2 Timothy 2:20-21(NIV) 20In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. 21If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
Having contrasted the false teachers from true teachers Paul brings us to another contrast between noble and ignoble service. Paul uses household items to illustrate his point. The items mentioned are gradually degraded in value starting with gold items and ending with clay. This could be compared to items in our own household such as fine china, common dinner ware for everyday use and ending up with perhaps our garbage cans which handle our waste. The emphasis is on service and what is useful service to God.
There is essentially two ways of viewing these verses. Either way we can assume the house is the church and the vessels are church members. The Church contains all types and classes of people as well as saved and unsaved individuals. The articles mentioned could be either saved and unsaved members or all saved. If we tie verses 20 and 21 with the previous paragraph it would seem that we are talking about saved, true teachers and their teaching and unsaved, false teachers and their teaching. If we view these verses with the next paragraph they could be speaking of those who are true believers and thus how to improve their standing with Christ by eliminating sin in their lives.
Romans 9:21(NIV) 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
Romans 9:21 is talking about God’s sovereignty in having made some vessels for salvation, and some for suffering wrath. If we use this verse to support 2 Timothy 2:20-21 then we can conclude that the vessels are synonymous with the true and false teachers mentioned in the previous verse. If that is the case then we are encouraged to cleans ourselves from these false teachers and their teaching. That would indicate we are to throw out those who are the apostate teachers. We can then stipulate that these verses are the how of verse 19 in the previous paragraph. 2 Timothy 2:19(NIV) 19Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” This verse seems to agree with the Romans 9:21 view of the household articles by stipulating that those who truly belong to God (God knows who they are) must turn away from the false teachings that are plaguing the Church and rid themselves of the evil.
The second way we can view this passage is to view the household articles as saved members of the congregation. 2 Timothy 2:22(NIV) 22Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. If you link the thoughts in verses 20 and 21 with verse 22 then this would indeed indicate that the we are talking about the saved members of the local congregation, or those “who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
The interpretation of verses 20 and 21 would then change to one of bettering your position with God as you grow. The reasoning is that all Christians are given gifts to serve the local church. Some of these gifts are not as glorious as others, but they are all important to the body. Sin destroys our usefulness to God. When we are living in sin we are ineffective in our ministry which destroys the church. The idea then is that we should purge ourselves of the sin so that we can be fit for God’s use no matter what that use is.
Both interpretations have merit, and either could be used without doing harm to the context of 2 Timothy. I prefer the first interpretation because the main theme of the entire book is apostasy, and how to deal with it. The thrust of Paul’s letter is centered upon those who oppose the truth and how we are to deal with that opposition. 2 Timothy 2:25(NIV) 25Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,. This verse would seem to indicate that the entire section we are dealing with is centered around those who were opposing the truth in the church at Ephesus. These are the false teachers such as Hymenaeus and Philetus who were teaching that the resurrection had already happened. I would therefore tend to believe that the household articles are members of the church, some of whom do not embrace the false teachers (vessels used for noble purposes), and those who do embrace the false teachers to some extent (vessels used for ignoble purposes).
It becomes very important if this is correct because it puts a burden on us to know what the truth is. It is not possible to cleans yourself from the false teachers and their false doctrine if you fail to know what true doctrine is. This is not that easy in today’s churches. Fewer and fewer churches are teaching sound doctrine today. Christianity is becoming indistinguishable from paganism (False teachings). I can only do what Paul is telling Timothy. I can encourage you to know the truth and practice it. Not an easy thing to do in todays world.