Useful to the Master

By Dr. Ben Lovvorn

I have a recurring dream. I am back in college at Hardin-Simmons University, playing football for the HSU Cowboys. It’s the first game of the season, and I am finally being called on to take the field as the starting middle linebacker. Suddenly, I realize that I don’t have any of my equipment! I don’t have my helmet, my shoulder pads, or even my pants. I scramble through the locker room, looking for equipment so that I can play in the game, but I can’t find it. Then, it’s too late. I wasn’t ready, and I missed my chance. I wake up, and I’m relieved that it was just a dream… and remember that my playing days are long behind me.  

However, in the Christian life, there is a very real sense in which we must be ready. God wants to use you to accomplish extraordinary things in His name and for His glory. But you must be ready to be used by the Master. Are you ready? 

Paul & the Writing of 2 Timothy

The book of 2 Timothy stands with 1 Timothy and Titus as one of Paul’s pastoral epistles. It is a letter that Paul wrote to his protégé, Timothy. Paul wrote this letter from prison toward the very end of his life, probably around 67 AD, just before he was martyred for his faith.

After Paul was released from house arrest in Rome, he visited Ephesus, where he left Timothy to pastor the church. His missionary journey ultimately led him to Troas, where he was likely very suddenly arrested, taken to Rome, and jailed in the Mamertine Prison. It is here that we find Paul, bound like a prisoner, suffering from loneliness, abandoned by his friends, awaiting his execution. Yet, he is filled with hope, knowing that he had fought the good fight and finished his race well. 

He writes the book of 2 Timothy as an intensely personal letter to his son in the faith and ministry. It is written during an incredibly challenging time for the early church as they suffered severe persecution under the Emperor Nero and Rome. Paul sought to ensure that the church carried on and fulfilled its mission.  

Tradition holds that Paul was beheaded shortly after writing to Timothy. So, this book has also been described as Paul’s last will and testament to the church. The principles that he entrusted to the early church apply to each one of us today. 

Become Useful (2 Timothy 2:20–21)

Paul then presents a truth that may sound harsh to some. He tells the church that some Christians are ready to be used by God, but others are not.

There is some discussion among commentators about who the ‘dishonorable vessels’ are. Some argue that these are the false teachers referenced in preceding verses. However, Paul’s pivot in verse 19, his direction that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness, and the metaphor itself demonstrate that he is now talking about those within the church.

Paul explains this difference by describing some as honorable vessels and others as dishonorable vessels. Here, the terms “honorable” and “dishonorable” may be better translated as “special” and “ordinary.”

In this passage, Paul is not necessarily saying that these dishonorable vessels are akin to the false teachers—unbelievers leading others astray who will experience ultimate and eternal judgment. Rather, he is saying that Christians who refuse to turn away from wickedness and continue living in sin are not fit for special use by the Master. They are available only for ordinary use. While we may be tempted to think, “Well, ordinary doesn’t sound that bad,” the New English Translation observes that “dishonorable” or “ordinary” use probably refers to vessels that were used for refuse and excrement—instruments that are filthy and unfit for more noble purposes. 

Interestingly, the passage also reveals that the usefulness of the vessel determines its quality. In the Greek text, the words “honorable” and “dishonorable” are used passively. That means that the vessels themselves are not better or worse than others, but they are made better or worse by the use to which the Master puts them.

So, how can believers become ready to be used by the Master, our Lord Jesus Christ? Christians must be purified to be useful to the Him. These verses clarify four interrelated truths:

  1. Purification Requires Grace-Driven Effort.
  2. Purification Requires a Refining Process.
  3. Purification Results in Readiness.
  4. Readiness Results in Usefulness.

Flee and Pursue (2 Timothy 2:22–23)

In 2 Timothy 2:22–23, Paul goes on to say, “Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, because you know that they breed quarrels.” While verses 20–21 tell us what to do—purify ourselves, verses 22–23 tell us how to do it.

In 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul writes that we are to flee youthful passions—here, “youthful passions” is better translated as “evil desires.” It includes immorality, impatience, intolerance, love of argument and division within the church, self-centeredness, and any wickedness. These are often passions of the youthful rather than the spiritually mature. But he is including all evil desires of the flesh.

As believers, the Bible says, we are to put all of these sinful behaviors to death. Because of God’s grace, you have been made new in Jesus Christ. And therefore, you are to put all of these things—the sinfulness in which you once walked—to death. Put them to death.

Paul writes that we are to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” The word for pursue is the exact opposite of the word for flee. It means we are to “chase down, as in war or hunting.”

We are to remain in “hot pursuit” of godliness—godliness characterized by righteous living, faith, love, and peace. Every. Single. Day… we must wake up and pursue the Lord. We must strive and strain to become more like Jesus.


History tells of a marble block that sat discarded for decades because of its many impurities and flaws. It had already been the subject of two attempted projects—both of which were abandoned after sculptors deemed the stone unusable. That is, until a sculptor named Michaelangelo was called upon to take up the task. This master artist saw past the many flaws in the marble to envision what it could become. With skillful hands, he chiseled away all of the impurities, and he transformed the discarded chunk of rock into the statue of David, one of the most iconic works of art in history. 

Just as Michaelangelo saw what that marble block could become, God knows what each one of us can become through Jesus Christ. If we will purify ourselves from unrighteousness by fleeing from sin and pursuing godliness, He will refine us, and chisel away our flaws and imperfections to make us a special instrument, set apart, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.

Full Passage: 2 Timothy 2:20-21