“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20–21 NAS95)

What are the “these things” [really only the word “these” in the Greek] that Paul tells Timothy to be cleansed of?  In vs. 19 Paul writes: “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” So we will be vessels for honor when we are cleansed from wickedness.  This takes work on our part, but it is God who works in us.  Paul puts it this way elsewhere:

Philippians 2:12–13 (ESV) Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Here is how various translators have worked out what Paul is saying in 2 Tim 2.21:

  • Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21, NASB95)
  • So if anyone purifies himself from anything dishonorable, he will be a special instrument, set apart, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21, HCSB)
  • If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21, NLT)
  • 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.” (2 Timothy 2:21, NIV84)
  • All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21, NRSV)

The point of cleansing oneself, of pursuing purity, of getting ride of dishonorable things in one’s life, is not to gain God’s acceptance—what we do or don’t do cannot make us right before God, that takes the blood of Christ—it is to be useful to our Master.  We work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that God is working in us, to make us into something that he can use for the furtherance of his glory by calling sinners to come to faith in Christ.

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