and accomplish his works. Steve Cole recounts a challenging story about a professor from Princeton who taught Donald Barnhouse. He shares,

Many years ago, there was a learned Hebrew professor at Princeton Seminary named Robert Dick Wilson. He could read, as I remember, more than 30 Semitic languages! One time about twelve years after Donald Grey Barnhouse had graduated, he went back to the seminary to preach to the students. Dr. Wilson sat down near the front. After the message, he went forward and shook Barnhouse’s hand. He said, “When my boys come back, I come to see if they are big-godders or little-godders, and then I know what their ministry will be.”

Barnhouse asked him to explain and he replied, “Well, some men have a little god and they are always in trouble with him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration and transmission of the Scripture to us. He doesn’t intervene on behalf of His people. They have a little god and I call them little-godders. Then there are those who have a great God. He speaks and it is done. He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show Himself strong on behalf of them that fear Him.” He went on to tell Barnhouse that he could see that he had a great God and that God would bless his ministry (Donald Grey Barnhouse, Let Me Illustrate [Revell, 1967], pp. 132-133).7

What about you? Are you a big-godder or a little-godder? We must pursue faith in order to be used by God.

3. We must pursue love.

Love is the Greek word “agape”—referring to God’s love. This is not a love hindered by the limits of our emotions. It is a decisive love—an act of the will. This is how we can love those who are unlovable and those who hurt us. It is a love based on our choice to obey God. We should daily pursue loving God and loving others more. This includes practicing loving actions like listening, serving, and caring for others.

4. We must pursue peace.

As much as depends on us, we must seek to live at peace with others (Rom 12:18). This means humbling ourselves, confessing our failures, and forgiving. Unforgiveness is a tremendous stronghold that hinders our ability to be used by God. Christ says if we don’t forgive others, God cannot forgive us (Matt 6:15) and also that if we don’t forgive from the heart, God will hand us over to torturers—referring to God’s discipline (Matt 18:21-35, cf. 1 Cor 5:5).

Are you pursuing peace or holding grudges? If we are going to be greatly used by God, we must pursue godly character.

Application Question: Which godly character trait is the most difficult one for you to develop and why?

To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Pursue Godly Relationships

But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

2 Timothy 2:22

Paul says we should pursue godly character “in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (v. 22). “The term pure comes from the same root word as ‘cleanses’ in verse 21 and takes us back to where Paul’s line of thought began—to the truth that a clean vessel is a useful one.”8 Those with pure hearts aren’t perfect, but they faithfully pursue a right relationship with God.

Certainly, we see this reality throughout Scripture: Moses had Joshua; David had Jonathan and Nathan; Elijah had Elisha; Hezekiah had Isaiah; Daniel had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; Christ had the twelve disciples and within them he had Peter, James, and John; Paul had Barnabas and Timothy. In order to be greatly used by God, we must surround ourselves with godly people. Again, Proverbs 13:20 says, “The one who associates with the wise grows wise.” Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a person sharpens his friend.”

We can’t become godly on our own; we need to be surrounded by brothers and sisters who are fighting to be pure as well. They pray for us, hold us accountable, encourage us, and even help train us. Elisha received an impartation from Elijah. Timothy received a gift through the laying on of Paul’s hands (2 Tim 1:6). Similarly, walking with godly brothers and sisters, especially those more mature than us, will help us grow and further equip us for service.

Sadly, many Christians can’t be greatly used by God because they are isolationists; they walk on their own and fail on their own, with no one to help them get up. We must partner with others by getting involved in small groups, ministries, and mentoring and accountability relationships. If we are going to be used greatly by God, we must pursue relationships with godly people.

Application Question: How should we pursue relationships with godly people? What steps should we take? How have you grown spiritually and in usefulness through relationships with other mature believers?

To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Become Servants

But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.

2 Timothy 2:23-26

In continuing the household metaphor, Paul refers to the “Lord’s slave,” also translated the “Lord’s servant” (v. 24). The Greek word for “servant” is “doulos”; it can be translated “bond slave.” Paul often called himself a slave or servant of Christ (Rom 1:1, Phil 1:1). Bond slaves had no will of their own and were totally under the command of their master.9

The type of person God uses is a servant. He is totally committed to serving God and others. It’s interesting to consider that many of the people God used greatly, he called while they were serving. David and Moses were caring for sheep. Gideon was threshing grain. Many of the disciples were fishing or working other jobs. When God looks for a person to use, he finds somebody who serves. Selfish people focus on serving their own needs and not that of God or others and therefore can’t be used.

Observation Question: What characteristics of a servant does Paul mention in 2 Timothy 2:23-26?

1. Servants know their Master.

The “Lord’s servant” is possessive (v. 24); God owns this person—he faithfully submits to the Lord. One of the reasons people don’t serve is that God really isn’t their master. They live for their own pleasure or somebody else’s instead of God’s. Servants know their master.

2. Servants are kind.

The word “kind” can also be translated “mild” or “gentle” (v. 24). A great example of this is Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, when he says, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (ESV). In the same way a mother cares for her child—providing food, emotional support, and training—the Lord’s servant must do the same for others.

Are you serving others like a mother—thinking about them, reaching out to them, and bearing their pain? God cares for us that way, and he uses those who care for others in a like manner.

3. Servants must teach.

Paul said the Lord’s servant must be “an apt teacher” (v. 24). Therefore, the primary tool of the Lord’s servant is God’s Word. He uses it to teach, rebuke, correct, and train others to look like Christ (2 Tim 3:16-17). Are you serving others by teaching them Scripture?

4. Servants must not be resentful.

The word “patient” actually means “to bear evil without resentment” (v. 24).10 Servants are often unappreciated and sometimes even treated harshly. In those moments, the Lord’s servant must not return evil for evil or hold grudges. He must bear people’s unkindness in a patient manner. Again, he does this because his life is not primarily about himself, but serving God and others.

5. Servants must be gentle to others.

The word “gentle” can be translated “meek.” It was used of a wild horse that had been tamed. It doesn’t refer to weakness but carries the sense of ‘power under control.’ Instead of responding with pride or anger when offended, the Lord’s servant responds with humility and courtesy. Christ called himself meek and lowly (Matt 11:29). The person God uses serves others with gentleness instead of harshness, just like Christ.

6. Servants must hope in God.

Again in 2 Timothy 2:24-26, Paul says:

And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.

In the NIV, 2 Timothy 2:25 is translated this way, “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” Paul gives us a picture of the spiritual war that the Lord’s servant is engaged in. He describes a person, probably a believer, who is taken captive by Satan to do his will. He is trapped and drugged. “Come to their senses” literally means “to become sober” or to “come to one’s senses again.”11 Satan drugs people through worldliness, lust, fear, self-pity, the desire of money, false teaching, etc., in order to keep them from knowing God and fulfilling his will. There are many believers who are ensnared and caught in the strongholds of Satan. The Lord’s servant reaches out to them in hope—hope that God will set them free.

Because of this servant’s hope in God, he doesn’t fight or argue (v. 23-24). He doesn’t believe that he changes hearts; he knows that only God can do that. His hope in God causes him to minister through God’s Word. His hope leads him to minister through the body of Christ, since God works through his people. He also relies strongly on prayer, as he believes that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective (James 5:16). His hope in God drives him to the Lord’s resources. Secular ministers hope in the world and therefore rely on secular resources. To them, God’s resources are not enough.

Is your service founded on a hope in God?

When God looks for a person to use, he seeks a servant. They know their Master; they are kind; they teach God’s Word; they are not resentful; they are gentle, and they hope in God—not themselves or this world.

Application Question: What are other important qualities of a servant? How is God calling you to grow in servanthood?

Conclusion

How can we be greatly used by God?

  1. To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Separate from Ungodly Relationships
  2. To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Flee Evil Passions
  3. To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Pursue Godly Character
  4. To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Pursue Godly Relationships
  5. To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Become Servants

Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentary have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 72). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 86–87). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2120). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 87). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 Getz, Gene (1996-01-15). Men of Character: Abraham: Holding Fast to the Will of God (Kindle Locations 410-413). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 90). Chicago: Moody Press.

7 Accessed 11/12/16 from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-13-person-god-uses-2-timothy-220-22

8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 94). Chicago: Moody Press.

9 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 248). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

10 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (pp. 77–78). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

11 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (pp. 79–80). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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