III. A GREAT HOUSE
Verse 19 indicates definitely that the ones exposed in verses 16 through 18 are not the Lord’s. Their evil doings are a strong proof of this.
In verse 20 Paul continues, “But in a great house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also wooden and earthen, and some unto honor, and some unto dishonor.” The word “but” at the beginning of this verse indicates that it stands in contrast to the definition in the preceding verse concerning genuine believers.
What does Paul mean by the expression “a great house”? In this great house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also wooden and earthen ones, and some unto honor and others unto dishonor. I have spent a great deal of time considering this matter before the Lord. The house of God defined in 1 Timothy 3:15 and 16 is the genuine church in its divine nature and essential character as the foundation of the truth, whereas the great house here refers to the deteriorated church in its mixed character, as illustrated by the abnormally big tree in Matthew 13:31 and 32. In this great house there are not only precious vessels, but also base ones. Thus, we cannot believe that the great house in this verse refers to the church as the house of the living God in 1 Timothy 3:15. The great house is certainly not the house of the living God. The house of the living God is the great mystery of godliness and also God manifest in the flesh. How could such a house contain vessels unto dishonor? Therefore, the great house no doubt refers to Christendom, to Christianity. Furthermore, this great house is equal to the big tree in Matthew 13. The genuine church today is the house of the living God, whereas abnormal Christianity is the great house. How great today is this abnormal house! Just as many unclean birds lodge in the big tree, so in the great house there are vessels unto dishonor, wooden and earthen vessels. In the genuine church, however, there are only gold and silver vessels.
A. Vessels unto Honor and unto Dishonor
Honorable vessels are of both the divine nature (gold) and the redeemed and regenerated human nature (silver). These, like Timothy and other genuine believers, constitute the sure foundation to hold the truth. Dishonorable vessels are of the fallen human nature (wood and earth). Hymenaeus, Philetus, and other false believers are of these.
B. Cleansed from the Dishonorable Vessels
In verse 21 Paul goes on to say, “If therefore anyone cleanses himself from these, he will be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, useful to the master, prepared unto every good work.” To cleanse ourselves is to “depart from unrighteousness” (v. 19), as an outward evidence of the inward divine nature. The word “these” in verse 21 denotes the vessels unto dishonor, including those mentioned in verses 16 through 18. We should not only cleanse ourselves from anything unrighteous, but also from the dishonorable vessels. This means that we must stay away from them. Hence, we must cleanse ourselves from the unrighteous things and from the dishonorable vessels of wood and earth. If we cleanse ourselves from these negative things and negative persons, we shall be vessels unto honor, sanctified, useful to the master, and prepared unto every good work. Unto honor is a matter of nature, sanctified is a matter of position, useful is a matter of practice, and prepared is a matter of training.
IV. PAUL’S CHARGE TO TIMOTHY
A. Fleeing and Pursuing
Verse 22 continues, “But flee youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” Timothy should beware not only of outward corruption among the churches, but also of inward lusts within himself. He must avoid the outward corruption and flee the inward lusts. Furthermore, he should pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Righteousness is toward self, faith is toward God, and love is toward others. Peace is the consequence of these three virtues.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Chapter 16, by Witness Lee)