It may seem silly, but it always makes me happy to look at this shelf. Because each of my coffee mugs has a story or a person or a memory attached to it that is important to me. There is the Modra pottery one that I got during my first visit to Slovakia in 1993. And then one that says “I (heart) Slovensko” that I got on another summer there because I truly fell in love with the country. There is the one that friends brought me from their trip to Israel. It has a copy of a mosaic of the four loaves and two fishes on it, and it reminds me to trust God. My college roommate gave me the one that has hand drawn pictures of things in North Carolina around the top of it. The Chinese mug I got in Hong Kong for a dollar, and it represents my many trips to that country over the years. The one from Texas is just a couple of years old and reminds me of a fun trip to Fort Worth and Austin. The newest cup is from the Barry Manilow concert I went to this summer. Yes, I am a big Barry Manilow fan, but we’re not talking about that right now.
We call these “cups” or “mugs”, but they are also vessels. My coffee vessels.
I was reminded recently while studying 2 Timothy that you and I are vessels, too. It’s actually an image that is used to describe us several times in Scripture. I love taking the Lord’s analogies and pondering their meaning. Here are just a few thoughts to scratch the surface of the depth of the imagery.
- A vessel is created for a purpose. Several times in Scripture, God compares Himself to a potter and says that we are the clay. (For example, see Isaiah 45:9 and 64:8.) Just as a potter creates a vessel for a specific purpose, so God creates each of us for His purposes for us. Ephesians 2:10 expresses this perfectly when Paul says that we are His workmanship and were created for good works that He has already prepared for us.
At the same time, we need to embrace and be content with how God has made us and the purpose He has for us. Part of the point the Lord makes with the potter and clay analogy is to remind us that the clay doesn’t question the potter or argue with him about how it was made. Instead, the vessel trusts the potter and his wisdom.
- A vessel is made to carry something. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves”. As God’s vessels, we carry the gospel – that is the treasure! What an incredible thing to be entrusted to carry!
We also carry the Holy Spirit who comes to live inside us as soon as we receive Christ (Ephesians 1:13). When Paul talks about the power being of God and not from ourselves that is where the power comes from. God sent Him to enable us to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) and to have character that reflects Christ (Galatians 5:22-23) among other things.
I also love how this verse reminds us that we are “earthen” vessels – that idea of “clay” again. Paul’s point is that we are weak and have to depend on Christ to empower us to do anything for His glory. Earlier in 2 Corinthians 3:5, he communicates this same idea by saying that we aren’t “adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God”.
- A vessel’s job is not to draw attention to itself, but be of use or service for the owner. It would be ridiculous for my coffee cups one morning to start telling me what to do for them and how to serve them. But if we aren’t careful, we can do that with God. We can begin to think that He is there to serve us when really we are here to serve Him. He is the Master, and we are the vessels.
- A vessel has to be clean to be used. I imagine that, like me, when you pick up a coffee cup at work, you look in it first. Because at work there is always a chance that the cup didn’t really get clean. And no one wants to use a dirty coffee cup!
Similarly, God needs clean vessels to use. Paul tells Timothy is 2 Timothy 2:21, “Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” As we saw in Ephesians 2:10, God has good works He has prepared for us, but we have to be prepared for the good works, too. And that comes through pursuing holiness and purity. It’s a great warning for me to take sin seriously. I don’t want to miss out on being used by the Lord as His vessel because I wasn’t clean enough.
So be a clean vessel. Be an available vessel. Be a filled vessel. Be a content vessel.