As Paul exhorts Timothy to diligence in holiness, he uses a metaphor about vessels “for honor” (2 Timothy 2:21, NKJV). He pictures a large house where there are many vessels. Some of gold and silver, and some of wood and earthenware. Some of these vessels are intended for honorable purposes, and some for dishonorable purposes (2 Timothy 2:20). Paul notes that, if a person cleanses himself from the things Paul warns Timothy about, then that person will be a vessel for honor (2 Timothy 2:21a). That person will be set apart (or sanctified), useful to the Master and prepared for every good work (2 Timothy 2:21b).
In the immediate context, there are several things Paul warns Timothy should be avoided in order to be a vessel unto honor. A vessel for honor shouldn’t quarrel about words because it is of no benefit and hurts those who hear (2 Timothy 2:14). A vessel unto honor should avoid worldly and empty chatter, as that is a gateway to further ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16). A vessel for honor should flee from youthful lusts (2 Timothy 2:22). A vessel unto honor should refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, as they produce quarrels (2 Timothy 2:23). Finally, the vessel unto honor should not be quarrelsome (2 Timothy 2:24). Avoiding these things—or cleansing oneself from these things—allows a person to function as a vessel for honor and to be useful and prepared (2 Timothy 2:21).
In addition to outlining the things to be avoided to be a vessel for honor, Paul highlights some of the good works that one might expect to see from a vessel unto honor. A vessel unto honor ought to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace (2 Timothy 2:22). A vessel for honor ought to be kind to all, able to teach, and patient when wronged (2 Timothy 2:23). A vessel unto honor ought to correct with gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24).
Paul uses several metaphors in 2 Timothy 2 to illustrate the kind of godly conduct he hopes to see from Timothy and those whom Timothy teaches. Paul refers to a good soldier (2 Timothy 2:3–4), an athlete who competes according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5), the hard-working farmer (2 Timothy 2:6), and finally the various vessels in the large house (2 Timothy 2:20–21).
Paul’s exhortations give us occasion to consider whether we are allowing ourselves to be used as vessels of honor who are useful to our Master and prepared for every good work. Paul provides clear guidance and shows how we can be honorable vessels. He prepares Timothy for the tasks ahead in his ministry, knowing what it takes to be useful and prepared. All believers in Christ can be vessels of honor if they simply heed Paul’s direction. It is a sad fact that some who believe in Christ will fail to cleanse themselves of dishonorable things and may in fact be vessels of dishonor, not useful and not prepared.