BIBLE STUDY: MAN-A VESSEL
One of the most significant truths of Scripture is that we were created to be vessels of the divine glory. If we fail to appreciate this fact and live from it as the basis of our very existence as Christians, we will find nothing but frustration and dissatisfaction. Knowing and accepting the fact that we are vessels of a spirit greater than ourselves will enable us to escape the twin traps of the devil, namely inferiority and low self-esteem on the one hand, and pride and superiority on the other. What we need is an appropriate evaluation of ourselves as selvesa truly humble picture of ourselves as created by God, without exalting ourselves or viewing ourselves as scum and dirt with no value whatsoever. How often we have swung between these two extremes! How often Satan has toyed with us and run us ragged because we dont know or appreciate or frankly, outright disobey Gods truth in these matters!
What, then, does it mean to be a vessel? Paul says that in a large house there are vessels not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for noble use, some for ignoble. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become noble vessels, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work. A vessel, then, is an instrument or utensil that serves the purpose of the one using it. Pauls point is that in Gods world we can be vessels for noble purposesto express the pure gold of His divine character and love, or we can be ignoble, ordinary vessels like a garbage can or toilet. Both types of vessels serve the Masters purposes; both, in some sense are necessary in Gods world. But wouldnt you rather be a vessel of gold than a garbage can?
Of course we must guard against the idea that some vessels are intrinsically more valuable than other vessels. After all, anyone can be the vessel of gold or silver that Paul describes if they cleanse themselves of the evil deeds that Paul describes in the context. Also, anyone can be a garbage can or toilet if they allow Satan to continue expressing himself through them.
In other words, it is not the vessel which is good or evil, but rather what it contains that makes the vessel noble or ignoble. So a vessel is also something that contains something else, like a drinking glass, for example. If I put water into the glass, it contains water, but if I put ink in the glass, it is a container for the ink. Although a container might be particularly beautiful or ugly, the purpose of the vessel is still only to contain, hold or express something other than itself. In the same way, Paul says that we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that it may be clear that the surpassing power is from God and not from ourselves (2 Cor 4:7). The treasure is nothing less than the glory of Jesus Christ, the divine character of righteousness, goodness, love and power now revealed in us, the earthen vessels.
In Johns gospel, Jesus illustrates this truth with a parable and states that He is the vine and we are the branches, and that if we abide in him, we will bear much fruit, but apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). The fruit love, joy, peace, meekness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-controlthese are all the fruit of Gods Spirit, the expression of Christs own character through us. Without the sap coming from the vine, the life-giving sap of the Spirit, we can do absolutely nothing good. For as Jesus says, God alone is good (Mark 10:18). We were created to be containers of Gods abundant goodness, constantly overflowing to others through us. This is what it means to be created in Gods image (Gen 1:26)not that we would be like Godthat was Satans liebut that God would dwell in us as His images. In the civilizations around ancient Israel, the purpose of an image or idol was not merely to give a picture of what the god looked like, rather the god was actually understood to dwell in the idolthe idol made the presence of the god real to his worshippers. But God has no need of gold or stone idolsHe created people to be His idols people in whom to dwell and express His character and presence in the world.
But you might object: I am not just a container; I am a person! And of course you are. Unlike a cup or container we have the capacity to choose which spirit fills us and operates us. The point of the vessel-container imagery is to focus our attention on the fact that good and evil do not originate within ourselveswe are operated by a spirit greater than ourselves. The choice we have is whether to continue giving ourselves over to Satan for his misuse or give ourselves over to Christ that He might use us for the purpose for which we were created: to be images of God, expressers of His glory.
Most believers recognize that we have Christ dwelling in us (Col 1:27). But what is often ignored and rejected is that we have been vessels of sin, of Satan as much as we are vessels of Christ now. Jesus says that you are children of the devil and his desires you do (John 8:44). Also, He who sins is of the devil, that is they have their spiritual source in the devil, as a well known scholar F. F. Bruce has written. So all the time we were living lives of sin, it was not in fact merely us who were sinning, but Satan producing His sinful evil desires in us, expressing His nature and lusts. So Paul says: it was no longer I who did it, but the sin dwelling in me who did it (Rom 7:17, 20) and speaks of how the prince of the power of the air is the spirit who operates in the children of disobedience (Eph 2:2). Just as the Holy Spirit of Christ indwells the body of Christ who gives freedom (Rom 8:9-11; 1 Cor 12:13; 2 Cor 3:17), so there is a spirit of the world (1 Cor 2:12) who enslaves (Rom 8:15).
For this reason, Peter writes that in order to escape the corruption that is in the world (the Satanic spirit of sin) we need to be sharers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). Only because God dwells within us as His vessels and we trust in His presence can we then add goodness, godliness, and love to our faith. These qualities are His and His alonewe just get to participate in them and express them in our lives. Peter wants us to know that none of these qualities or attributes originate with us: they are intrinsic to the nature of God and we can only participate in these qualities if He Himself comes down and lives them out through us. Once we realize this, we can see that there is absolutely no place for pride: any good thing that we do as Christians is really an expression of Jesus Christ through us and the only contribution we have made is our yes to God, a mere consent to the fact that we are his vessels. All that God really requires of us is the acknowledgment of a factthat we are His vessels. The life of faith, then is only a walking out in daily life in humble recognition of this truththat it is in fact He and no longer merely we who are living life (Gal. 2:20).
What this means is that sin is actually a Satanic self-delusion that we are something other than or more than mere vessels. We are either deceived into believing that we are superior to and intrinsically better than other people, or that we are inferior to and worse than others. Because we have all been operated by Satan, we have all had some kind of hierarchy or pecking order in our minds, and each person with whom we came in contact fit into the hierarchy at some level. Our physical appearance and health, our brains, our abilitiesall these things wereand perhaps still areused to determine where we fall on the pecking order. We tell ourselves: Well , at least Im not like so and so, At least Ive never done that, or, on the other hand, we wish we were like so and so and become envious and jealous and desire to pull the other person down to our level or below. We dont want to be at the bottom of the heap and we will do anything to get to the top. Of course, some of us may deceive ourselves that we dont do any of this, that we are basically nice vessels who are above all this competition but there it isthe people who believe they are nice really believe they are better than the people who crassly go out and jockey for a position in the pecking orderthe nice people wouldnt act that waytheyre above all that so the nice people are really playing the Satanic game of hierarchy after allthey just deceive themselves that they arent.
The only way to escape this Satanic game is to humbly recognize the fact that we are vessels operated by Christ or Satan and although we may differ in our appearance, personality, skills and abilities, we are all basically the same in that we express either the spirit of Satan or the spirit of Christ. There simply is no hierarchy, especially since we have all sinned and lack the glory of God (Rom 3:23), so that no one can claim to be superior or inferior. There is level ground at the foot of the cross. The fact is that we all get to be top dog, or noble vessels as Paul describes it, when Christ is the one operating us.
Perhaps this seems too incredible for us to believe. But all that we are called to believe is the biblical fact that having received Christ as our Savior, we are now vessels of Christ rather than vessels of Satan. And there is a certain rest in that fact, since we are not called to believe that we are superhuman beings who can leap over tall buildings and fly through the sky. Believing that we are vessels is really a radical self-acceptance of everything about ourselves, apart from our sin. I was created with the perfect personality, the perfect physical appearance, the perfect amount of intelligence, the perfect skills and abilities, to be the vessel God designed me to be. We are perfect for accomplishing whatever task that He has laid before us. You might object: Im not perfect, I sin all the time. But that is why the Perfect One now dwells within you to express His perfect moral character through you. And for that purpose, you are the perfect vessel. God created us as earthen vessels, with all our earthiness so apparent to us as the perfect means of expressing His surpassing power and glory (2 Cor 4:7). If we start lamenting how imperfect vessels we are not taking God at His word.
On the other hand, perhaps it seems like I am suggesting that we paste Jesus Christ over our sinful lives and just call whatever we do Jesus Christ. But nothing could be further from the truth. Faith in Gods promise to live through us is not a magic wand that we wave over our lives, it is relying upon the all-loving and all-powerful God to do exactly as He promises in, through, and as us. But such faith comes at a price. Christ and Satan cannot operate in the same vessel at the same time. As Romans 6 and Eph. 2:2 make clear, if we yield our members to sin, then sin (or Satan) shall be our master, and his spirit will express itself through us. So we have the responsibility of cleansing ourselves of Satanic misuse and unbelief, as Paul makes clear in 2 Tim 2:21: All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become noble vessels, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work. We cleanse ourselves through repentance and confession of sin, which heals us (James 5:16). But we must also cleanse the unbelief that is the root of sin: Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Rom 14:23). And what is unbelief? Nothing other than failing to believe that we are vessels and trusting Christ to be the spirit operating and living through us.
Brett has an M.A. in New Testament and a Th. M. in Biblical Theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is currently working on his doctorate at the University of Durham in England. He currently lives in Poughkeepsie, New York, and is a Zerubbabel Contact and Teacher- Sharer.
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 17 No 2
- Our Foundations
- Editors Note
- Amazing Grace
- The Swaying Battle of Faith
- Zerubbabel Focus: The Book Ministry
- Tape Talk
- British Easter
- Commit Your Way to the Lord
- A Look at a Book
- BIBLE STUDY: MAN-A VESSEL
- Message from Norman
- A Movie Classic
- Garbage In… Garbage Out
- Gods Sovereignty in Success and In Failure
- Great is His Faithfulness