Useful to the Master

Quite a few years ago it was my privilege to help the work of the Harlows at Everyday Publications.

My association began when EPI (as it is known today) was located in the building on Glebemount Avenue in Toronto.

At that time Dr Harlow gave me a little book from which he read every lunch hour, and at which time the good Doctor would read one of the quotes, and then ask us to give the Scripture reference for the quote. The little book was put together that way: a title drawn from one of the verses of the day, and then a series of “related” verses following. The book title was “Every Day” and I suspect that Doctor Harlow chose it for that reason, at least in part.

Gael and I do two things at breakfast time, and before our time of prayer: read from a book like this one, and then a chapter in the Scriptures. For the sake of variety, we vary the “devotional” books that we use, and I believe that is good.

Today’s reading (May 12) had the title above: Useful to the Master; taken from Paul’s letter to Timothy.

The verses quoted were gleaned from a variety of places in the Scripture; from Jeremiah to Timothy to Ephesians; and they all had a similar thought of being “useful to the Master”. As we read them, a thought came to me: “yes, but…”. There is a significant difference in one aspect of these verses that has been running through my mind since breakfast.

In Jeremiah, it is the Master that is seen as the Potter, and it is He that is fashioning the vessel on the wheel, and it is He that sees something wrong with the clay, takes it off the wheel, works it again, and puts it back on the wheel to make a different vessel. Without going into all the details of the picture the Lord is painting through Jeremiah, we do need to keep in mind that it concerns the nation of Judah, and the Lord’s dealings with that nation; to bring it to the condition He desires. That is a big subject, and we see its process even today.

However, when we come to Paul’s letter to Timothy, we see a different aspect of the picture. As Paul writes (2 Timothy 2:14–26) he explains to Timothy that there are many vessels in “a great house”; and that some are for noble service, and some for ignoble service. We need to be careful not to be harsh in our differences with our various understandings of God’s Word; but it has often struck me (and even again this morning) that all the vessels are “useful to the Master”. Paul is not saying (in this passage) that some of the vessels are not useful; he deals with that subject elsewhere. In this passage he is telling Timothy that there are vessels that are for honour, and there are vessels for dishonour.

Allow me to give an illustration (not one of the usual ones): We are at a stage of life when “getting rid of things” is taking a larger role in our day-to-day experience. Recently Gael said to me: “Can I get rid of those things up there?” My immediate reaction was: “Here we go again!”. I looked up to where she was pointing, and saw on this little shelf in the kitchen, away up on the side of one of the cupboards, a silver beer stein (and some other things). Now you have to keep in mind that I have never used it for that purpose; it was an award given to me at an EIC sponsored debate in 1959 as a member of the winning team at that debate. It has a dent, and the silver is not as bright as it was that evening at the UofT. It has travelled a lot, and at one time was full of the petals from the roses at our wedding. Now, I realize that most illustrations that we use break at some point; (the Lord’s never do). We have many “vessels” in our house: from vessels for keeping sugar in, to vessels for gathering potato peels in, to dishes to set before guests at our table. So as to not get too far from Gael’s question; no, I could not, at this point, agree to getting rid of the stein. Why? For several reasons: the first being that I am somewhat sentimental, and it was a reminder of an event 58 years ago. I don’t even remember the topic of the debate; nor who it was that we (the class of 6T0 Mining Engineering students) were debating with. I don’t even remember if we were joined in the debate by one of the other classes. It is likely that we were. However, it is a vessel of honour in our house; I don’t want to see it go; just yet.

Now, my main point is this: In Jeremiah, it is the Potter who takes the clay and does the work on it; in Timothy, it is the responsibility of the vessel to cleanse itself.

Gael and I were at the Ontario Workers’ and Elders’ Conference this week, and one of the threads of the conference was the subject of preparing for succession. Several times someone approached me with the thought that we who are older must be doing more to “mentor”, “disciple”, “work with”, the younger brothers and sisters, and so on. All of this is true. But there is also a need for the younger to cleanse themselves to be in a condition to be used. The imagery in the two pictures (Jeremiah and 2 Timothy) is different, and I believe the Lord intends us to notice.