In a large house there are dishes and bowls of all kinds: some are made of silver and gold, others of wood and clay; some are for special occasions, others for ordinary use. Those who make themselves clean from these things will be used for special purposes, because they are dedicated and useful to their Master, ready to be used for every good deed.2 Timothy 2:20-21
Holiness is about being sanctified or set apart for God’s specific purposes. In the example that Paul uses here with Timothy, there is also an ongoing refinement that is similar to recognizing the differences between ordinary plates for everyday use and fine china that would be used for special occasions. There is a cleansing process that he mentions: “those who make themselves clean.”
Sanctification, or being set apart, is partly a process that God conducts and partly a process that we are responsible for, as well.
Ephesians 2:10 – God has made us what we are. He has created us in Christ Jesus to live lives filled with good works that he has prepared for us to do.
Psalm 119:9 – How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.
In the grand sense, God has set us apart by drawing us to faith in Messiah so that we may do the good things he has prepared for us to do. But by continuing to sharpen our obedience to God’s word, we also distinguish ourselves from those in God’s household who are content to remain simply with their sanctification from the world.
In Paul’s example, these are the plates used for ordinary purposes, for the basics of eating and drinking, for the rough and tumble of everyday existence. These are the plates and bowls that have chips and cracks, that have rough edges, blemishes and marks from use. They are serviceable in the uses they are designed for, but they all carry evidence of that use, and are not as likely to be used for special occasions.
By contrast, the gold and silver plates and cups are those which would be used for specific events that are noteworthy; the holiday gatherings with friends and family, or the formal dinners with respected individuals and guests. Paul is implying that, apart from God’s sanctification from the rest of the world, we can “cleanse ourselves” further from rough, ordinary use into something that is useful to God in special ways. But this has to be an intentional purpose on our part, something we choose to do by disciplining ourselves in his word to create and maintain the luster and polish required of the fine china.
The context of this passage helps us frame a reference for this concept, as Paul had just mentioned previously:
2 Timothy 2:15 – Make every effort to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed workman who accurately handles the word of truth.
The making of the effort to present ourselves unashamedly to God demonstrates our willingness to manifest the great gifts that God has given us. Of course God can use any vessel for his purpose, fine china or regular plates, but the fine china is designed for the most special of occasions to bear the finest foods. Why not seek to improve the opportunities for God to use you by setting yourself apart in ways that allow him to use you in any situation?