Don't Waste Your Life - Be Useful to the Master
Don’t Waste Your Life – Be Useful to the Master
2 Timothy 2:19-22 (NASB95)
19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” 20 Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. 22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
John Piper opens his excellent book Don’t Waste Your Life like so:
‘… millions of people waste their lives because they think these paths [of pursuing God’s glory and our greatest joy] are two and not one. There is a warning. The path of God-exalting [gives great] joy [but] will cost you your life. Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” In other words, it is better to lose your life than to waste it. If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full. This is not … about how to avoid a wounded life, but how to avoid a wasted life … Please know that I am praying for you, whether you are a student dreaming something radical for your life, or whether you are retired and hoping not to waste the final years … Remember, you have one life. That’s all. You were made for God [for His glory]. Don’t waste it. [p. 9]
‘You may not be sure that you want your life to make a difference. Maybe you don’t care very much whether you make a lasting difference for the sake of something great. [If you were honest, you just want to be considered cool]. You just want people to like you. If people would just like being around you, you’d be satisfied. Or if you could just have a good job with a good wife, or husband, and a couple of good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and a quick and easy death, and no hell—if you could have all that (even without God)—you would be satisfied. That is a tragedy in the making. A wasted life.
These Lives and Deaths Were No Tragedy
In April 2000, Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards were killed in Cameroon, West Africa. Ruby was over eighty. Single all her life, she poured it out for one great thing: to make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick.
Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing eighty years old, and serving at Ruby’s side in Cameroon. The brakes failed, the car went over a cliff, and they were both killed instantly … Was that a tragedy? Two lives, driven by one great passion, namely, to be spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ—even two decades after most of their American counterparts had retired to throw away their lives on trifles. No, that is not a tragedy. That is a glory [praise to God]. These lives were not wasted. And these lives were not lost. “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).
An American Tragedy: How Not to Finish Your One Life
I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke.
A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: “Look, Lord. See my shells.” That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don’t buy it. Don’t waste your life
… I plead with you: Desire that your life count for something great! Long for your life to have eternal significance. Want this! Don’t coast through life without a passion.
… This vision of life holds out to students and young adults so much more than the emptiness of mere success or the … spring break … Not just a desire for being liked or for playing softball or collecting shells. Here is a desire for something infinitely great and beautiful and valuable and satisfying—the name and the glory of God …whatever you do, find the God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated [purpose you’re here for with God’s glory as the] passion of your life … and live for it and die for it. And you will make a difference that lasts. You will not waste your life … Oh, that God would help me waken in you a single passion for a single great reality that would unleash you, and set you free from small dreams, and send you, for the glory of Christ, into all the spheres of secular life and to all the peoples of the earth.’ (Don’t Waste Your Life, p. 45-48)
I want you to look again at the end of verse 21, which has the phrase I want to focus on and I earnestly pray will be our heart’s desire to be “Useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”
Is your life going to be “useful to the Master” or not? The opposite of the word “useful” is of course, the word “useless” – a synonym for “wasted.” How can you avoid being useless to God? How can you avoid wasting your life spiritually? How can you instead be a useful vessel or instrument in the hand of our Master, the Lord?
God inspired this passage with an answer to that question, especially for younger people, but with application to all of us.
Verse 20 in the context is talking about the house of God, the church. And there are two types of vessels or instruments which represent two types of people: “gold and silver vessels” vs. “wood and clay” (earthen).
- I read about 20 different English translations of the next phrase and there were a lot of different and colorful renderings that help us see the two types of people Paul refers to in this analogy:
- “some for honor vs. some for dishonor” (KJV, NKJV, NASB, Geneva) or “honorable use vs. dishonorable” (ESV)
- Or “some for special use / occasions vs. some for ordinary” (HCSB, NRSV, ISV, GNT)
- Or “some are specially honourable, and others for common use” (Weymouth NT)
- Or “some things are used for special purposes, and others are made for ordinary jobs” (NCV)
- Or “some for noble purpose or use, vs. some for ignoble” (NIV, RSV, NET “honor vs. ignoble”, AB adds “menial”)
- Or “some for lofty and others for humble use” (NAB)
- Or “some of these are special and some of these are not” (CEV)
- Or “The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use” (NLT)
- Or “some which are highly prized and others which are treated with contempt” (Wuest’s NT Translation)
- One paraphrase says “The expensive dishes are used for guests, and the cheap ones are used in the kitchen or to put garbage in. If you stay away from sin you will be like one of these dishes made of purest gold—the very best in the house—so that Christ himself can use you for his highest purposes.” (TLB)
- Another paraphrase has “In a well-furnished kitchen there are not only crystal goblets and silver platters, but waste cans and compost buckets—some containers used to serve fine meals, others to take out the garbage. Become the kind of container God can use to present any and every kind of gift to his guests for their blessing.” (The Message)
Some commentators even think the Greek phrase for “vessels of dishonor” may refer not only to a waste basket but for containers that might carry out waste products, even human waste. When I take out the trash in our house there are often offensive odors emanating, whether from garbage or decaying products or diapers or whatever, it’s not a pretty picture or a noble one.
Paul used a term like this that was considered really even gross and uncouth and offensive to respectable ears when he wrote in Philippians 3 that he considered all things as rubbish or a waste (even dung) compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, who is the most beautiful and pure and lovely and valuable and satisfying person in the universe.
And the image in this text is that those who are Christlike are beautiful in God’s sight and are valuable and useful to the Master who owns the house and owns everyone in it. There are certain containers or vessels that He can use in a special way for His purposes and our Master wants us to be that kind of person.
Perhaps we could say some people are like vases that can be used for a beautiful bouquet of flowers to encourage or bless someone. There are some vessels that are like the fine china your mother might have on display or that she might use to serve guests of honor or for special occasions in honor of the Master. Not the ordinary everyday dishes, or the old rusted utensils, and no Master would want to use dirty dishes that haven’t been cleaned because that would reflect poorly on the Master of the house to others.
Verse 20 begins talking about gold and silver vessels that are for honorable use - you don’t use gold platters for feeding your animals or the most precious metals for your slop bucket, or a priceless silver punchbowl for scrubbing the bathroom floor, or a solid gold container for a trash can. In the context here, Paul is essentially saying “Be clean and separated from those who defile in teaching or living, or you will be a wastebasket to the Master.”
If that sounds like a strong statement, then I think we’re on the right track to what the original language is emphasizing.
How can we avoid being wasteful with our lives and instead by Useful to the Master?
- BE FORSAKING SIN AS A LIFE PATTERN – v. 19-21
- BE FLEEING YOUTHFUL LUSTS IN PARTICULAR – v. 22a
- BE FOLLOWING HARD AFTER GODLINESS WITH GODLY PEOPLE – v. 22b
- BE FORSAKING SIN AS A LIFE PATTERN – v. 19-21
Verse 19 says “the Lord knows those who are His” and one of the ways you can know you are His child is if the 2nd half of the verse is true of your life – you seek to “abstain from iniquity.” It’s not enough to just name the name of the Lord, to claim to be a Christian. James says “what use is it my brethren if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that ‘faith’ save him?” James and Paul both agree that merely believing the facts, or saying the right things, or even making a (quote-unquote “decision”) or repeating the words of a sinner’s prayer at one point and even feeling emotional about Christ at a summer camp or even seeing temporary excitement about spiritual things for awhile – none of those things necessarily prove someone is saved.
The Lord knows it’s possible to profess salvation but not possess salvation. And the Lord knows those who are truly His own, and those ones have repented and turned from their sins, and they continually confess their sins as 1 John 1:9 says, they are fighting to forsake sin, and that is the pattern of their life - that is what marks those who are His. Not something a person did in the past, but something the person of Christ is doing in your life in the present, that is the biblical evidence of true salvation. Only the Lord knows the heart, but He says “you know them by their fruit”
Here’s how the NKJV renders it: Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
There are some who name the name of the Lord, but who are workers of iniquity not abstainers from iniquity, and the Lord doesn’t know them as His own (relational intimate knowing).
There’s another striking passage that also has those same key words: “name” “Lord” “know” “depart” “iniquity”
Jesus said it this way in Matthew 7:22 (KJV):
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
That is the ultimate wasted life: someone counting on and trusting in all these wonderful things he has done, even supposedly in the name of the Lord, there are many who profess the Lord, but the Lord will profess to them: “depart from me, ye that work iniquity”
These are people who say they know Jesus, but Jesus will say He doesn’t know them and never did. They were never truly saved.
Many say “Lord, Lord” and claim His name, but if they are not truly saved and seeking to depart from their iniquity, Jesus will say “depart from me, ye that work iniquity”
There will be many church-going Bible-carrying Scripture-quoting people protesting their case, and presenting what they have done, thinking that saves them. But the Lord knows and saves only those who are only trusting in what Christ has done, and His wonderful work on the cross, not any wonderful works of our own (which can never impress God, as our best works are filthy rags, Isa. 64:6)
If you are not someone who repents and forsakes sin in your life, probably you never have truly repented, you have never been truly saved. Our Lord calls out to you this evening from the pages of Scripture, with His first words in Mark’s gospel:
“The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel … follow me”
For those of you in this room who are followers of Jesus and have repented and believed the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone – our passage goes on to say there’s more required to be a truly useful vessel for our Master.
3 words: CLEANSED – SANCTIFIED - PREPARED
Verse 21 begins “if anyone cleanses himself”
A dirty dish is not going to be used by the Master to serve. How are we cleansed?
We need to be careful not to simply clean up our act on the outside, with our external religion, with being a good outward Christian at youth group, but not cleansed inwardly.
Matthew 23:25-26 (NKJV)
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
We need inner cleansing that only Christ can give. The NT often calls for a cleansed conscience. The Apostle Peter said in Acts 15:9 that God cleanses the hearts of believers by faith.
If you do a word search on the word “cleansed” in the NT, you’ll find that in virtually every occurrence, it is the Lord who does the cleansing. So how does our Lord and Savior cleanse us?
The Apostle John said in 1 John 1:7 (NASB95)
7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
… 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
So we’ve heard from the Apostle Peter and John, but what else did Paul have to say about what cleanses us?
Ephesians 5:25-26 (NASB95) “… Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word”
It’s the Word that cleanses us. And our text in 2 Timothy 2:21 also says “sanctify” – that’s the next key word: SANCTIFIED (holy)
How are we sanctified? Again, there are practical things we can do like walking with Christ and turning from sin, but ultimately again it is God through His Word that causes sanctification (which is word that refers to ongoing spiritual growth in Christ-likeness)
Jesus prayed in John 17:17 “Sanctify them by your truth. Your Word is truth.”
So it’s the Word of God again that is the agent. Interestingly, Timothy’s name comes from 2 words meaning “God-honoring.” Paul is encouraging Timothy here to live up to his name.
The next key word in verse 21 is PREPARED. And again it is God’s Word that makes us useful, because Scripture is useful as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness [v. 17] so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped [or “prepared”] for every good work.”
That’s almost verbatim with the end of 2 Timothy 2:21 “useful to the Master, prepared for every good work”
If you want to be a man of God or woman of God who is useful to God, you need to be a person of the Book. You don’t need to know our culture and the tabloids and celebrity news, but you do need to know the Good News in this book that never changes and is always up-to-date and relevant for our world and is what it needs most (and what you and I need most, not worldly gossip – the gospel!)
The Bible will thoroughly prepare you, it is sufficient for your daily cleansing and daily sanctifying you from the defilements and corruptions of our world
As one writer said: “The choices you and I make each day either tarnish us or polish us to a higher degree of purity and usefulness”
Not only do we need to be forsaking sin as a life pattern, 2ndly
- BE FLEEING YOUTHFUL LUSTS IN PARTICULAR – v. 22a
I mentioned earlier that God inspired this passage especially for younger people, and we know Timothy was relatively young, because Paul in 1 Timothy 4:12 says “don’t let them look down on your youthfulness”
And here in verse 22 Paul writes “flee youthful lusts”
There are times when the Scriptures tell us to “stand firm”
But there’s also a few times we are told not to stand, but to run
“Flee idolatry”& “Flee immorality”
- Don’t flirt with those things. Flee from them!
- Don’t see how far you can go, or how close you can get, see how far away you can get from those things.
- Don’t ask what can I get away with before I cross the line into sin, ask “how pure can I be? How can I be most useful to the Master?”
Those sins you are not merely to resist, you’re to run.
Remember the illustration of Joseph with Potiphar’s wife
The word “lust” in the Bible includes sinful sexual desires which the Bible warns often about
Proverbs “do not go near the door of her house”
Jesus “pluck out your eye” (radical removal of situation / sin)
But the word is more broad than how we use the word “lust” today – it’s the word for desires. There are youthful desires, temptations that young people in particular have to fight especially, that this word includes. Such desires in the context may be:
- Desires to avoid hardship, a life of ease (see 2:3)
- Entangling in the affairs of the world (2:4)
- Not to follow rules of authorities (2:5)
- Temptations to laziness (2:6)
- Lack of diligence or study of God’s Word (2:15)
- Worldliness instead of godliness (v. 16), the verse talks about the empty talk of the world, profane and idle babblings, irreverent or ungodly talk of youth culture
- Chapter 3:2 may give some further examples of the youthful desires or temptations “lovers of self” (our society runs toward self-love and self-focus - you must run away!)
- “… lovers of money” (**SEE 1 TIM 6:10-11)
- 2 TIM 3:3 “ …boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy” – if that doesn’t describe youthful desires and tendencies in our day, I don’t know what does! Listen up:
YOUNG AND OLD NEED TO FLEE FROM THOSE THINGS!
The word “flee” in Greek is fugeo – we get the English word “fugitive” from this. We are to run as if we are the fugitive, as if we’re Harrison Ford fleeing for his life with a U.S. Marshall chasing after him. Chap. 2, v. 5 says to run like an Olympian!
FLEE YOUTHFUL DESIRES! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!
Your spiritual life depends on how you run.
The verb tense is a present imperative command, which not only means fleeing is not optional, but is must be persistent. You need to be continually on the run. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
You need to be constantly on the lookout, to borrow from Hebrews 12, the sin that so easily entangles, the hindrances that slow you down, and be throwing off every encumbrance as you seek to run with endurance the race set before you, fixing our eyes on Jesus.
Your spiritual usefulness depends not only on what you run from, but last, what you run to and who you run with …
- BE FOLLOWING HARD AFTER GODLINESS WITH GODLY PEOPLE – v. 22b
flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
Not only are there specific sins to be put off, there are specific truths to put on. There are youthful desires that may pursue us, but we need to run from those and pursue the right desires. We are not only to run from ungodliness with all our might, we are also to run just as hard to godliness. We flee from our unrighteousness and follow after righteousness and these other virtues – seeking first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.
And notice the text says we are to do this “with those” who are also pursuing the right things. If we want to be pure and useful vessels, we need to be around those who have a pure heart. The text says they call upon the Lord, which like v. 19 says they name the name of the Lord, but they also abstain from wickedness, and have been cleansed, and are sanctified or holy and therefore useful to the Master.
We are to pursue godliness with others that are godly.
Paul said elsewhere “Bad company corrupts good morals”
Psalm 1 says “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night”
My charge to you graduates is this:
Be a man or woman of the book.
Be a clean and pure vessel God can use.
Be Useful to the Master.
Don’t waste your life.