How did we get to a place where Christians turn against Christians in the name of political power? How did we get to a place where we demonize one another by oversimplifying our beliefs and convictions?
How did we get here? By quarreling over words and secondary matters to the neglect of what matters most; by not faithfully teaching and demonstrating those things which matter most. Without faithful teachers, God’s people have few, if any, guardrails against worldly pursuits and thinking.
But what does it look like to be a faithful teacher of God’s Word? In 2 Timothy 2, Paul paints three compelling pictures of a faithful teacher for his young protégé, Timothy: the unashamed worker, the clean vessel, and the Lord’s servant. Taken together, these three pictures convey the essence of a gospel-soaked, faithful teacher.
THE UNASHAMED WORKER
The first picture Paul gives Timothy of a faithful worker is a sharp contrast between a good and bad workman:
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness." – 2 Tim. 2:15-16
The good workman does his best to present himself as one approved. He is diligent about the work of teaching. He reads good books, takes classes, and disciplines himself to learn God’s Word. The good workman is humble. He knows he needs his instruction just as much as those he teaches. The good workman is careful to ensure he is presenting the Bible’s truths clearly and accurately. He knows the more clearly he presents God’s Word, the more powerful it is.
The bad workman, on the other hand, gets lost in endless controversies, inevitably entangling others in their foolishness. Their talk spreads like gangrene, infecting people everywhere it goes. Quarreling over such things as secondary or tertiary matters creates divisions and hurts the people you teach.
Don’t get tangled up in the parts of the Bible that are unclear when there is so much that is clear. Be like the good workman: present yourself as one approved, with no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
THE CLEAN VESSEL
Next, Paul explains that a faithful teacher is like a clean vessel:
"Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work."– 2 Tim. 2:20-21
“Vessels” refers to containers that would be found in one’s home in Paul’s day, like Tupperware in ours. Some vessels would have been used for honorable things, like eating, whereas others would have been used for dishonorable things, like washing feet.
We have a Tupperware cabinet in my kitchen (you know, the cabinet where every container falls out every time you open it). One of the “vessels” in that cabinet is a yellow, plastic bowl we use for thawing raw meat. I wash the bowl every time we use it, but even though I cleaned it, I’m not about to eat out of it. Why? Because that would be gross. That bowl is used for a dirty, or dishonorable, task.
In the same way, people are used for either honorable or dishonorable tasks. Without Christ, each of us was a vessel for dishonorable use—we were far from God and probably cared little for others. We were slaves to sin and set ourselves apart for dishonorable use.
But in Christ we have been made clean through the blood he spilled on the cross. Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension justify us in the sight of God once our faith is in him. We have been cleansed, made holy, and are now set apart for honorable use.
Honorable vessels are “useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” As believers, we are useful to God in the sense that we are equipped to do good works here and now for people made in the image of God in a way that brings him glory (Eph. 2:10).
The words Paul uses—“honorable” and “set apart”—indicate that his clean vessel picture is about holiness. Paul wants to remind Timothy, and us, that holiness matters.
Holiness has fallen on hard times, though. We want to be accepted, so we wink at the number of drinks we have when we’re out with friends. We’re loose with our tongues, or we’re quick to laugh at a crude joke. But each time we participate in sin, we’re making dirty what Christ has made clean; making dishonorable what God has set aside as honorable.
Believer, pursue holiness and set yourself apart as useful to the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE LORD’S SERVANT
Paul’s third picture of a faithful teacher is the Lord’s servant:
"So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will."– 2 Tim. 2:22-26
Paul first tells Timothy to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” This is related to holiness, and it relays the Bible’s most basic instruction for how to deal with sin: to flee from it. As fast as you can.
Most of us have an overinflated sense of how strong we are. We think we can stand up to temptation and beat sin through sheer strength or willpower. But we can’t—that’s why Jesus had to die for us.
The Lord’s servant is not prideful. He knows he needs the grace of Jesus and the power of his Spirit to stand up to temptation. Sin and its consequences are scary enough to the Lord’s servant that he wisely runs the other direction. Instead of running to temptation, he should run to righteousness, faith, love, and peace. These are the fruit of the Spirit—attributes he will cultivate in us as we pursue them alongside him.
The Lord’s servant should also be gentle. In contrast to the devil’s quarrelsome servant, the Lord’s servant should be “kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” Think of your relationship with the people you lead: are you kind to them? Patient with them? Do you endure their questions and hardships? Are you gentle in your conversations and sensitive to their struggles?
The world is filled with impatient, prideful, power-hungry leaders. God’s Kingdom should house leaders who are just the opposite. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t correct people when necessary—Paul clearly states that Timothy should be correcting his opponents. But he should be doing so in gentleness, because “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
Be patient with your flock. Be kind to them. Love them. And if they have strayed, instruct them in gentleness, and perhaps they will come to their senses and find their way back to the truth.
JESUS IS THE FAITHFUL TEACHER
Faithful teachers should be like a good workman, a clean vessel, and a servant of the Lord. And if, like me, you feel woefully inadequate to be all of these things, then take heart, because you don’t have to be.
You don’t have to be the perfect workman, the cleanest vessel, or the greatest servant because Jesus is.
Jesus is the perfect workman who never shrank back from declaring the truth and correcting false teaching. He never mishandled the Word of truth. He never quarreled over inessentials and never tired of telling his people of God’s goodness and their need for salvation.
Jesus is the clean vessel who presented himself pure and blameless before the Father. He was an honorable vessel his entire life but willingly gave himself up to dishonorable treatment on our behalf. He was willing to be dishonored so that we could become honorable through him.
Jesus is the Lord’s servant who was perfectly pure, never sinning though tempted in every way as we are. He was focused, never straying from his mission to bring the gospel to bear on all mankind through his sacrificial death on the cross. He was gentle, treating the lowliest of men and women with the highest amount of dignity. He patiently corrected, continuously endured.
Jesus is the faithful Teacher. He is the only leader who can do all of these things. And it is only by looking to him and relying on him that we will become the faithful leaders he means for us to be.
Grayson Pope (M.A., Christian Studies) is a husband and father of three, and the Managing Web Editor at GCD. He serves as a writer and editor with Prison Fellowship. For more of Grayson’s writing check out his website, or follow him on Twitter.