In 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. If 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.
Flee 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. (verses 20-22)
I’m not sure about your household, but in ours, we have certain platters and bowls we only use for special occasions. They’ve been passed down through the family for years, or we received them as wedding gifts, or they’re just “extra nice”! On the other hand, we’ve got containers that we would never think of using to serve company, but are ideally suited for trash, grunge and slime.For instance, there is a tin container (about 30 centimeters high), that sits on our kitchen counter just to the right of the sink. It’s painted an off-white colour and has a nicely stenciled label on it, reading “Compost.” And that’s exactly what we use it for. Into that container goes any kind of vegetable peel or pit, the blemishes of old potatoes, the cores of musty apples, anything that’s gone moldy in the fridge – you name it. It’s not a very appetizing mix. You’ll be relieved to know we empty the container often into our garden composter, trusting its contents will turn to good, rich soil shortly. But then the container gets rinsed and goes back into service on the counter once again.
Not a very high calling!
Paul urges us to put that aside. Go for the high calling. Don’t just get rinsed. Undergo a full cleansing. Get re-purposed. Become a “container” for noble uses. Allow yourself to be set apart for the Lord – made holy – useful for him and prepared for every good work.
The cleansing, of course, that needs to happen in us is carried out by Jesus himself. Through his death on the cross, every single one of our sins is forgiven, the slate wiped clean. We are justified, declared righteous in God’s sight, without blame or blemish, just like Jesus. It’s Christ’s work in us that sets us apart for the Master, ready for his purposes. It can’t happen otherwise.
So what does Paul mean, then, when he says: “If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes”? Isn’t the work already done? What more is there? And could we ever have power to do it ourselves anyway?
I think Paul is referring to the very thing Jesus himself highlighted when he washed his disciples’ feet. “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean …” (John 13:10). Jesus’ death on the cross is the “bath” – it completely cleanses us. But, in the wear-and-tear of daily life, we pick up dirt that tarnishes our relationship with him. Indeed, if left untouched, it diminishes our usefulness. Let me wash your feet, Jesus offered the disciples. Similarly with us. When Paul says, “If a man cleanses himself,” this is what he’s thinking – to submit ourselves again to the cleansing work of Jesus, allowing him to scrub off the dirt and re-purpose us once more.
Paul drives it home, saying, “flee evil desires” and “pursue righteousness.” He described the same thing previously using a slightly different image, taking it from the changing room: “Put off your old self” and “Put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22, 24).
We could never hope to get ourselves cleansed in the first place, but having been made new in Jesus we need to set our sights on the noble purposes of the Kingdom. He’s wanting to use us! Amazing. So submit to Jesus again, continually, day by day. Be cleansed from the compost bin. Put off the old stained, sweaty clothing. Put on the new, sparklingly clean wardrobe, tailored by Jesus himself.
Be made new, daily. Useful to the Master. Ready to do any good work.
Father, I set my sights on the noble calling of your Kingdom. Please use me.
Lord Jesus, I respond to your invitation to ‘be cleansed,’ by submitting. Please clean me.
Holy Spirit, work righteousness, faith, love and peace in me. Please fill me.
Reflect: What do you need to flee? What do you need to pursue? Ask the Spirit of Jesus to strengthen you to do it.