A Gracious Instrument–Becoming a Useful Tool for God’s Purposes
Growing into a Vessel of Honor–2 Timothy 2:20-26, part 3–2 Timothy 2:23-24
The ancient prophet Micah isn’t exactly a household word. Too bad. Even though he is obscure, the man had his stuff together. Eclipsed by the much more famous Isaiah, who ministered to the wealthy elite as a prophet, Micah took God’s message to the streets. Sometimes intellectual preachers make pleasing the Lord sound so difficult–but not blue-collar Micah.
While others make following the one true God complicated, Micah tells us following God is clear. In fact, Micah’s truths are so simple, many have turned his exhortation into song. In Micah 6:8, the prophet looks at you in the eye and says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”
The heart of a genuine Christian loves kindness, because Christ is kind. But as Christians, in order to grow effective for Christ, you need to grow kinder. Have you? This is what Paul calls Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 2:23 to 24. Turn there and follow along in your outline. At the end of chapter 2, Paul is directing Timothy to be an honorable vessel–a useful tool for God’s purposes. An honorable vessel means becoming an effective, fruitful, and impactful instrument for God’s glory.
What genuine Christian does not desire to make an impact for God’s Kingdom? All real believers do. Paul assumes Timothy is saved and now daily dependent upon the Spirit of God. The first part of 2 Timothy calls his assistant to be bold while under the external pressure of persecution from Rome, and while under the internal pressure of false teaching in the Church.
But Paul wants Timothy to endure long after Paul has graduated to Heaven, so the old apostle gives his young disciple nine qualities to pursue in order to make him a useful tool for God’s glory. We’ve already studied five of them . . .
#1 A useful tool will have a CLEANSED life
Verse 21a, “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor.”
#2 A fruitful tool will desire a SANCTIFIED heart
Verse 21b, “sanctified”
#3 An effective tool will pursue becoming USEFUL to God
Verse 21c, “useful to the Master”
#4 An impactful tool will choose to do WORKS for God
Verse 21d, “prepared for every good work”
#5 A useable tool will develop a PURE heart
Verse 22, “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
As Paul continues in this pointed paragraph, he now tells Timothy to grow gracious. We all need to learn to be more kind and gracious–even with opponents. Which of you husbands or wives have not regretted that your words were too sharp. Which of you students has not wished to take back some harsh sarcasm. Which of you parents have not longed to rewind a lecture given in the flesh. How many of you employees have not desired to have been kinder to a fellow worker.
Each of you in this room need to grow in biblical graciousness/kindness. While Paul is locked away from kindness and gracious gentleness in his dark, dank prison cell, Paul tells Timothy–if he is to grow into an effective servant for God’s glory, then he must make dependent and difficult choices in order to grow gracious.
In verses 23 and 24, Paul gives Timothy two more keys to pursue–he must avoid arguments and demonstrate a patient, truth-driven kindness. He says it this way in verses 23 and 24, “But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. 24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged.” Look at both.
#6 An effective tool will discern how to AVOID arguments Verse 23
Have you ever tried to get out of a commitment? Have you ever begged to be excused? Have you refused a request from someone important? That’s the feel of verse 23, “But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations,knowing that they produce quarrels.” Paul literally says, “I command you to act upon yourself now.” Refuse means to reject, excuse, stay clear from and keep away from.
Paul gives Timothy a very strong, demanding command to reject a certain kind of discussion–to avoid a particular kind of dialogue. Listen Christian, you’re to refuse to participate in certain kinds of discussions. All discussions are not harmless. All reading is not harmless. All watching is not harmless.
Don’t be shocked—Paul has already warned Timothy and the church in Ephesus in verses 14 to 17, “not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers” and to “avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.”
Why? Because your brain doesn’t forget anything. Even if you can’t recall something, it’s still in your brain. The last thing a believer needs cluttering their brain is a bunch of impure images, heretical truths, doubt-producing assertions or unimportant facts about the white spaces in your Bible. Would you agree, you have to keep your mind clear of impure and errant info?
Even your car needs filters to trap harmful objects in the gasoline, oil, and air. If not filtered out, those small particles of dust can cause an engine to lose power, stop running, and cause permanent damage. In the same way, amassing even seemingly insignificant moral and spiritual mental pollution can corrupt a Christian’s mind and heart, making you less effective in the Lord’s work.
The things you allow to enter your mind affect your thinking, beliefs, values, motives and priorities. And the more willingly you allow info to enter your thinking, the more powerfully it affects you. Proverbs 23:7, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” This is why Paul said you must filter what goes into your mind.
Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Your mind is to be treated like a treasure house, not a garbage dump. You cannot fill your mind with garbage, error, impurity and be used greatly by God.
Your mind is to be saturated with Scripture, your eyes are to look at this world through the lens of the Bible. Your ears are to filter all you hear through the lens of theology. Since the Church was born in Acts 2, too many believers have forsaken personal study of the Scripture and have fallen prey to every sort of false idea and bad practice–why? Because they have not bothered to check what they hear against God’s Word.
They’re corrupted by human reasonings and fanciful speculations about what is true, causing them to stumble in their faith, often without even knowing they’ve wandered from God’s path. That’s why the effective servant keeps himself from arguing over human speculations. Paul knew, the only protection to prevent gumming up your usefulness was to stop errant ideas from entering your mind by filtering your thinking.
That means, you refuse to participate in certain discussions, like those filled with speculative ideas. Paul puts it this way in verse 23, “But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations. Foolish is the Greek word moros, where we get the word moron. Foolish means mentally dull, silly, stupid, devoid of wisdom and empty of good sense.
Ignorant is the idea of being unstructured; uneducated like a child. It means untaught and un-instructed, carrying the additional idea of undisciplined. And speculations describes a dispute, a disagreement, or an argument and refers to controversial and seriously disputed issues which have no basis in truth.
Paul is not advising believers to avoid all controversy and discussions of the faith. Paul makes it clear he’s not speaking about responsible discussions about Scriptureor theology, either with the unsaved or among believers. You remember 1 Peter 3:15–Christians are to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”
You are to proclaim the Gospel, preach God’s Word, talk over truth with unsaved and saved. Some of those discussions can be intense, without being argumentative. Paul proclaimed the Gospel in every place he went. Paul does forbid speculations and fruitless, unproductive debates that produce arguments. Verse 23, “But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations.” Why? Knowing that they produce quarrels.
Listen Christian, these type of speculations are not only worthless, they are ungodly. They question Scripture, distort the truth, create doubt, weaken faith, undermine confidence in the Lord, often lead to compromise of convictions, along with resulting in arguments. Paul tells Timothy he knows what this kind of discussion does. Notice “knowing that”–knowing is a participle letting you know Timothy has known this and still knows it. Knows what? This type of discussions produce, literally give birth to, battles.
These foolish discussions literally become the parent of quarrels. Commentator George Knight says, “Because these foolish arguments are unedifying and particularly because they beget quarrels, Timothy is to avoid them.” How do you know they are unedifying? How do you know which ones to avoid? John Calvin says, “He calls them foolish, because they are uninstructive; that is, they contribute nothing to godliness.”
The effective servant avoids arguments because they result in ungodly battling. They result in ungodliness, personal pride and division in the church body. Paul gives almost identical counsel to Titus. As he does, he tells us what these arugments were about in Titus 3:9, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”
Any church member who persists in such “unprofitable and worthless” behavior is to be disciplined and dealt with quickly. Verses 10 and 11, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning [that’s fast] 11 knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” Timothy was not to refuse the inquiries of, or discussions with, thoughtful people. He was to avoid answering the foolish people who liked to deal in trivia and ask divisive questions.
Paul commands, refuse to engage in dialog over trivia–decline the divisive discussion. This flies in the face of our society, which proudly declares everyone has a voice, every opinion matters. Friends, that works for Oprah, but not for the Church. God’s instrument does not argue. To be a fruitful tool, avoid divisive discussions. An honorable vessel makes dependent and difficult choices to show Christ’s graciousness by avoiding arguments. And next, demonstrating a patient, truth-driven kindness.
#7 A fruitful tool of Christ will pursue a GRACIOUS manner
Verse 24 is powerful. Instead of a harsh debate that proves the false teachers are ignorant and their doctrine silly, verse 24 says, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged.” The effective Christian speaks the truth, but does so in a gracious manner.
Paul reminds Timothy of who he is in verse 24, “The Lord’s bond-servant.” This title refers to a minister or Christian leader. It references Old Testament Isaiah, who speaks of the Servant of the Lord. The title can be used for all Christians and Paul frequently used the title of himself. In several epistles, he refers to himself as a bond-servant of the Lord–ranking himself with all other believers, before declaring his divine call as an apostle.
Here, Paul is describing elders–Timothy and all others who uphold the truth of God’s Word in Ephesus. Don’t miss why Paul uses this phrase here. “The Lord’s bond-servant,” literally the Master’s slave. Lord describes master and owner. Slave is a person who is legally owned by someone else and whose entire livelihood and purpose was determined by their master.
The implication is this–Timothy is subject, he’s a slave with no rights or excuses. Paul implies this is not your decision, Timothy, but the will of Christ who saved you, purchased you and now lovingly owns you. A fruitful slave develops a gracious manner because he is the slave of a gracious Master.
In order to develop the gracious manner to grow more useful to the Lord, there are two steps the slave of Christ must make. In fact, two extremes “to be or not to be”–but in reverse order, “not to be or to be.” Depending upon the Spirit of God alone according to the Word of God alone, Paul tells Timothy he first, verse 24, must not be, or it is necessary not to be, what?
If you desire to be super influential for Christ, you must not be an arguer. It is necessary that you would not be, verse 24, “quarrelsome.” There is one quality you must not be–a battler, to verbally battle. The Greek word quarrelsome comes from the same root word in verse 23, birth to quarrels. Paul is making certain Timothy and you know it’s necessary you must not be one who loves to argue. It is so important, Paul says it twice, in verses 23 and 24.
The word battle means, the useful tool in God’s hands will never become a verbal fighter, a word warrior, a statement striver, or a prose puncher. An effective servant develops a gracious manner by not quarreling nor mocking. What could be happening here is not unique. The false teachers’ arguments were literally moronic and ignorant, and it was tempting to use their foolishness against them, because what they said was so thoroughly silly.
Timothy could certainly show his stuff–his biblical superiority in contrast to their drivel. But Paul warned him to refuse, because debating not only acknowledges their silly thinking, but also produces quarrels. I’ve had conversations like that–I knew I was accurate, I was biblical. But I was grieved after I said it. My argumentative advantage was uncool and fruitless. The Lord’s servant must not argue over silly reasonings.
In contrast, rather than quarrel, God’s vessel pursues three positive qualities. An effective servant develops a gracious manner by developing a patient kindness saturated with instruction. Do you see the contrast? “But be kind to all.” But be is the strongest single word of contrast in Greek–ala but. Then Paul adds to be, which means to have a quality of being. In other words, Paul strongly says to Timothy and to you, no quarreling–but in contrast, the qualities I want you to become are three.
First KIND TO ALL
Probably better translated gentle to all–and in this context, that even includes false teachers. All means all—everyone. The word kind means gentle, composed, meek, quiet. To make a difference, you must be firm, but also gentle to everyone. Even when you’re right, be gentle. Peter Marshall said, “O God, when I am wrong, make me easy to change, and when I am right, make me easy to live with.”
Gentle means affable, easy to speak to, approachable in demeanor–not irritable, intolerant or scornful, even toward those who err. You must try to win them. Be gentle to all. You cannot impact anyone for Christ, if you are not like Christ, and Christ modeled gentleness. Being gentle characterized Christ in His incarnation. Christ said of Himself in Matthew 11:29, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
In Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Matthew 21:5 quotes Zechariah, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”
As much as you are to speak boldly for the Lord without compromise, you are to do so with the attitude of meekness, gentleness, and humility. You are never to be harsh, abusive, overbearing, unkind, thoughtless, or pugnacious. There is to be a softness in the authority of a Christian leader, just as there was in Paul and in the Lord while He ministered on Earth.
First Thessalonians 2:7, “We proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.” I believe it is right for a shepherd to be firm, pointed and direct with a wolf who is attacking your sheep. I believe I have failed here, because I think in the past I was harsh to wolves. Shepherds are not expected to pet wolves, but shepherds don’t have to abuse them either.
But with believers who are struggling with doctrine, or teachers who believe falsehoods, I have sought to be gentle and kind. Partly, so they’d see the truth and partly so they’d turn to Christ–which is what verses 25 and 26 call for. But never forget, in our relativistic culture, the absolute inerrant truth of God’s Word will at times feel harsh or abrasive–it will cut cause God wants it to.
Christ will add another similar quality through Paul to Timothy next week in verse 25, “with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition.” No clever put-downs of false teachers were allowed, but only gentle correction, which is what Paul describes in Ephesians 4:15, “speaking the truth in love.”
Christ’s gentleness through you will not always be reciprocated or even appreciated. And Christ’s teaching will at times meet with ridicule and abuse, along with insult and injury. When this happens, an honorable vessel must be patient with hurts and hold up under evil. That’s why Paul adds in verse 24, “but be kind to all, able to teach.”
Second ABLE TO TEACH
That’s someone characterized by skillful teaching. The influential servant and the godly preacher must also be able to teach. That phrase translates a single Greek adjective, which carries the idea of being highly skilled in teaching. The only other time it is used in the New Testament is in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, where it’s applied to elders.
The term does not refer to possessing vast knowledge, but the ability to clearly communicate the knowledge of God’s Word that you do have to others. The Lord Jesus was the greatest Teacher of all. Matthew, commenting on the teaching of the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, wrote in Matthew 7:28 and 29, “The crowds were amazed at His teaching; 29 for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”
To impact people for Christ, you need to be like Christ–serve like Christ and teach like Christ. The Lord’s servant, the one who will impact others, the one who will be a useful tool in God’s hands must be apt to teach. Never forget what changes people’s lives, spiritually–the Word of God. For the non-Christian and the make believer, salvation comes by God’s Word.
Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” For the real believer, sanctification comes through God’s Word. John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” Dads and moms must be committed to impact their children with the Word. Friends, family members, fellow students can only be transformed by the Word.
To be useful for God’s purposes, you need to be able to clearly communicate the Word of God so the non-Christian and Christian can understand it. God will then use His Word to change lives. That’s how to be useful. And one more quality to grow in fruitful usefulness for Christ in verse 24, “but be kind to all, able to teach.”
Third PATIENT WHEN WRONGED
This literally means putting up with bad. This means to be patient when people commit wrongs against you or force trouble on you.To impact others as an honorable vessel, you remain longsuffering when treated unjustly.
Patient when wronged is not staying calm when they burn your pizza at Pie Nation. Patience is the ability to take a great deal of punishment from evil people and suffer horrible circumstances without losing your temper–without becoming irritated, and without taking vengeance. Patience includes the capacity to bear pain or trials without complaint. And patience when wronged demonstrates the self-control to keep you from acting rashly, plus remain submissive, obedient, with a heart of peace–even in the midst of suffering unjust pain.
John MacArthur says, “The godly leader who is an honorable vessel must be patient when wronged, which is perhaps the hardest qualification mentioned here. If the flesh of the old self is not firmly resisted, we are likely to become more offended when we ourselves are wronged, than when our Lord and His truth are attacked.”
When we are faithfully witnessing and living for our Lord, it is not easy to graciously accept unjust criticism. Peter informs the churches he writes that our Lord is our example in 1 Peter 2:21 to 23, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”
Christ is our example, and He is also your resource for growing patient. Patience is a fruit of Christ’s own Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22. The Spirit alone can provide the strength you need to grow patient when you’d rather seek revenge or complain or feel sorry for yourself. Commentator and Greek word scholar William Barclay remarks, “There may be greater sins than touchiness,… but there is none which does greater damage in the Christian church.”
Too many believers are quick to take offense and slow to forgive. How are you at not seeking revenge? How are you at not being touchy? How are you at not feeling the victim? You can only impact people for Christ when you are patient under suffering like Christ. Early Church exegetical preacher Chrysostom said that, “A patient man is one who, having the resources and opportunity to avenge himself, chooses to refrain from the exercise of these.”
Becoming an effective instrument in God’s hands requires patience when you’re wronged and all ministry demands patience. Hudson Taylor would tell all those who wanted to be missionaries to China that there were three indispensable requirements for a missionary—1) patience, 2) patience, and 3) patience.
The effective bond-servant of the Lord is not concerned about justifying himself or vindicating himself, but about serving the Lord without bitterness, vengeance, or anger–but with truth-saturated kindness, patience and graciousness. Do you desire to be an honorable vessel? Do you hope to be used of God? Then make the dependent and difficult choices to live and react graciously, by avoiding arguments and demonstrating a patient, truth-driven kindness.
A If gracious Christ is your MASTER, you’ll want to grow to be a gracious SLAVE
Matthew 11:29, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” If Christ is your Lord, then you’ll grow gentle. That means spiritual strength and maturity under Spirit control. You will grow more effective for Christ when you speak gently to your family and friends, like Christ.
B Try to master a balance of TRUTH and GRACE
Jesus Christ was full of grace and truth. John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Speak the truth, but do so graciously. There is no enemy who deserves ungraciousness, nor circumstances which justifies ungraciousness. Always speak the truth, but do so as kindly and graciously as you can.
C Kindness is what leads to REPENTANCE
Romans 2:4, “Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” God’s graciousness, God’s love, God’s kindness to sinners is what the Spirit uses to grab the heart of the sinner to bring him to the Gospel. Remember to be abundantly kind and gracious, always according to truth, to impact others.
D No one can be truly gracious without being truly TRANSFORMED by grace
You can only be truly gracious when you personally know the only true gracious One. Turn to Christ today. God was gracious, sent his Son, took our place, died, rose, lives. Cry out for Him to open your heart to exchange all that you are for all that He is in faith and repentence. You’re under His wrath until you submit to His work, then you’re under His protection now and forever. Let’s pray.