Purity–Becoming a Useful Tool in God’s Hand/Growing into a Vessel of Honor
A usable instrument in God’s hands, part 2–2 Timothy 2:22
Before the time of Christ, one of the ancient Near East cultures had a gruesome way of punishing murderers. Those assigned to carry out the justice would bind together the bodies of the murdered dead man and his living murderer. They would force the mouths of both open and then bind their heads together, mouth-to-mouth.
It would look like the living murderer was giving his dead victim mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The murderer might live for days with his victim forcibly attached to him, but eventually all the impurities from the decaying dead man would migrate into the murderer and kill him. The reasoning behind this form of punishment was to satisfy justice, since the murdered man killed his murderer.
That is gruesome, right? Yet in a spiritual sense, this goes on all the time. Just look around you–you’ll see Christians going mouth-to-mouth with a dead world system. Christians willingly take into themselves all kinds of impurities that damage their spiritual lives and bring about enormous anguish for the rest of their lives.
This love affair with the world is so widespread among Christians today, that true purity has become the rare exception, rather than the rule. But it’s crucial for every Christian, whether married or single, to know what God says about purity.
Working our way through 2 Timothy word-by-word, verse-by-verse, seeking to determine only the author’s intended meaning, today we’ve arrived at an epic calling for and encouragement to purity. The amazing apostle Paul is in prison in Rome, awaiting sentencing which will result in his death. He is writing his final letter to his son in the faith and apostolic assistant, Timothy, who is ministering in the Berkeley of the New Testament World, Ephesus.
Timothy is battling with the threat of external persecution from Rome, which could lead to jail, torture and a horrible death. He is also battling internal profanation–a battle with heresy, improper interpretation, and false teachers. In 2 Timothy 2:14 to 19, Paul instructs Timothy to stay away from error, don’t get caught up in false teacher arguments, but study the Bible accurately–cutting it straight.
Now in 2 Timothy 2:20 to 26, Paul instructs Timothy to not get distracted with the external and internal attacks, but grow to be an honorable vessel. Verse 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.”
Rich households in the first century had special useful cups, bowl–type implements. And they had common clay, wooden pots used for garbage and human waste. Paul is commanding Timothy to pursue being a useful, honorable tool. Being an honorable vessel means becoming a usable tool, an effective instrument in God’s hands.
Timothy needs encouragement to stay helpful for God’s glory, and in doing so, God is instructing you and me on how to become more fruitful for God’s purposes. Here in verses 21 to 26, Paul gives nine characteristics for Timothy and you to pursue, to make you a useful, fruitful, effective vessel for Christ.
Ever find yourself ministering to others, but not seeing any fruit? Battling away at parenting and not seeing much progress? Are you struggling having an impact for Christ in the lives of others? The key is not to look at the people you’re ministering to. It is essential for you not to look at the sheep you’re trying to shepherd. You must not focus on them and why they won’t change, or why they don’t respond.
As a servant of Christ, to be a useful tool, you must focus on your own heart. Look at how you need to change, you need to grow, you need to repent. Stop being frustrated by their unwillingness to change and realize God gave them to you for you to change, you to grow and become more like Christ. Don’t blame your disciple, hate your flock, battle with your group, struggle with your ministry–allow God’s Word to x-ray your heart and change your character for His glory.
The effective, fruitful believer makes difficult choices to become useful. This is why Paul calls Timothy to be an honorable vessel, then follows it with nine qualities, nine steps, nine character qualities to develop to grow into that useful person. Last week we studied verse 21 and discovered four of those qualities.
#1 A sharp tool will have a CLEANSED life
Look carefully at verse 21a, “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor.”
#2 A sharp tool will desire a SANCTIFIED heart
Verse 21b, “sanctified”
#3 A sharp tool will pursue becoming USEFUL to God
Verse 21c, “useful to the Master”
#4 A sharp tool will choose to do WORKS for God
Verse 21d, “prepared for every good work.”
Today we will exposit verse 22 and add one more essential to becoming a useful tool in God’s hands. Today, the Lord wants you and I to grow pure in heart.
#5 A sharp tool will develop a PURE heart
You’ve read this verse before, now understand it in its accurate context. 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.” A useful tool is pure of heart. To develop a pure heart requires two essential steps. To develop a pure heart, God says you must both continually flee and follow.
Both flee and pursue are commands in the continual active tense–24/7. Do you want to be usefully pure? Do you want to become one who is impactful for Christ? The sharpest tools in God’s service are the men and women who pursue living pure. And the difficult choices you have to make in order to live pure before God and man are to continually flee and continually follow.
All useful believers are pure, and to be pure you must flee and follow. To be effectively pure, you must negatively run away and positively run after. The only way to please God and live pure is to be a fleeing and following believer. You ask, “Chris, what does that mean?” Let’s find out–prepare to be shocked.
First Believers develop purity by FLEEING
Look at 2 Timothy 2:22, “Now flee from youthful lusts.” Two lifestyle decisions are required to develop a pure heart and the first one Paul gives Timothy is the negative one–the command to be fleeing youthful lusts. Flee is from phuegō, where we get the English fugitive. This verb is an imperative command–fleeing is not optional. The present tense makes fleeing persistent–you flee all the time.
Can you picture the scene Paul is painting? To be pure, you’re a fugitive–you’re continually on the run in order to escape capture. You’ve been freed from the chains of your sins and strong desires, by Christ. So now flee, meaning never allow yourselves to be recaptured. Flee in order to remain a fugitive from recapture by sin. Flee, avoid, escape, take flight, get away and evade capture to impure sin.
Like Joseph running away from Potiphar’s wife–run away, even if you lose your shirt. The pure Christian is continually on the run from your own internal, sinful passions which began when you were young. Paul says, “Flee youthful lusts.” But what does youthful mean?
Timothy was about thirty years younger than Paul, making him close to his thirties when Paul wrote this final letter. Timothy was still youthful, still relatively young and still tempted by many of the sinful desires that are typical of the young. But before you think Paul is only referring to sexual sin or sexual desire, understand lust means strong desire. And this kind of lust includes things like pride, craving for wealth or power, inordinate ambition, jealousy, envy, an argumentative and self-assertive spirit and many other sinful lusts–flee all of them like a fugitive.
“Youthful lusts” is strong desires contrary to God’s will in God’s Word. Timothy was timid, possibly embarrassed by his close association with the apostle Paul and the uncompromising Gospel he proclaimed. Timothy was probably fearful of persecution and may not have boldly confronted all those who compromised truth and misinterpreted God’s revealed Word.
Timothy seems to have been especially intimidated by older men in the church who resented his leadership. You know—“let no one look down on your youthfulness.” Losing the battle with youthful lusts would hurt Timothy’s credibility. Compromise in any area of lust will actually 1) harm his difficulties with leadership, 2) damage his efforts to correct bad doctrine, and 3) limit his confronting the immoral practices of the false teachers.
Compromise with lust would cause others in the church to say, “Why should we obey what you teach, Timothy? You can’t even control your own desires.” Compromising with lust would actually make things worse and aggravate the conflict. For his own sake and the sake of the Church, Timothy had to flee his desire temptations.
Verse 22, “Now flee from youthful lusts.” Don’t make the mistake of misunderstanding lust. The Greek word lust is not solely used to describe sexual desire. The word lust comes from the root idea of something uncontrollably boiling over. The Greek word lust means strong desire, craving, passion, wants, impulse–an intense desire for something.
Lust is a strong internal desire and that is the shocker. A crucial truth is–to have a pure heart, you are commanded by God to continually run away from your own internal desires and those actions which fuel them. To flee lust means you are running from yourself–fleeing your own heart, running away from your own feelings. Fleeing all internal secular passions–even hopes.
You run from you! You are distancing yourself from your own strong desires—not that other person, circumstance, external, website, crowd, clique or money. You are running from you. Flee your own strong desires. She’s not the problem, your wealth isn’t the issue, your circumstance is not the blame–you are the problem.
To be pure, you’ll do anything to keep your own heart from errant strong desires. The battle is for your heart, right? The end of verse 22, “with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” You must continually flee your own strong heart desires. And Paul doesn’t tell Timothy to fight his strong desires–Paul tells Timothy and you, in order to g ow useful you must develop a pure heart.
To do that, in dealing with your strong desires, you must run away, not stand and fight. Preserve your heart. And if that means avoiding, running away, staying away, separating yourself to keep your internal strong desires in check, then that’s what you must do. The nature of your unique temptations and the list of idols which impact your desires will be different for you than others. Fleeing your own strong desires for each Christian is unique to you.
Some of you are more tempted in certain areas than others. Each of us has our own sinful bent. David’s was lust, Abraham was lying, Jacob was scheming, Peter was speaking without thinking. You should not make fleeing your unique battle–universal for everyone. All of us flee youthful lusts, but not every issue is a strong desire for everyone equally.
A drunkard will flee differently than a non-drunkard. A previously promiscuous new Christian will often flee differently than another who was not promiscuous. Your fleeing is different than others. But to be useful requires purity, so all useful Christians will flee. What are a few methods of fleeing from our own strong desires?
Prepare in advance for tempting situations. Joseph was ready to run when Potiphar’s wife pressed him. She was repeatedly pursuing him and Joseph knew she would make a play. He was a slave and couldn’t remove himself, so he was ready to run. Believers need to decide in advance what you will do if and when something happens to tempt your heart.
Like singles who remain public, in the light and busy–instead of being private, in the dark with nothing to do. Prepare by making wise choices. Stay away from the store where you can’t resist your strong desire for things. Don’t get Amazon Prime—prepare in advance. Plan your environment–don’t place yourself in situations where you will be tempted. Don’t go to the beach at night to watch the submarine races. When you can prevent it, don’t remain alone with the opposite sex not your spouse–in your house or car.
Romans 13:14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the flesh in regard to its lust.” Hide yourself from evil. Look at Proverbs 27:12, “A prudent man sees evil and hides himself.” The naive proceed and pay the penalty. If you see evil, the wise Christian literally hides himself like a fearful animal. Flee your own heart by knowing where you are weak and avoid the tempting environment.
Plan to stay away from environments where your strong desires become uncontrollable. Pick your people carefully. Don’t spend intentional time around people (even Christians) who encourage inappropriate talking, thinking or strong desires. Don’t go out with a flirt. The only person in the Bible who flirts is a harlot.
First Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals.” If you hang with someone who is massively materialistic, and that is your bent, you will struggle in heart. Ponder your appearance. Younger women must seek out the critique of an older, Titus 2 godly woman concerning your neckline, skirts, blouses, shorts, t-shirts, pants and bathing suits.
Younger men should ask godly men about their look as well. You are not responsible for their lust, but as a Christian others should not have to “look away”. Pounce on your thoughts. Purity starts internally in the mind. Therefore, work at thinking properly in order to develop purity. Follow Philippians 4:8, “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, let your mind dwell on these things.”
Youthful lusts begin in the mind. Therefore, the battle starts with disciplining your thinking. Paralyze your glances–watch what you look at. Fleeing includes guarding your eyes. Do what Job did, Job 31:1, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” You flee by not taking the second, long look.
Don’t expose your eyes to anything that promotes lustful desires. Psalm 101:3 says, “I will set no vile thing before my eyes.” If you keep looking at the shopping network, you’re gonna battle with lust for things. If you keep listening to argumentative, self-assertive talkers, you’ll struggle with contentment, peacemaking and love.
God wants you here–1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee immorality.” And here, in verse 22, “Now flee from youthful lusts.” Why should you do all this? Because Christ is pure and the useful grow pure. The fruitful believer will make difficult choices to become useful.
Many of you do a great job with the TV remote–when the sleazy commercial pops up during your football game, you quickly change the channel to something better. That is exactly what Paul does with Timothy in verse 22. Don’t merely turn the channel away from the bad—flee. You turn the channel to something good–follow. Don’t merely run away from the strong desires, but Christian–run after developing Christ-like character. Next . . .
Second Believers develop purity by FOLLOWING
The positive side of developing purity is to pursue Christ-likeness. Believers are to run after living the Scripture and to busy yourself serving Christ. Then you won’t have time for evil, sexual lusts or strong, inappropriate desires. Again, Christian, stop defining Christianity by what you don’t do–right? “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t chew–nor do I go out with girls that do. So I must be godly.” No—Christianity is not merely putting out the fires of sin in your life. It’s building a Christlike character.
Sanctification is not only not sinning, but dependently putting on the life of Christ. Get busy with ministry–serving, witnessing, giving, mentoring, teaching, caring, loving and you won’t have time to sin. Instead of investing all your time putting out sin-fires, water the trees of the heart. Instead of merely trying not to do evil, invest your time doing good and you’ll find yourself automatically fleeing.
As you head toward Christ, you’re headed away from sin automatically. This is what Paul says in the rest of 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.” Paul tells young Timothy to run away from your strong feelings–do not allow them to control you nor compromise you.
Then, run after some key, Christlike attributes. In fact, God says pursue them. Pursue is not a casual idea, a suggestion if you have time, or merely a nice option. Pursue is a 24/7 command to chase after these qualities with the goal of capturing them. Zealously follow–run after these virtues, like an Olympian training for a gold medal.
To develop purity, you have to run away from your strong feelings and passionately run after Christ–qualities which are often the opposite of your strong desires, at least at times. What are these crucial traits required to develop a pure heart? Four positive attributes of a pure heart–righteousness, faith, love and peace.
Righteousness–doing what is right, a manward focus on living right
Faith–depending on the Lord, a Godward trust in God and His Word above all
Love–devotion to the Lord, an outward biblical sacrifice toward others
Peace–delighting in the Lord, an inward heart thankful to live serene with God
The believer who merely runs from sin will never gain victory over sin. The pure in heart must run from sin and also equally, aggressively run after Christlikeness. Romans 12:21 says the only way not to “be overcome by evil” is to “overcome evil with good.” How do you develop purity of heart? David said it in Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word.”
Do not forget, Christian–you’ll not grow like Christ, nor develop a purity of heart by following some external formula, or seeking a mystical experience, or making an emotional decision. It’ll be as you pursue righteousness. Meaning, you pursue faithfully learning and living the truth of Scripture. Will you live righteous toward God and others?
Useful believers also chase after growing in faith. The pure in heart desire to be faithfully depending on God and His Word. As you grow physically older, you should grow independent of your parents. But as you grow spiritually older, you should grow more dependent upon your Savior. The truly faithful Christian will depend on Christ through His Word for everything–pray about everything, trust Him in every trial, depend on Him for every need.
The pure young mom depends on the Lord and does not live by fear over her children. The single depends on the Lord to provide the right mate in His perfect time. The man of the house depends on the Lord to lead through Him, provide for his family, to love his wife and children, serve in the church, and be a witness to the lost.
The useful servant aggressively depends on the Lord by faith and will pursue growing loyal to God, to God’s Word, to God’s work and to God’s people—faithful. The pure also pursue love–a fruit of God’s Spirit through you and a decision to sacrifice for others by you. Agape is the love of conscious determination–not feelings nor impulse. Agape is a love which focuses on the welfare of the one loved, not self.
Agapē love is not based on the attractiveness or worthiness of those who are loved, but based upon meeting the needs of others, even when they’re most unattractive and unworthy. Agape is selfless and self-giving. Agape is the love of the Father to the Son, the love of Christ for His children, and the love of a Savior for a lost world of sinners. This is the love you pursue in order to live pure in heart, so as to become a useful tool in God’s hands.
The honorable useful vessel will also develop a heart of peace. This Greek word is where we get the English word for serene and serenity. So peace does not refer to the absence of warfare here, but describes harmonious relationships–between you and God, you and other Christians, even you and non-Christians. What does Paul command in Romans 12:18? “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
That is no easy task in Ephesus. Even though they were one of the most mature congregations in the New Testament, they were struggling with internal conflict and multiple attacks against healthy, apostolic doctrine. There was not much peace. Dealing with the conflict, upholding doctrine, confronting the division and false teachers with a heart of peace and graciousness to others was no easy task.
That’s why Paul adds verse 22, “Pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” This is describing genuine Christians, referring specifically to their calling on the Lord for salvation–for His grace, mercy, forgiveness, cleansing and new heart. To call on the Lord is the same as placing saving faith in Christ.
Romans 10:13, “For whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And 1 Corinthians 1:1 to 2 says you and I are “saints by calling”—“with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”
Sadly, not every churchattender who calls on the Lord for salvation continues to faithfully serve Christ and obey Christ. So Paul adds this final phrase—“from a pure heart.” These are the godly believers who qualify as honorable vessels. The term pure comes from the same root word as cleanses, found in verse 21. That takes us back to where Paul’s instruction began—and that is the truth that a clean vessel is a useful vessel.
The most useful tool for God to use is a clean tool–a pure one. And don’t miss a massively critical truth Paul shares with Timothy in verse 22, “With those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” You are to pursue purity with other believers. The Greek terms for “those”—literally the ones, and the participle “call upon” are both plural.
Purity is learned with other believers. Purity is developed in your heart with other Christians. But not any others. Not your crew, your family or your friends—unless they love Christ with all their heart, unless they love Christ from a pure heart. They have to be those believers who are seeking to become useful vessels, They must be those who pursue developing a pure heart before Christ. They grow a pure heart in the context of a church of believers pursuing a pure heart.
Christians seeking to be useful will pursue developing a pure heart. That process will require fleeing strong desires and following after righteousness, faith, love, and peace. But pursuing that pure heart is to be done with others of like heart. That small, rare, passionate group of faithful church members who love Christ most and desire to serve him best. That will grow you into an honorable vessel. That will make you useful to the Master, prepared for any service, in any situation.
That pursuit will make you a sharp, useful tool in God’s hands. That’s why the effective, fruitful believer makes difficult choices to become useful. “Chris, is there anything else that can make me a useful vessel to God?” Yes, you will develop certain key habits. Avoid arguing over non-truth issues. You’ll season graciously with all who’ve been manipulated by false teachers, and you’ll grow zealous in seeking the salvation of the pagan and churchattender. What does that mean?
Come back next week and find out, as we study verses 23 to 26. The pure in heart are developed by God, by dependently fleeing lusts and pursuing a life of dependent faith, loving others, obeying what is right, and enjoying peace in relationships. Many in Ephesus were pursuing usefulness, and many desired a pure heart. And many at FBC are amazingly useful. It’s time for the rest of you to join ranks. Many here desire a pure heart, making this a great place to grow pure with others. Where does that start?
1. Seek Christ first
Turn to 1 John 3. Purity starts with Christ, wanting to imitate Him, be like Him, fear Him and love Him. Purity begins with a life focused on the only pure one. First John 3:2 and 3, “We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
Listen believer, you’ve heard all the rules for purity before. I want you to know they are not enough. Many of you have learned this through experience. Purity starts, not with dos and don’ts, but with Christ. Purity comes from exposure to, and intimacy with, His beauty, His character, His person and His love.
If purity does not start with Him–daily intimacy with Him, learning His Word, living in His presence with every relationship, in each marriage, through every conversation, with every task, in every free moment–then no amount of rules will keep you pure. A Christianity without Christ is only a bunch of difficult rules.
A Christian lifestyle without the pursuit of Christ cannot maintain purity, because purity only comes from Christ. It starts with and continues in Christ Himself. Don’t expect to stay pure unless you seek Him with all your heart and depend upon Him with every difficulty.
For a few of you, that means submission to Christ. You may have made a decision to be a Christian, but unless you follow Christ from a heart that wants to obey His Word, then you are not a genuine, born-again believer and you need to submit to Christ. Cry out to God to open your heart, to give you dependent faith and repentance from sin.
For the rest of you, that means you seek to build greater intimacy with Christ through His Word, prayer, fellowship, service and worship in your life. You and I must be close to Christ and dependent upon His Spirit to remain pure, since purity seeks Christ first.
2. Purity starts WITHIN
To grow pure in a dirty world, you must remember that real purity starts within. In Mark 7:20 to 23, when Jesus is explaining a confusing statement to His disciples, Jesus says, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries . . . 23 All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
Jesus adds in Matthew 5:27 to 28, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Purity not only starts with Christ, but also starts in you–not outside of you, but inside your heart, mind and soul. Purity is not a bunch of external dos and don’ts, but a heart attitude and an inner longing to be right with God.
It starts with a true desire to have a clean, guilt-free conscience. Purity begins with an inner attitude that lives out holy behavior. The guilty will say, “This is legalistic,” and they will rationalize excuses. The pure will say, “I want a clean conscience,” will confess and repent of any compromise. As Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.”
The truly pure person never allows sin to remain unchecked in his or her inner life, even when it is only an internal heart issue that no one sees but the Lord. Go after your internal purity–attack the bad desires and evil motives no one sees but Christ.
3. Purity is SENSIBLE
Don’t wait for a feeling, an event, or a compromise to start pursuing purity. Be sensible and know that your bents, personality and background all contribute to your weaknesses toward certain sins. Know that fleeing will involve some aggressive choices to stay away and avoid compromise. You will need to connect with others in the church to remain pure. You need to make advance plans to avoid evil. Make them and never compromise them.
What steps are you taking to flee strong evil desires and follow after Christlikeness–not perfectly, but progressively. Only those will be useful tools. Let’s pray.