Useful to the Master

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Look at v20…

I remember, when I was growing up, there were some things that only ever came out for guests. The rest of the time we would use normal plates and bowls, but when guests came to our house, we got out the nice plates! Usually we would have tea in a mug, and a chocolate digestive if we were lucky, but when special guests came round, we would get out the cups and saucers, and have fancy biscuits! But my favourite was that in our downstairs loo, the one the guests would use when they came round, normally we would just have a bar of soap and any old towel to dry your hands, but when guests came round, there was special squeezy soap and nice fluffy towels!

Did your parents ever do that?

That's what we used to do in my house and I grew up in just a normal, ordinary house. So imagine what it must be like in a large house like the one Paul talks about in v20? We should probably be thinking more Downton Abbey. In a large house like that there is all the fancy stuff that they use upstairs, and then there's all the common stuff that they use downstairs. There are some things that are used for noble purposes, and some that are used for common, or ignoble, purposes.

That was true back in Paul and Timothy's day, it was true 100 years ago in places like Downton Abbey, and it's true today.
Which is what makes v21 so amazing. v21… 

There are noble things and there are ignoble things. And Paul says, if you and I get rid of what is ignoble from our lives, then we will become "an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master."

We can be like noble things in God's household. We can make ourselves useful to the Master! So what does that mean, and what does it look like? Let's pray and ask God to help us find out this evening.

Turn back over the page to chapter 1 with me. Paul wrote this letter to urge his dear friend and colleague Timothy not to give up.
Do you remember? Timothy was the pastor of the church in Ephesus. He had been called and gifted by God to lead and preach and so Paul urges him in 1 v 6 to "fan into flame the gift of God". He encourages him not to be ashamed of the gospel, but to join him in "suffering for the gospel, by the power of God" v8. He reminds him that he had placed his life into God's hands and that God had placed the gospel into his hands. So he calls him, v14, to guard the gospel and keep the faith.

Then in chapter 2 at first it seems as if Paul is saying more of the same. He tells Timothy to endure, to be like a soldier or an athlete or a farmer, ready to work hard now because of the reward that will one day come, vv 1-7. The gospel is unstoppable, but we can be a part of it, he says. But working hard and enduring isn't just about serving as a Christian, this is about surviving as a Christian. That's what it says in vv 11-13. Timothy needs to keep going; not just in his role as a church leader, he needs to keep going as a Christian. 

And that's not just a message for Timothy, it's a message for all Christians, v14. In fact if Timothy is going to be a faithful teacher and not a false teacher then he needs to remind people that being a Christian isn't just about putting your faith in Jesus once and then living life however you want, it's about putting your faith in Jesus and then living your whole life for him.

Do you see? Throughout this letter Paul has woven together these two things. Timothy needs to keep going as church leader, and he also needs to keep going as a believer. Using your gifts to serve God, and surviving as a Christian are intertwined. The faith that survives is the faith that serves.
And the faith that serves is the faith that survives.

Now why is that? Why are these two things so closely linked? Well it's because when God calls us, he calls us to serve. When we become Christians we become part of the body, the church, God's family. And just like in a body, every part has its role to play. Faith that survives is faith that serves, the two are woven together. And we see that most clearly back in chapter 1 vv 5-6…

Your faith in God and your service to God are intertwined. Being a Christian isn't passive, it's active. So if you want your faith to survive and if you want your faith to flourish, then you need to serve. You and I should be striving to serve. If you are a Christian then you should want to be used by God. And that brings us back to v20, vv20-21…

If you want to be used by God, then you need to make yourself useful to God. How do we do that? How can we cleanse ourselves from what is ignoble? Paul says in two ways. Firstly…

Flee what is wrong and pursue what is right, v22

Look at v22…

What are the evil desires of youth? Paul doesn't spell them out for Timothy here, perhaps because Timothy was a young man himself and would know only too well what they are. But I suspect that in 2000 years they haven't changed that much. In Proverbs 7 the young man is the one who is seduced by sexual temptation and lured away into adultery. In Prov 20v29 it says "The glory of young men is their strength." 

When you are young you feel in your prime, you are discovering what you can get for yourself. And so both then and now young people chase after sex and money and status and power and influence and satisfaction and self-indulgence and adoration and attention and things. They are the desires of youth. But you don't have to be young to have those desires.

We live in a world that in many ways idolizes youth and youthfulness. People spend thousands of pounds and hours every week trying to look young, trying to hold onto their youth. Typically in our society being old is seen as bad and being young is seen as good. It is a compliment to be told that you look young, or that you're young-at-heart. Our world idolizes youth and it idolizes the things that young people desire.

And Paul says if you are a Christian you should flee from them. If you want to be used by God and useful to God you should flee the evil desires of youth because they don't focus on serving God but on serving ourselves. We should flee from those things he says, not chase after them like everyone else. Not living with them, or entertaining them. Fleeing from them.

Like Joseph when he was faced with the invitation to sleep with his master's wife, when we feel the pull of sex and money and ambition and attention and all the other desires of youth, we should run away! Do you want to be used by God and useful to God? Then Paul says you should flee the evil desires of youth.

Does reading certain magazines, or certain websites make you jealous of what other people have got or envious of how other people look or live? Then flee from them, stop reading them. Are there some TV shows or films that stir up lust in you? Are there some friends that you spend time with that fuel your greed and your dissatisfaction? Watching those shows or being with those people makes you long for the things of this world. Then flee from them.

But being useful to God isn't about not having and passions and longings, it's about changing your passions and longings, v22…

Imagine if the time and energy you spend dreaming about your next relationship or your next gadget or your home or your next job, was spent not chasing after those things but pursuing righteousness and faith and love and peace. 

So if reading certain magazines makes you jealous and envious, don't stop reading, instead, read good books and good websites that remind you of the true happiness that is found in living God's way and serving him. If spending time with some friends fuels your greed and your dissatisfaction, don't stop spending time with friends, spend time "with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart" who will help you see real love and peace. Don't just flee from what is wrong, Paul says, pursue what is right. Ask God to change your desires, to change your appetite. Hunger and thirst after righteousness. And not only will you strengthen your faith, you "will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master."

That's the first ting, the second is…

Don't quarrel but be kind and gentle, vv 23-26

Do you remember what we looked at last week? The false teachers loved to quarrel about words, v14, they loved to indulge in godless chatter, v16.
They didn't clearly and simply explain the word of truth. They twisted its meaning, avoiding the things that are hard and arguing over what was simple to suit their own agendas. And Paul says if you want to cleanse your life from ignoble things then have nothing to do with that. Don't quarrel.

I hope that you are ignorant of most of it, but there is a lot of quarreling that goes on in the Christian world. I think the internet is wonderful in lots of ways, but it certainly hasn't helped us in this area. A lot of people waste a lot of time in pointless arguments that no-one ever wins in the name of Christianity. And Paul says don't do it, vv 23-24…

Don't quarrel but be kind and gentle.

Now this is particularly true for leaders and teachers in the church and I think that's why Paul makes this point particularly to Timothy here. As the leader of the church in Ephesus it was right for Timothy to speak up for the truth and to speak against false teacher. Paul has already told Timothy that he should defend the gospel and guard the truth. But that doesn't mean he should get embroiled in pointless heated debates that only waste time and energy. Instead he should be kind and gentle in the way that he teaches and corrects and rebukes, loving those who hate and oppose him…

"in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."

That was and is particularly true for teachers and leaders like Timothy. But the principle is true for all of us. We will strengthen our faith and cleanse ourselves from what is ignoble and make ourselves useful to the Master by not quarreling but by speaking words to one another that are kind and gentle.

If we flee from the evil desires of youth and pursue what is righteousness, faith, love and peace, And if we don't have anything to do with stupid arguments and quarrels, but we're kind to everyone and gentle. Then Paul says we will make ourselves instruments for noble purposes. We can make ourselves useful to God! We can be the fine china and the fancy biscuits and the fluffy towels in God's household, that he uses for his special purposes.

And as we finish I want to really ground this into our lives. In four ways. First of all, think about what this means…

1) If you don't know what to do.

Perhaps as you read these verses about being an instrument for noble purposes in God's house you're sitting there thinking, 'I would love to be used by God! I want to do something meaningful with my life, I want to serve him. I want to live my life for the Master…I just don't know what he wants me to do!' I know that's how some of you feel. What does Paul say?

He says, make yourself useful. If you want to be used by God then make yourself useful to God. Don't sit around waiting for God to tell you what he wants you to do. He'll show you want he wants you to do in His time. But while you wait, make yourself useful. Get ready for whatever it is that God has in store for you. Flee the evil desires of youth, pursue holiness. Practice being kind and gentle. And God will call you to serve him, he calls all of us to serve him. 

Secondly, I hope you can see what this means…

2) If you don't think there is anything you can do for God

Some people think, 'because I'm not good with kids, or because I can't speak well or play an instrument, there's nothing I can do for God.' That is a lie. When God calls us he calls us to serve. We all have a part to play in the body. And God isn't so bothered about you are good with kids or can speak up front or can play the piano. No, the people that are useful to the Master are people who flee from evil and pursue what is right. Who don't quarrel and are kind and gentle. Make yourself like that and you can be sure that God will use you.

Thirdly, can you see what this means

3) If you are already being used by God 

God has already called many of you to serve him. Some of you teach Sunday school, some of you lead home groups. Some of you have children or care for relatives or friends, some of you lead youth groups, or play in the band. Many of us already know the things that God has called us to.

But how can you be most useful to God in those roles? Flee from evil and pursue righteousness. Don't quarrel but be kind and gentle. If you want God to use you to accomplish his work in the lives of the Scramblers, or your children or through the music, the best thing you can do is to make yourself useful to him.

Robert Murray McCheyne was an great Scottish pastor who once said this, "My people's greatest need is my personal holiness." If you want to be a great Youth leader or a great musician or a great friend or a great family member, if you want God to use you in those situation, and I hope you do, then this is how you can make yourself useful to him.

Finally, there is one more things that this means. Perhaps as you make yourself useful to God you will realise…

4) He wants to use you in other ways

Look at v21 again…

Perhaps as you increasingly make yourself useful to the Master, fleeing from evil, pursuing righteousness and being kind and gentle, perhaps you will feel him calling you to serve him in new ways. Perhaps he has greater plans for you, and other ways he wants to use you.

When we are called by God we are called to serve. So what is the role that you are playing? How is God using you?

If you want to be used by the Master, then make yourself useful to the Master.

Let's pray.

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