Plastic or Silver? (2 Timothy 2:19-23)
By Dr. Andy Woods
Good morning everybody, on this somewhat frosty January Sunday morning. If we could take our Bibles and open them to the book of 2 Timothy, chapter 2, taking a look this morning at verses 19 (as time permits) through verse 23. The title of our message this morning is Plastic or Silver? If you’re visiting with us for the very first time we’re working our way through the book of 2 Timothy, which is really a book about endurance. Timothy, a believer, is thinking about throwing in the towel because of the rigors of his assignment, which is being a pastor at Ephesus, and this book speaks to us because many times in what God has called us to do, whether it be parents, business men, business women, ministries, we contemplate throwing in the towel, quitting prematurely. And this book is really designed for our times, it’s about endurance in the callings that God has for us in the midst of opposition.
We worked our way through chapter 1 which is basically a general call to endurance in the ministry and chapter 2 is where we find ourselves, coming near the end of chapter 2 this morning, where Paul moves from point to picture and basically gives Timothy ten word pictures, if you will, metaphors, if you will, visual imagery, if you will, of what endurance looks like. So we have seen the example of the teacher, the soldier, the athlete, the farmer, the word picture or picture of Christ Himself as well as Paul. Paul has even given Timothy a very trustworthy statement and where we found ourselves the last several Sundays is the word picture of a workman.
Now leaving that word picture we now move on to the ninth of the ten word pictures that Paul uses. This is the picture of the vessel. And as we work our way through this word picture of the vessel this morning here’s sort of a broad outline of it. The heart of it is verses 20-21, where Paul is going to be describing two kinds of vessels; one for noble purposes, one for common purposes. And the thrust is if you are simply a common vessel how do you become converted into a vessel for noble purposes? And the answer to that is the surrounding verses: avoid sin, verse 19, avoid worldly lusts, verse 22, and avoid foolish arguments, verse 23. But that’s sort of how the whole paragraph on this very important word picture fits together.
So notice, if you will, verse 19, before Paul gets to the word picture of the vessel. We have a strong exhortation by Paul to young Timothy to avoid sin. And notice, if you will, verse 19, it says, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.”
Notice the first part of verse 19, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands,” this verse 19, at least the beginning of it, flows very nicely out of verse 18 because in verse 18, as we’ve talked about for the last couple of Sundays, Paul warns of false teaching in the midst of the flock of Timothy. He even mentions by name a couple of heretics; he describes the heresy that they are promoting, and he even says in verse 18 that their heresy is so severe that it has actually “upset,” or overthrown, “the faith of some.”
In fact, we’ve noted that the word “overthrown” or unsettled is the same word used in John 2:15, of Jesus overturning the money changer’s tables in the temple. (John 2:15, “And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”)
So just as a table is knocked over, in the same way the faith of individuals, because of false doctrine, was being “knocked over.” And it’s such a dramatic description that you read something like that and you think wow, the devil is really winning, the church really is collapsing. And sometimes we can focus so exclusively on bad news (and there’s a lot of it in our world) that our eyes are very quickly taken off of the good things that God is doing, and thus in verse 19 Paul tells Timothy, yes, this false doctrine is very severe but don’t lose sight of the fact that God is still in control. You’ll notice he uses this expression “nevertheless.” “Nevertheless” means in spite of this, in spite of these terrible teachings that are coming into your midst, “nevertheless” God is still very much in control. It’s a contrast.
It says, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands,” now what is “the firm foundation of God”? I believe “the firm foundation of God” is the church of Jesus Christ. I think that because that’s how Paul, in very similar words, described the church is his first letter. In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul writes, “but in case I am delayed, I write to you so that you will know how you out ought to conduct” yourself, or “himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” He describes the church there as a “pillar” or a foundation of truth. If you remove a pillar from a building the building collapses.
So the church, as designed by God is functioning in society in such a way that it is upholding truth in a world that is denying truth. And so I think Paul is using the same kind of imagery here, describing the church, this firm foundation of God, and because this foundation has been laid by God Paul reassures Timothy that it will stand.
A verse that I go back to over and over again in ministry, because it’s very easy to become discouraged, is Matthew 16:18, you know the passage, probably very well, Jesus makes this statement, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock,” the rock would be Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, “upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it,” will not, in other words, overcome it. I love that verse because it teaches so many truths about the church. Number 1, it’s Christ’s church, it’s not our church. Jesus says “I will build My church.” Number 2, God never called us to build His church, He’s the one building it. He uses us as His instruments but He is the ultimate architect of the church, and number 3, His building project is so powerful that even hell itself can’t derail it. Even these heretics, Hymenaeus and Philetus, who are saying the resurrection is passed, verse 18, cannot derail it.
He goes on in verse 19 and he gives a further evidence why the church can never fail, or be blotted out of existence. It says, “having this seal, ‘The Lord knows who are His.’” You’ll notice that that’s in quotations, it’s probably a quote (many believe) from the book of Numbers, chapter 16 and verse 5, speaking of God’s ownership over His people. That verse says, “…the LORD will show who is His,” and it’s very interesting here, he uses the word “seal.” A seal in Greco-Roman times was a mark of ownership; it was a special insignia or a special mark placed over legal documents showing who the document is intended for, and also who is the document’s owner, writer and author.
So what is the church? It is something that has been sealed by God. The church is something that belongs to God. The church is something that is owned by God. We have a similar kind of imagery in the book of Ephesians, chapter 4 and verse 30 where it says: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Just as the church is the seal of God our very bodies, our very lives as we find ourselves in Christ this morning, are sealed by God. In other words, God owns you; God owns me, just as God owns His great building project that He’s been doing for the last 2,000 years, the church.
And one of the things I love about God is He has no unfinished projects. You look around my house you’ll see a lot of unfinished projects, books I read two-thirds through or a third through, get bored, put the book away, read something else; projects in the yard, projects in the garage, all kinds of projects that are sort of half done. And what we discover about God is what God begins He finishes. He began this great work, called the church, on the day of Pentecost. Yes, Satan has been trying to derail the church for 2,000 years, and yet God is going to complete what He started.
And by the way, if you are “in Christ” today, by way of faith, you are an unfinished project of God. Philippians 1:6, Paul says, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Isn’t that great! What God started in your life He is going to, by His sovereignty and by His grace, He is going to complete.
That’s why, going back to Matthew 16:18 Jesus says, “…I will build My church…” My church, the church is mine, Timothy, as God is speaking through Paul to Timothy. So do not become overly despondent, discouraged, about setbacks that you may be experiencing.
And guess what! If we are owned by God we ought to act differently…right? And that’s what the remainder of the verse says. There’s another quotation here, probably from Numbers 16:26, perhaps Isaiah 52;11, but it says this, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” (Numbers 16:26, “and he spoke to the congregation, saying, ‘Depart now from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing that belongs to them, or you will be swept away in all their sin.” Isaiah 52:11, “Depart, depart, go out from there, touch nothing unclean; go out of the midst of her and purify yourselves.”)
One of the great weaknesses in the body of Christ today is people, by and large, do not understand who they are in “in Christ.” What they hear constantly is a bunch of rhetoric that says don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with girls who do, and on and on the lists go, when the Bible never teaches from that angle. What it reveals to us is who we are in Christ, the fact that we are owned by God. It begins with positional truths, without commands. That’s how the whole book of Ephesians is set up. You won’t find a single command in Ephesians 1-3; what you will find is our riches are laid out to us, that we have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”)
We got to God and we say God bless me, bless me, and God says what else do you want for crying out loud, I’ve blessed you “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” And so many times we are groveling as if we’re paupers, as if we need some kind of further blessing when in reality Ephesians 1:3 puts the blessing that we have received by way of faith in the past; it’s already happened the moment we believe. God has not held back anything to us. And if we understand our true identity, who we are “in Christ,” in other words, if I understand that God has made, in the church, peace between believers then maybe I should pursue peace in my daily life. That’s chapters 4-6 of Ephesians. Maybe if God has told me that I am holy positionally, maybe I should act holy.
So you see, the better we understand our identity in Christ the better it informs us how to act and how to behave. Ephesians 4:30, as we saw earlier, tells us that we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit unto “the day of redemption.” Now if that is true how should we act? Ephesians 4:30 says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit,” in context it’s talking about personal sins like bad speech, an unforgiving heart. In other words, when we engage in those types of sins we are not acting consistently with our identity. We have been sealed by God unto “the day of redemption” and therefore we ought to act consistently with our new identity in Christ.
That is a great example of how to modify behavior. Quit telling people, quit putting people on guilt trips about their failures. Tell them who they are and if they understand their identity in Christ they’ll start behaving, it’s just a matter of time, consistently with their new found identity.
Now you say well, wait a minute, pastor, Ephesians 4:30 says that we’re sealed by God unto “the day of redemption.” What does that mean? Does that mean you can never lose salvation? That’s right, eternal security, “once saved always saved.” And then the question becomes well, if I’m eternally secure, as you say, then I’m just going to go out and live like I want. And many people have that type of attitude, I’m saved, it doesn’t matter, I’m just going to go back to the sin nature. Well, one problem with that is you’re living out of harmony with who you are.
He goes on in verse 20 and he begins to explain why that should not be in the life of the child of God. Why, if you have that mentality, which if you’re looking for a fancy name for it it’s called licentiousness, why licentiousness causes you to lose out on so many blessings, not positionally but experientially. And this is why he begins to talk about these two vessels, which is the heart of the paragraph.
Notice verses 20 and 21. First of all, notice these two vessels, they are described there in verse 20, “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.” If you look at the second part of verse 21 he gives further descriptions of these two vessels, “he will be a vessel of honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”
Now you’ll notice in verse 20 he talks about this “large house”; he’s using a metaphor, “large house” with different vessels in it. The “large house,” using this metaphor, would relate to the church. The “house” is the church. Why? Because this is a pastoral letter; Paul is writing to Timothy on how to be a pastor so it stands to reason that the house would represent, in this word picture or in this metaphor, the church of Jesus Christ. And he says just like in any house you have plastic ware and silverware, in God’s house there are different kinds of vessels, common and noble, plastic and silver.
So we all understand the distinction between plastic ware and silverware, if you just want to have some of your buddies over for Monday night football or whatever the case may be, a casual encounter with some friends, acquaintances, and somebody brings a meal or cooks a meal, you just break out the plastic, paper plates. But if someone of importance comes to your house, let’s say Billy Graham, somebody like that, somebody of stature, all of a sudden the plastic is not going to work very well, we’ve got to get the silverware out, this is a special occasion. Thanksgiving, Christmas, holidays, anniversaries, special occasions are not fit for plastic, that is a case for silver, or precious vessels to be used.
In the same way, in God’s house there are these two kinds of vessels that are described in verses 20 and 21. First of all, there are the very common vessels, those are made out of earthen ware, but those are to be contrasted with the special vessels, the uncommon vessels made out of gold and silver. The common vessels are just vessels of dishonor, maybe dishonor is too strong a word but they’re just mundane, ordinary. But the uncommon vessels are vessels of honor. The common vessel would represent the Christian, as I’ll explain in a minute, who is basically wandering back to the sin nature.
The reason Paul brings this up is because Timothy, because of fear and his propensity to shrink backward is being jeopardized by being transitioned into just a very common vessels. But the uncommon vessel is that Christian that is sanctified unto God, not just positionally but practically as well. The common vessel is just useful for mundane ordinary purposes, but then there are these uncommon vessels useful for (notice the word) “every” there, “every good work.”
Now most commentators, sadly, when they interpret this they say okay, the uncommon vessel is the Christian but the mundane vessel is a non-believer. May I just say to you that that does not fit the book, that interpretation does not fit the book at all because who is this book written to? Hint—there’s a title at the beginning there, the second letter of Paul “To Timothy.” Is there any doubt that Timothy is a believer? There’s no doubt whatsoever. Paul calls Timothy, in this book, chapter 1:2, his “son” in the faith. He has placed, Paul has, Timothy into a position of authority as a pastor over a very influential church. Would the Apostle Paul have done such a thing if there was any lingering doubts about Timothy’s salvation? There isn’t any doubt Timothy is saved.
So the distinction here is not between believer and unbeliever. To read the distinction between believer and unbeliever in this passage is to read a foreign idea into the text which is not there. Rather, the situation in the book, and this is why I spent some time on this during the introduction some weeks ago, because it has a bearing on how you interpret passages like the one we’re examining here.
The situation in the book is not is Timothy saved or not; the situation in the book is, is Timothy going to finish the race or not? Is he going to complete his assignment or not, in the spite of opposition? So therefore these two vessels has nothing to do with the distinction between believers and unbelievers. It has to do with a distinction between two kinds of Christians, two kinds of believers, the believer who says on one end of the stick I’m saved so it doesn’t matter, I’m just going to go back to the sin nature, and has a repetitious pattern of sin in their life. That would be the common vessel versus the uncommon vessel, a different kind of believer, a growing believer, a believer who is not sinless but sins less because of their maturity and their growth in Christ Jesus.
Two kinds of vessels in a house represent two kinds of believers within a church. Now people, when you start talking about two kinds of believers they get very nervous. I mean, I thought we were all saved, I thought we were all positionally righteous, I thought we were all equal standing. All of that’s true positionally but not necessarily practically. If you have been tracking with us Wednesday nights on our lectures in soteriology, I encourage you to come out Wednesday nights, a physical meal is at 6:00 o’clock, the spiritual meal is at 7:00 o’clock, and then we’re done by 8:00. I know you don’t believe the fact that we’re done by 8:00 but I have eyewitnesses, done it twice, it ended at 8:00 o’clock.
But if you’ve been tracking with us through these studies one of the things we mentioned is in Paul’s thinking there are three kinds of Christians. Don’t take my word for it, it’s right in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. Paul says, “And I, brethren,” see that word “brethren,” it’s speaking of believers, “And I, brethren” as he’s speaking to the Corinthians, “could not speak to you as to spiritual” people, but as carnal, as to “babes in Christ.” Notice that expressions, “babes” or infants “in Christ.” You can be a babe or an infant in Christ according to Paul’s thinking. “I fed you with milk” and “not solid food; for until now you were not yet able to receive it.” And ‘even now you are still not able,  for you are still carnal.” Notice the word “still,” you’ve been in this state of carnality for a long time, “for where there is envy, strife, divisions among you are you not carnal, are you not behaving like mere men.” You’re acting like you used to act before you were even saved, is what he’s saying.
(1 Corinthians 3:1-3, NASB, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able,  for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?”)
He never second guesses their salvation here. You see, the thinking of the average Christian is this: there are unbelievers and believers and that’s as deep as the thinking goes. In Paul’s thinking it’s much more sophisticated than that; it’s much more nuanced than that because what he is describing here is yes, unbelievers, mere men, but within the ranks of the believers you’ll find him using three different words: number 1, the spiritual; number 2, the babe or the infant, and number 3, the carnal.
So you can take the entire world and divide it between unbelievers and believers and then amongst believers you can divide them into three categories according to Paul’s teaching: you have spiritual believers, these would be sanctified vessels, these would be people that are growing and maturing, where they are just not learning truth but they’re applying truth to daily life. Then you would have infants, I would call those brand new Christians who act like they used to act as unbelievers because they don’t know any better.
And then you have the carnal. Now from that word carnal we get the word “carnivorous,” the Greek word for flesh or meat is carnē, if you’ve ever had some chili con carne you might know what I’m talking about there, chili with meat. Carnal is a flesh, meat oriented Christian. It’s not a diet issue, it’s the fact that they’re going back to the flesh or the sin nature over and over again and by this time they should have grown out of it. And Paul says I know this is going on in Corinth because I’m seeing the signs of carnality, which are envy and jealousy and strife.
So what you have in Paul’s thinking are three kinds of believers. So therefore it should not surprise us that in the last letter he wrote he would talk about two of those three categories. The uncommon or the vessel of honor is that spiritual category. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Seminary, wrote book called He That is Spiritual, and in that book he’s not trying to get folks saved; he’s trying to get folks to move out of infancy and carnality into what he calls “the spiritual man,” using Paul’s terminology. That spiritual man is that vessel of gold and silver, honorable, sanctified, useful for every good work. But there’s other categories, whether it be the infants or the carnal would represent that common vessel, that vessel of earthen ware, that unsanctified vessel, that vessel that’s only fit for mundane purposes, a piece of plastic, in other words, instead of silver.
Timothy, because he is thinking of shrinking back in his calling and not living for God boldly as he has been instructed, is in jeopardy of transitioning from an uncommon vessel, a vessel of honor, back to just an ordinary piece of plastic. That’s why Paul brings this illustration up.
So if you find yourself today a piece of plastic and you want to become a piece of silver, is there any hope for you as a Christian? Is there any hope for us? Can you transition from one category to the next? Yes you can. You can be a vessel of honor and regress. You can be a vessel of dishonor and progress. These categories are not static or fixed or immutable because Paul is telling Timothy the choices you are making are risking, not your salvation, not the fact that your name is written in the book of life, but your status as a glorious vessel of God in His house.
How, then, does the transformation happen if you want to move from the common category to the uncommon category? Notice verse 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.” What if you’re a piece of plastic and you want to be transformed into a piece of silver? Well, the Bible, Paul’s writings here are very clear on how that happens. You have to cleanse yourself, God’s not going to do it for you. God has already done everything for you that He could possibly do. Whether you live according to your position is something you must do now as you, through your volition, submit moment by moment to God’s resources. That requires some degree of human volition on our part.
You must cleanse yourself from these things. What things? Number 1, sin, verse 19. Number 2, lusts, verse 22. And number 3, foolish arguments, verse 23.
What is he dealing with here? Remember we’ve talked about the three tenses of salvation: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Is this a justification issue? NO, Timothy is already saved. Is this a glorification issue? NO, Timothy is not yet in heaven. Well, what kind of issue is this exactly? It is a middle tense salvation issue called progressive sanctification where we are presently being delivered from sin’s power as we walk by faith and tap into the divine resources that God has given us moment by moment. Some Christians make great strides in the middle tense of their salvation, others do not.
Justification is a done deal, if you’re “in Christ” you’re going to heaven. Glorification is a done deal, all you’ve got to do is die or be raptured. But what about your growth in Christ; that’s the middle tense of salvation, as we have explained it? When Paul uses this expression, “he must cleanse himself” he’s not talking about justification here, nor is he talking about glorification, he is talking about progress sanctification.
And I love this expression “himself,” he must cleanse “himself.” God has done everything He can do for all of us; whether we’re going to grow in Him and tap into what He’s given us requires our cooperation, a volition of the will. Some resist the Spirit perpetually, some do not, but the choice of whether you quench the Spirit, grieve the Spirit, resist the Spirit, is a choice that every child of God must make every second or moment of their lives. Timothy, you’re on the verge of making the wrong choices here, and you’re on the verge of becoming no longer a vessel of honor but a vessel of dishonor. You are regressing from silver back to plastic.
You’ll notice this expression, at least in the New American Standard Bible,  “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself,” the “if” means it’s not automatic in every person’s life. Whether these things come to pass is largely our responsibility; we don’t achieve any degree of progressive sanctification by human will power but we certainly must cooperate actively with the resources of God.
And I also like this word here, “anyone,” “if anyone cleanses himself from these things,” we have a tendency to think that the arrival of some level of progressive sanctification is only for the elite, only for people that are in full-time ministry, only for people that have some kind of unique gift or talent, and Paul doesn’t say that at all. He says, “if anyone…” In other words, this transition from plastic to silver is something that can be executed and happen in every life of the child of God.
You know, you run into a lot of people in churches and they have talent, and they’ve been around the body of Christ for a while, and you say to yourself as you look at their lives, why isn’t God using them more actively. I mean, why isn’t God using them more proficiently and efficiently? Why isn’t God using that person to bless more and more people? I know that they haven’t reached their potential and it’s a mystery to me why they have talent and they understand Christianity but they’re really not being used in any significant way.
And the answer is right there in verse 21, they have made some kind of decision that they are not going to submit to the Spirit of God in certain areas. The Spirit of God places His conviction on them in a certain area and says you know, this are of your life needs to change under My power. And the person just resists that, makes excuses. What happens to them? They transition from silver to plastic. Where they could be a beautiful gold or silver vessel in the Master’s use they consign themselves to being a piece of plastic pulled out for Monday night football, when they could be in the center of the table on Thanksgiving. And this, of course, is what Timothy is in danger of becoming.
You know, it’s a new year, we talk about goals all the time, personal goals for 2016, how about this for a goal: Lord, in my personal life this year, I don’t know how it’s going to happen, I’m going to tap into Your grace to help me do it, but in my personal life this year I don’t want to be plastic any more, I want to be silver. I don’t want to be a common vessel any longer, I want to be uncommon.
Could you imagine what would happen to this church if every person, just in this room, prayed that with sincerity. I mean, I think this church would be turned upside down; I think our community would be turned upside down. I think the world in which we live would be turned upside down simply by cooperating in transformation in practical sanctification.
Well, Paul, can you give me a little bit more? If I’m going to achieve this through God’s power, what do I have to give up? What do I have to embrace? I’m so happy you asked that question, verse 22, here we go. “Now flee from youthful lusts,” don’t skip over it, don’t pretend like that’s not there, it’s very clear, “Now flee from youthful lusts,” Timothy, do you want to move from plastic to silver? Then here’s the first thing you need to do, you need to “flee from youthful lusts.” Well, what are “youthful lusts”? What are lusts? Lusts are desires that come from, many times, the sin nature, jealousy, covetousness, a number of things. You’ll notice that he calls them “youthful lusts,” they are attracting desires that appeal especially to the young, not that older people are not vulnerable to these but they have a great inroad in the thinking of youth.
Why would Paul even bring that up? Because Timothy is a young man, 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul says, Let no man look down on you because of your youth. (1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”)
So these would be attracting desires that appeal to the young. And we say well, that’s sex. We immediately think of the sex drive, sex outside of marriage, which we call adultery; sex before marriage which we call fornication. Looking at movies and websites you shouldn’t be looking at. That, I believe is part of what Paul means but this issue of youthful lusts should not be confined simply to sexual desires. I believe that this concept of useful lusts is broader than that because the context here is a couple of guys, Hymenaeus and Philetus, that went astray, teaching false doctrine. Why did they do that? Well, they fell prey to “youthful lusts.”
What would be “youthful lusts”? A desire to argue, a desire to be right all of the time, a desire to develop a unique theology to make oneself famous…youthful lusts! When I’ve looked at these surveys of what the millennials and younger want what comes in all of the time is they all want to be world famous. What is that? That is a “youthful lust.” In my area of work, theology, I can’t tell you how many people I know that are subject to “youthful lust.” I can’t tell you how many people I know want to come up with some nuance in the Bible that supposedly no one has ever seen before, so they can get their own name out there, get published, get recognized and can become popular. When you go to these theological meetings I can’t tell you how the temptation towards “youthful lusts” dominates so many people, supposedly in the Lord’s work. That would be an example of “youthful lusts.” It’s bigger than just sex, although sex would be part of it.
So Timothy, if you want to stay silver and not regress to plastic you need to do something, you need, with respect to these “youthful lusts,” you need to “flee” these youthful lusts. Now “flee” is a Greek verb in the imperative mood, meaning it’s a command. What he’s saying is you need to get away from these things. “Flee!” I can’t help but think of Joseph, when he was tempted sexually with Potiphar’s wife. And by the way, Potiphar’s wife was not hard on the eyes, I can guarantee you that much. She was obviously a very beautiful, attractive woman because a man in Potiphar’s position probably could have any woman he wanted. And this woman came on, sexually, to Joseph, who was at the height of his sex drive as a mere 17 year old. And what did Joseph do? Genesis 39:12, “She caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me!’ And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside.” That is a perfect illustration of fleeing “youthful lusts.”
I’m not denying the desire that Joseph had to consummate this flirtation, that temptation was obviously there, but he cut it off at the pass by fleeing these “youthful lusts.” What this is saying, “flee youthful lusts,” this command, is deal dramatically with sin. Quit playing games with sin is what he’s saying. Cut it off and do it now, as God strengthens you.
It reminds me very much of the Sermon on the Mount, “I your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29) “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it off from you; for it is better for you to lose one of your body parts than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30)
Wow! I do have some scissors up here so if anybody needs their eyes cut out we can have a little exorcising session after the sermon. No, he’s not speaking literally there, he’s speaking figuratively, because guess what, if I cut out my eyes I can still fantasize, can’t I, at all kinds of things. So the problem isn’t my eyes, the problem is what? My heart. It’s an illustration to say deal radically and dramatically with youthful lusts. Romans 6:12 says, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts.” Deal dramatically with sin.
Have you read what God said to Cain lately? Cain is contemplating murdering Abel; the lust to do so, or the temptation is there. “If you do well will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’” (Genesis 4:7) What He’s saying to Cain is sin is trying to control you and you’d better get it under control before it starts to dominate you; that’s what He’s saying. That’s the nature of sin.
This is the kind of thing that Paul’s telling Timothy to do here, “Flee from youthful lusts.” The great deception is we think we’ve got sin under control. Let me tell you something about sin, folks…you don’t have it under control! Sin is more powerful over our lives than we typically give it credit for and to think that I can get away with this is this part of my life over here but I’m going to keep it in check is self-deception. Since coming to Houston I can’t tell you how many people close to me have fallen into sexual immorality because they did not do what Paul is telling Timothy to do, to “flee youthful lusts.”
Let me give you three truths about sin. You ready? This comes from some unknown person but it’s a wonderful quote. “Here’s three things sin will do: Number 1, sin will take you further than you want to go. Number 2, sin will keep you longer than you want to stay. Number 3, sin will cost you more than you want to pay.” Three things sin will do: sin will take you further than you want to go; keep longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.
What happened to Lot? Are you a lot like Lot? You know, Lot ended up in Sodom and Gomorrah and there had to be a miracle of God to get him out of there before judgment happened. How did he end up there? Genesis 13:12 tells you the beginning of the process; it says: “Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, while Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent towards Sodom.” He wasn’t in Sodom yet, he just sort of pitched his tent in that direction, he started thinking about sin. And as one of my pastors said, private thoughts quickly become public actions, public scandals.
We think we can negotiate with sin, we think we’ve got sin under control. Do you know what God told Joshua to do to the Canaanites? Wipe them out totally, every single one of them, as you go into the land, wipe them out. Now in Sunday School we learned this morning that there were 400 years where God gave the Canaanites grace to repent, perhaps more than 400 years, but when judgment came God said to Joshua, you’re going into the land which I gave to your forefathers and I want you to completely and totally wipe out and eradicate the Canaanites; I want you to kill the women and children also. So the nation of Israel went in and did what God said, sort of. You read Judges 1 and it says they didn’t quite wipe out this group over here, or that group over there. And God said because you didn’t do what I said, these people are going to be a thorn in your side. And you read the next 800 years of Old Testament history and Israel is wandering into sin, going into discipline, which they learned from the Canaanites, and you think how different Old Testament history would read if they just did what God told them to do initially. “Flee youthful lusts.”
Well, gee, pastor, you know, I’m not married to this guy I’m dating or this girl I’m dating and we just sleep together, we can’t help it, we sleep together. Okay, well, why do you go over to their house when you’re alone. What are you doing over there at night? What do you think is going to happen? Well, pastor, I’m looking at these images on Facebook, these pornographic images, and I’m just drawn to it, I can’t control myself. Then cut off the computer, get off Facebook, put some kind of controls on your machinery so that you’re not privy to these things.
“Flee youthful lusts.” Deal dramatically with sin, cut it off now or it’s going to get the best of you, is what it’s saying. And if you don’t do that you’re going to spend your entire Christian life as a piece of plastic when you could have been silver.
One of the things that I love about the Bible is it never tells us what not to do without also telling us what to do. God is not a God of don’t do this, don’t do that, He’s a God of let Me replace that with something better. Let me replace your propensity for “youthful lusts” with something better. And the better is described in the second part of verse 22, “and,” that’s the conjunction, “pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” The first part of verse 22 is what to avoid, the second part of verse 22, here’s what to replace it with.
In fact, the verb “pursue” is also imperative. So just as the verb “pursue” is a command, it’s a command just as the word “flee” was a command; both are commands. If you want the complete understanding of God you don’t just flee, you don’t just pursue but you flee and pursue; you turn away from something bad, you replace it with something good.
Well, what are the good things you replace it with? There’s a list there, “righteousness, faith, love, peace.” Run that grid through your decision making process this week. Should I watch this TV show or not watch this TV show? Should I look at this website or not look at this website? Should I have this conversation or not have this conversation? Well, does it fit the qualifications of righteousness, faith, love and peace? If it fits those qualifications then pursue that, as the Bible commands you to do. If it does not fit those qualifications, then flee from that as the Bible also commands us to do.
I love this expression at the end here, “from a pure heart.” What is God interested in at the end of the day? Not rote ritualism and religiosity; He is after the hearts of people! You know, David blew it; would you agree with that? I mean, he committed some pretty major sins, like adultery and murder, you can’t get much worse than that. And he lied to cover it up! And yet what did God say about David? “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.” (Acts 13:22, “After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I HAVE FOUND DAVID the son of Jesse, A MAN AFTER MY HEART, who will do all My will.’”) Why is it that David, it seems, gets this extra dimension of grace that you don’t find in these other kings that did things like David and sometimes not as bad? Because David was a man who was broken before God. David was a man who pursued God, not rotely, not religiously, but with his heart. Was he perfect? Obviously not, but man, this guy’s life and his zest for God is so admirable, even in spite of his massive failings.
Isaiah 29:13, “Then the Lord said, ‘Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lips, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,” what is being condemned here? Rote, ritualism, absent a heart-felt commitment to God.
We live in the Bible belt. People come in and out of church every single weekend and yet how many people come in and out of churches all over Houston, they even come in and out of Sugar Land Bible Church, because it’s something on a check list to get done. And the zeal for God, the heart for God, is absent.
What is God looking for? He’s not looking for perfect people, praise God for that because there aren’t any. He’s looking for people who pursue Him with a pure heart. Does that describe you? Does that describe the year 2015 for you? Maybe you could pray this week, “God, make me that kind of person in 2016.” The heart! Do you know what Jesus is dealings with in the Sermon on the Mount all of the time? The heart. What makes you an adulterer? Something that happens in the heart, Matthew 5:21-22. What makes you a murderer? Matthew 5:27-28, something that happens in the heart. (Matthew 5:21, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’  “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.  ‘Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.  ‘Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.  ‘Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.  ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’;  but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”)
Forget the youthful lusts, flee from the youthful lusts, and pursue a heartfelt relationship with God characterized by righteousness, faith, love and peace. And one more thing to stop being plastic and become silver is: avoid foolish arguments, verse 23, “But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.” When he says here, verse 23, “avoid,” that also is a Greek verb in the imperative mood, meaning it is a command. Refuse to participate, translated, stupid and ignorant debates. He’s not calling these people stupid, he’s saying the things you are talking about are stupid, they’re empty. Refuse to participate in such conversations.
And we’ve already made reference in our series to the number of conversations that take place in the body of Christ that really have nothing to do with Scriptural truth whatsoever. Paul has warned about that in verse 14, (“Remind them of these things and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.”)
He’s warned about it in verse 16, (“But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness.”)
He’s warned about it in his first letter to Timothy, 1 Timothy 1:4, 1 Timothy 4:7, 1 Timothy 6:4-5, 1 Timothy 6:20, Titus 3:9-10, I think I see a pattern developing here.
(1 Timothy 1:4, “nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.” 1 Timothy 4:7, “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” 1 Timothy 6:4-5, “he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,  and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” 1 Timothy 6:20, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge” Titus 3:9-10, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.”)
It’s conversations that are empty, stupid, ignorant, and foolish that have no biblical basis whatsoever, fighting about things that need not be fought about, debating for the sake of debating. Do you want to be plastic or do you want to be sober? Then get away from these kinds of conversations.
Look at this, “knowing,” in other words, Paul is saying to Timothy, you know this will happen, you know this is true, “knowing that they produce quarrels.” God is not interested in quarrels, quarreling Christians. Now there is room to debate and argue in a civil manner when there’s some kind of biblical principle at stake but oftentimes in our conversations, even electronic conversations there is no biblical principle at stake; we just want to fight to fight. We want to debate to debate. We want to argue to argue.
Paul tells Timothy you need to get away from that because these things, at the end of the day, what do they produce? They produce angry Christians. They produce quarrels. James 1:20 says, “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” There are so many people in the body of Christ that almost have a chip on their shoulder because they’re mad at somebody. Why are they mad? They’ve been mistreated by a fellow Christian.
Let me break you in on something here. As you grow in a Christian you will be abused, in some cases, not just by the world, but by fellow Christians. Why do I say that? Because Paul, when he’s describing Christians sees not just one kind of Christian but three: there are Christians that are carnal, and are infants in Christ and will kick sand right into your eyes. And because we think everybody in a church must be perfect and we ignore 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 (“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able,  for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?”)
We’re just astonished when this happens. Don’t be astonished; expect it. Be civil and gracious in response but don’t let it shock you that it’s happening. And don’t succumb to quarrels and bitterness and anger because if you’re moving in that direction the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
Plastic or silver? 2016, plastic or silver? That’s our question. Avoid sin, verse 19; flee youthful lusts, verse 22, avoid foolish arguments, verse 23. Shall we pray.
Father, we’re grateful for this paragraph and how it speaks into our world. Help us Father this year, this week, this day, to become transformed into vessels of honor, usable for Your purposes, for every good work. We’ll be careful to give You the praise and the glory. We asks these things in Jesus name, and God’s people said…Amen.