2 Timothy: The Passion for Purity

Last week we met Paul from the Bible.
We saw the Passion of Paul,
His burning hot love.
The key to his life.
What was it?
Jesus was his passion
Jesus was his love.
Jesus was his life.
For me the challenge was this:
How would my life change if I loved Jesus like Paul did?

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy
We saw three pictures of living for Jesus: (2 Timothy 2:3-7)
The hard-working farmer.
The disciplined runner.
The devoted soldier.

For each one there is a cost,
But it’s worth it for the reward.


Kitchen Containers

Today we’ll see another picture or parable of the Christian life, from later in chapter 2.
Again we’ll see the cost of following Jesus,
And the greater reward.

20 In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay.  The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use.  21 If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honourable use.  Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.  (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

“Utensils” can mean containers, like plates or bowls or buckets.
One Bible version puts it like this:

In a well-furnished kitchen there are not only crystal glasses and silver platters, but waste cans and compost buckets – some containers used to serve fine meals, others to take out the garbage. (2:20, The Message)

That reminds me of my grandmother’s house in Christchurch.
She didn’t have golden plates.
But she had crystal bowls and fine old china teacups, used
To serve meals to guests.
We still have this silver platter – a tray from a great grandma.

It’s mostly for Mum’s pavlova.
That’s a classic Kiwi dessert, a sort of cake – have you tried it?
Mum only cooks pavlova at Christmas, New Year’s, maybe a 40th or 50th family birthday.
This silver plate is for special occasions.

In my grandmother’s kitchen at the end of the bench
Was a white plastic compost bucket.
When she was cooking, she would throw into it:
Potato peelings, egg shells, banana skins, used tea bags.
After a while it got smelly when you took off the lid.

So here we have two sorts of household items.

The shiny silver tray for special occasions:
Costly, long-lasting, honourable, noble.
The dirty plastic bucket for everyday use:
Cheap and nasty, not so lasting. [1]


Plastic Junk and Silver Joy

And here’s the question Paul is asking us:
The shining silver tray for guests.
The smelly plastic bucket for trash.
Which one of these is you?
Which one do you want to be?

Before we go out,
We look in the mirror.
We clean our teeth and comb our hair.
We polish ourselves so we shine like silver on the outside.

But if we are honest,
If we lift the lid of the bucket and look inside our heart.
There’s some rubbish.
Stuff we don’t want other people to see. [2]
Like greed, anger, pride, laziness, lust.
We call these sins.
They are ugly, and they stink.

Paul says, if you clean yourself from these things, [3]
If you get rid of this rubbish,
Your life will be beautiful like a silver tray.

Set apart for special occasions.
Ready and prepared,
So the Master can use you for every good work.

Become the kind of container God can use to present any and every kind of gift to his guests for their blessing. (2:21, The Message)

Shining like silver or gold.
Used by God to serve and bless others,
Like the communion plates here today. [4]
That’s when we’ll be truly happy, deeply fulfilled, dancing for joy.
Because that is what we were made for.

Beautiful inside and useful to Him.
Do you want to be like that?
I know I do!

But…
Inside me there’s so much rotten smelly rubbish!

How do I get rid of this ugly stuff?
How do I cleanse myself?


The Lower Way: Self-Discipline

The next verse gives a clue.

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts.  Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace.  Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.  (2 Timothy 2:22)

Run away from temptations:
Whatever increases the rubbish inside and leads you away from God.

What pictures do you look at on Instagram?
What videos do you watch on YouTube?
What friends do you hang out with?

Do they increase your love of God?
Are they making you more good and beautiful
Like the silver plate?
Or are they filling you with rubbish like that bucket? [5]

Run away from rubbish, says Paul.  Instead,

Pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace.  (22)

Pursue means run towards, chase after, make that your goal.
Are those things your goal?
Then Paul says,

Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts. (22)

I mostly run a few times a week.
On my own I’m sometimes lazy and skip a few days.
When I run with friends,
We encourage each other: come on, let’s go!
Guys are competitive, we don’t want to look weak.
So I run further and faster than on my own.
It’s better for my fitness.

It’s like that in the Christian life.
Do you have spiritual running mates?
Friends who help you train so you really grow? [6]

There’s an old book, quite thin, The Pursuit of Holiness.
Holiness is what we’ve been talking about:
Being pure and set apart for God to use us.
The cover has a picture of a runner, and the verse:

Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Are you running for the prize?
Heading towards holiness and purity?
Are you pursuing a life without rubbish that’s pleasing to God?

If I am disciplined and train hard to be holy;
If I hang out with people running in the same direction;

I should make progress,
Clear out some rubbish and clean up my life.

But the harder I try, the more likely it gets
That I will hit a problem.
Paul put it like this:

The trouble is I am all too human…  I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t…  I love God’s law with all my heart.  But there is another power within me that makes me a slave to sin.  Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me?  (Romans 7:14-24)

I want to be free from the rubbish inside.
I want to be pure as gold.
I want to be beautiful and useful to God.
But I can’t.
No matter how hard I try!

Even if I could throw out all the rubbish,
I’d only be a clean cheap plastic bucket.
I’ll never change plastic into silver or gold.

 


The Higher Way: The Cross

When I arrived at my grandma’s house in Christchurch
Sometimes she’d say: David, there’s a job for you outside.
I knew what she meant!
I got a spade and went to the back yard.
In the corner under the apple tree there was a hole
Where she puts the rubbish from the kitchen bucket.
Now the old hole was full.
I dug a new hole for the next few months.
The potato peelings, the banana skins, all those smelly scraps,
When they are buried in the ground,
They rot and die,
And become compost, fertiliser, to help the tree grow big juicy apples!

That shows a spiritual principle.
When we throw out our rubbish and bury it,
God can use it to make things grow.
When the old life dies,
Then new life can be born. [7]

Remember Paul’s problem: defeated by sin?
Here is his solution:

We died and were buried with Christ…  Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin…
And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of God the Father, now we also may live new lives.  (Romans 6:3-8)

Dying to our old life.
Burying the rubbish in Jesus’ tomb.
Rising with Jesus’ new life.
That’s what happens when we accept Jesus. [8]
It’s also our future hope:

Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever.  Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

From earthly, clay bodies, broken and weak,[9]
To everlasting bodies of glory and strength.
Does that sound like transformation
From smelly plastic to shining silver?

We won’t be pure gold until after death.
But if we walk with Jesus, we can start to change now, every day.
Paul said if you trust in Jesus, you are a new creation:

Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The cheap old plastic junk is gone!
The golden new life has begun!

Because, says Paul,

My old self has been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.  (Galatians 2:20)

No longer I, but Christ.
It’s like a spiritual heart transplant. [10]
This is the secret to freedom from sin.
The only way to be pure inside.

To sum up with an idiom.
To be born again to new life,
For our smelly scraps to become silver,
We have to kick the bucket!


Dirty Lizard and Noble Steed

Dying with Christ.  Rising with Christ.
Letting God’s holy fire burn away our sin,
So garbage turns to gold.

Not just once, but over and over.
That’s what the Christian life is about.
There’s sometimes a long hard struggle
Before at last we obey God,
And are filled with peace. [11]
It may cost great pain,
But it brings greater joy.
Who has experienced that?

CS Lewis wrote a book called The Great Divorce (1945).
It describes people choosing or rejecting God’s cleansing fire.
Choosing between heaven and hell.
It shows the struggle to die with Christ.
The pain it costs.
And the joy of becoming gold.

In one chapter (11) the writer imagines
A man with a little red lizard on his shoulder.[12]
The lizard is always whispering in the man’s ear,
Putting dirty thoughts in his mind.
It makes him weak and crippled – he can’t walk freely.
Sometimes the man says, “Shut up!”
He tries not to listen.
But the lizard won’t stop.

This man is a slave to lust – sexual desire gone wrong.
Though it could be any sin that controls you.
He wants to be free, he hates it.
But he needs it, and can’t escape it.
It’s the same problem Paul described in Romans 7.

There is a power within me
That makes me a slave to sin.
Oh, what a miserable person I am!
Who will free me?

Is there something like that in your life?

An angel approaches,
Burning with holy fire.

The angel asks the man,
“Do you want me to make it quiet?”
“Of course!” he says.

The angel reaches out his hands of fire.
The man yells,
“Ah, you’re burning me.  Keep away!”
“Don’t you want it killed?”
Killing it?  That’s a bit much.  It will probably go to sleep on its own.”
“It won’t.  May I kill it?”
“If I try harder, I can control it.”
“You can’t.  May I kill it?”
“There must be a better way – the slow and gentle approach.”
“There is no other way.”
“I’m too tired today – another time.”
“There is no other time.”

Have you ever argued like that with God?
Making excuses, looking for loopholes, trying to delay;
Trying to avoid what you knew God was asking?
Like the angel, God won’t force us.
He waits for our permission.

At last the man says,
“Yes!  Kill it!  God help me!”

With flaming hands the angel grabs the lizard.
The man screams in pain.
The angel twists the ugly lizard in two.
He breaks its back and throws it on the ground.
It is dead.

But then the body moves.
It changes and grows.
It rises.
Now a strong white horse with shining silver hair.
Beside it stands the man, tall and free,
Full of strength and joy.
He blesses the angel.
He jumps on his horse.
He rides like a shooting star towards heaven.  [13]


Refiner’s Fire

We’ll end with the song Refiner’s Fire.[14]
To “refine” means to make something pure and perfect by removing impurities.
Silver and gold are refined by fire. [15]
The great Refiner is God.

His refining may hurt, as that story shows,
But remember:

The refiner is never very far from the mouth of the furnace when his gold is in the fire.  (Charles Spurgeon)

Do you long for God to clean your heart from the rubbish inside?
Do you want him to kill your “lizard”?
Free you from the lust, or greed, or anger, or fear,
Whatever makes you a slave?

Do you want him to transform it into precious silver and shining gold?
Or a strong white horse!
Do you want to be beautiful and useful for Him?

If you have chosen to pursue holiness,
If you burn with a passion for purity,
Then this song is your prayer.

Purify my heart
Let me be as gold and precious silver
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold, pure gold

Refiner’s fire
My heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will


Questions

In your home, what’s for special occasions?
What’s for everyday use?
Is there rubbish in your life that you need to throw out?
Have you ever struggled to “die” and give up something that’s bad?
Have you experienced being cleaned by God and rising with Jesus’ new life?


[1] Plastic for us is like wood and clay for Paul: the cheapest everyday materials, and perishable.  Wood can burn; clay and plastic are easily broken, but who cares?  Throw it out and get another one.
[2] “You are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!”  (Matthew 23:25)
[3] Similar words for cleansing are used in “Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch” (1 Cor 5:7) and the pruning of the vine (John 15:2-3).  “Let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.” (2 Cor 7:1)
[4] The “house” could be seen as the temple, so the sanctified, devoted vessels are those used in worship.
[5] We have to be careful what spiritual seeds we’re planting in our heart, what spiritual food we’re eating:  “guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23).  “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)
[6] By Jerry Bridges (1978). See interview with the author.
[7] Paul wrote, “When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first…  Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have.”  (1 Corinthians 15:36-38).    Jesus said the same in John 12:24.
[8] Here in Romans 6 Paul is describing baptism.
[9] “dishonour” in Greek – the same word as 2 Tim 2
[10] “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols.  And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”  (Ezekiel 36:25-26)
[11] Like when a woman gives birth to her child. (John 16:21)
[12] See an artist’s depiction here, a blog post on the scene here, W.H. Auden’s review “Red Lizards and White Stallions” here.
[13] The scene is introduced with the words, “Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried.”  It concludes with, “Nothing, not even what is lowest and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death.  It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body…  What is a lizard compared to a stallion?  Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering, whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.”
[14] By Canadian Brian Doerksen, 1990.  He describes how God gave him the song on YouTube here.
[15] In a concordance, “gold” appears most often in Exodus: the “pure gold” of the Tabernacle.