How to be Useful to God


1. Introduction

I’ve got a nice little silver butter knife at home, well, it was nice until I discovered a different use for it. We have 2 small tiled decks, which are the designated target practice areas for birds in West Auckland, and some of that bird poo sticks on like paint. But my butter knife is the perfect tool for scraping it off (don’t worry, it’s kept in the laundry cupboard, it doesn’t get anywhere near the kitchen.)

2 Timothy 2:20
In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble.

(KJV) In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.

The large house Paul’s talking about here is the church, and the vessels in that house are the people in the church. One thing we see is that it takes all kinds of people to make a church. As long as the church is in the world and as long as it’s made up of human beings it’s always going to include a cross section of humanity.

We also see that the vessels in the house, or the people, have a purpose. Everything is created for a purpose, including each one of us.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

A chair is made to sit on, a keyboard is made to play music on, and we are made to do a useful work for God. And this is not just about what works for God, it’s good for us. We see in Genesis 1 that God finds fulfilment in his work. At each stage of creation we read, ‘And God saw that it was good’. He looked at his work, it was good and he was satisfied. We’re made in the image of God so just like him we have the capacity both to work, and to find fulfillment in what we do. Most people really do want to be productive, we want to be all that we can be and we want our lives to count.

2. 1st key to being useful – choose to be a vessel of honour

Paul goes on from 2 Timothy 2:20 – v 21. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, (vessels of dishonor, or vessels for ignoble purposes) he will be an instrument for noble purposes, (or a vessel of honour) made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

Of course in a natural house the householder decides how each article is going to be used. My silver butter knife was created for the noble purpose of gracing the table to impress guests, but instead it’s being used as a pooper scooper, which is an ignoble purpose. The butter knife has no choice, but in God’s household it’s a bit different.

Paul tells Timothy, we must cleanse ourselves from anything that is not honourable, or not noble, and we’ve got to steer clear of those dishonourable or ignoble vessels, then we can be a vessel that’s useful to the Master.
In the church the vessels are human beings with a free will so we get to choose the big one, will we be a vessel of honour or a vessel of dishonor, and then we have choices, not so much what job we want to do because God has made us for certain purposes, but how far we want to go and how useful we want to be.

What is a vessel of honour? Firstly we need to understand that being a vessel of honour or dishonour has nothing to do with the kind of service or job we do in the church, it’s not about that at all.

I’m so glad God hasn’t got me in the car park, especially on freezing cold, wet, days. The car park team really do the hard yards, and it’s a largely unseen ministry. But it’s vital, it would be chaos without our car park attendants, and as far as visitors go the car park can be the point where they decide whether they will come back to CU or not.

You’ve seen the news – doing something. The car park team out there doing it, and we want to celebrate what they’re doing. Last weekend was Labour weekend and there was no Children’s Church. Look back to when it’s wasn’t happening and think about the great job those teams do week in and week out, there’s a lot of work involved in that ministry and they’re doing it.

Security, crèche, the choir, ushering, info desk, sound desk, worship team, and every other area of service - are all equal when it comes to being vessels of honour, and as they say, the pays the same. Well actually you don’t get paid – but when it comes to heavenly rewards as long as we’re diligent and faithful in our area of service, the pays the same.

The difference between a vessel of honour and a vessel of dishonour is not that one has a more important job, or one is a good Christian and one not so good, or that one is more mature, has more faith, less struggles, no - it’s not about superior or inferior believers. Every child of God is equally precious, every role is important. The vessel of dishonour, or the article that’s only suitable for an ignoble purpose that Paul refers to here, is the person who is not a Christian, they’re not born-again. The difference between honourable and dishonourable is that one’s the real deal and one’s a fake.

How does that happen? Easy! We live in the world and mixture happens all the time. I’ll just throw in a little theology lesson here! There is a distinction between what is called the visible church, which is the one we see, and the invisible church, which is the one only God sees. Invisible doesn’t mean that we can’t see any sign of it or that we can’t see the people, what it means is that we can’t fully see it as God does because we can’t see into men’s hearts like He can.

2 Timothy 2:19
Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his”...

At CU we’re used to having an altar call for salvation after just about every service. But there are some churches where that opportunity is never given, or hardly ever given, and there are some churches where the way of salvation is not even taught, which is tragic because salvation is not automatic. Anyone who wants to become a Christian must make a definite personal response to the truth of the gospel. Of course people can, and do, get saved by reading the Bible, absolutely, but not everybody reads the Bible.
Jesus taught that within the church there would always be people who thought they were Christians, and seemed to others to be Christians, but who were not really born-again and would eventually be exposed and rejected at the judgement. He brings this out in the stories of the wheat and the tares, (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50) the parable of the dragnet, (Matthew 25:1-46), the parables of the wise and foolish virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats. We see, especially in the parable of the wheat and the tares, that we can’t judge who’s who, and this is really important. Only God knows about that and we’ve got to leave it to him to sort out at the end.

That’s what the visible and invisible distinction is about, not that there are two churches, but that the visible community includes fakes and God knows who they are.

The vessels of dishonour Paul is talking about and telling us to steer clear of if we can are churchgoers who are not true children of God, and they include false teachers and false prophets. But even these ones are not without hope. The opportunity is always there for them to get saved and step up and become vessels of honour.

That’s the difference between vessels of honour and vessels of dishonour, now we will look at how vessels of honour, which most of us are, can maximise our usefulness to God.

3. 2nd key to being useful – we need to be handy

One Saturday I went shopping with a friend. When we got to the shops it was fine and sunny but when we came out of the supermarket, which was our last port of call, it was pouring with rain. I knew this was the forecast so I had put two umbrellas in the car, but seeing it was dry and sunny when we began our shopping I had left them both in there. They were useful but at that time they were actually useless because they weren’t handy when I needed them.

Handy means nearby, close, and our usefulness to God is limited if we’re not close. What does it mean to be close to God? It means we love him, we have a two way relationship with him and we spend time in his presence. We know that on a human level closeness is more than physical proximity, it’s also about having an intimate relationship. A husband and wife who live under the same roof are not necessarily close. Closeness requires communication. We communicate with God by talking to Him and listening to Him through prayer and really engaging with the Bible, which is his word. Being near to God takes effort in the same way that closeness in a marriage takes effort, it doesn’t just happen.

Jeremiah 30:21
...I will bring him near and he will come close to me, for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?’ declares the Lord.

We have to devote ourselves to being close to God.

John 15:5
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

Abiding in the vine is all about devotion. To abide means to remain in fellowship with Jesus in such a way that his life can flow through us and produce fruit. We even call our communication with God our devotional life. And think about being a devoted son or daughter, that kind of relationship involves living in obedience. In a nutshell, abiding is doing everything we can to stay in a vital connection with Jesus and not letting anything come between us. This is so important because we can’t be fruitful, or productive, or useful, if we’re not abiding – and we all want to be all of the above.

John Maxwell tells this story about a psychologist who was trying to show that people want to be productive. As part of his research he hired a logger, that’s a person who chops trees down, and he said, ‘I’ll pay you double what you normally get paid if you use the blunt edge of this axe to pound on this log all day long. Do it as hard as you can, just as if you were logging and you were really chopping it’.

So for double his normal wages the logger starting hitting the log with the blunt edge of the axe. He worked for half a day, then he quit. Of course the researcher wanted to know why. The logger told him, because every time I move an axe I have to see the chips fly, this is no fun. Why – because we want to be useful, we want to see the chips fly, we want to feel like something’s happening and we’re being productive and fruitful.

Another key to being handy or close to God, which I’ve mentioned, is to keep our lives clean.

James 4:8
Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Wash your hands is talking about our outward behavior while purifying our hearts is the inside job, our thoughts and motives. A double minded man is one who has divided his allegiance, usually between God and the world, and of course the two don’t mix.

To get near to God requires His cleansing – we’re looking at vessels of honour now, we all know that even born-again Christians still have ongoing struggles with sin and addictions and so on, and we have to keep cleansing ourselves, and do our best to resist temptation and deal with sin.

1 John 1:9 (Written to Christians)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

We need to keep short accounts with God so that we can be clean and useful. It doesn’t make sense that a person who’s living an immoral life can’t help someone else to stop living an immoral life. Even if their immorality is the best kept secret in the world they will lack the power to help or the authority to back up their words. Of course it happens, but an unclean person doing God’s work can do a lot of damage. The blind cannot lead the blind.

The Bible tells us how senseless it is for an unclean person to try and correct someone else in:-

Matthew 7:3-5
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

But when James says “purify your hearts”, he doesn’t mean we have the power to deal with our own sins or to cleanse our own lives. We know we can’t do that. He means we have the responsibility to use the cleansing tools that God has provided. Say we put our rubbish out and someone’s dog ripped it open and left a horrible big stinky mess all over our berm, which we cleaned up with our bare hands. Afterwards we’d go into the bathroom and we’d get to work with hot water, soap, and a nail brush, and we’d scrub and clean and rinse our hands then we’d dry them thoroughly, and finally we’d go and make ourselves a well-deserved cup of coffee. We could say, I’ve cleaned my hands – and yes, we did, but without the water and the soap and the nail brush it wouldn’t happen. Our part was to apply the cleaning agents, and that is even more the case when it comes to getting our hearts clean.

Hebrews 9:22
The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

God gives us the means – the blood of Jesus - but we have to apply it by faith, by trusting in what he did for us on the cross, by confession of sin, repentance, and receiving forgiveness. Of course to start in square one we need to be born-again, and if any of you have never made the step of asking Jesus to come into your heart and to be your Lord and Saviour there will be an opportunity to make that commitment at the end of this service and we would all urge you to take that step.

One of the essential criteria for a vessel to be useful to God is that it must be clean. In God's economy even if someone is very intelligent and talented, if they’re not clean, then they’re not fit for the Master’s use. But the good news is that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from every sin. People can, and do, change, changing lives is God’s business, and he’s always ready to forgive us and give us another chance.

4. 3rd key to being useful - we must be willing vessels

We need to have a heart that is willing to serve God. Most of us know from situations at work, or at home, what a pain it is to have an unwilling worker who complains every time they’re asked to do something. We’d actually have to be pretty desperate to use a vessel if it moans and groans all the way. Availability includes being willing to work, and even willing to be interrupted, or put out, at times.

When God created Adam He gave him a free will and He gave Him a job to do. God respects our free will. The creator doesn’t want to force His creation to serve Him or to love Him. Serving and loving God are voluntary. We need to be ready and willing to work.

Nehemiah 3:5
The next section (of the wall) was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.

How awful to have that written about you. Everybody in Jerusalem, and even some from the surrounding areas were doing their bit to get the wall rebuilt, except these nobles of Tekoa, who somehow got the idea that they were exempt. Well, all it got them was a clear record of their laziness, their self-indulgence, and their lack of team spirit in the Bible of all books, God’s word that will remain forever. To opt out of working like that was to go right against what God was doing in their day, and right against God’s purpose in giving man a job to do. The Bible has a lot to say about laziness and it’s all bad.

5. Moving on – if we want to be useful it’s not helpful to think, I have nothing or I can’t do anything.

Some Christians don’t recognise their usefulness because they have a mind-set that they don’t have any particular gifts or skills, or they have a problem that holds them back from doing anything, or they don’t have anything to offer. ‘I have nothing’, they say, but it’s not true.

2 Kings 4:1-2
The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a little oil”.

Did you get the first words that came out of the widow’s mouth? “Your servant has nothing there at all.” I have nothing, that’s so typical, so common, and usually so untrue. Sure, that poor widow was in dire straits, but she did have a little bit of oil, and that was the key to her miracle. God multiplied her little bit of oil until there was enough for her to sell and she used the proceeds to pay off her debts and keep her sons from being taken from her into slavery. How often do we look at ourselves or our situation and say, ‘I have nothing’, when we should be asking God, ‘what do I have to put at your disposal? What do I have that I can use for you’?

John 15 makes it clear that when it comes to being useful to God, Jesus is the source of our power – we’re not left to just our own resources – how can we say ‘I have nothing’, when God is our source and supply?

A boys lunch of 5 barley loaves and two fish, placed in the hands of Jesus, was multiplied until it fed 5000 men as well as the women and children who were with them – our little can go a long way when Jesus gets involved.
Don’t think, I’ve got nothing to give, I can’t do anything, haven’t got any skills or talents, and so on. You do, the Bible makes it clear that we have all been given at least one talent, we all have a contribution to make, in the home, in the workplace and in the church.

6. Conclusion

Someone wrote this little paragraph – I’ve made a few changes.

Noah got drunk, Abraham was too old, Jeremiah and Timothy were too young, Jacob was a liar and a deceiver, Leah was unattractive, Joseph was abused, falsely accused - you name it! Moses had a speech problem, Gideon was fearful, Samson was a womanizer, Rahab was a prostitute, David was an adulterer and a murderer, Elijah was suicidal, Jonah ran away from God, Naomi was a widow, Job went bankrupt, Peter denied he knew Jesus, the disciples fell asleep when they were supposed to be praying, Martha worried about everything, the Samaritan woman was divorced, Zacchaeus was too short, Paul was too religious, and Lazarus was dead. So, what’s your problem?

Charlotte Gambill is a well-known pastor in England, Jodi showed a clip of her preaching from her treadmill, in the ladies service - before she became a pastor she worked in an employment agency. One Friday evening she was just about to close the office when the phone rang. It was one of their major clients, desperate for someone to do a packing job the next morning. She felt a bit annoyed because she wanted to get home and she knew all the people they normally called for this kind of job had been assigned somewhere for the weekend. She quickly rummaged through the filing cabinet and came across the file of a young man she hadn’t contacted before. She was in a real hurry so she didn’t bother to read the info sheet, she just rang him and asked if he could do that particular job in the morning. He very enthusiastically said yes, he could it, and yes, he’d be there.

The following week she phoned the client to see how things had worked out. The client said the young man had presented them with a real challenge. Was he late she asked? Did he work hard? No he wasn’t late the client said, and He was the best worker you’ve sent us, we were just shocked to see someone with his disabilities turning up for a packing job.

In her rush to get out of the office Charlotte Gambill had not read the part of the file that mentioned the man had been born with no arms. Only then did she realise why his file had been left in the cabinet. However the story had a happy ending. That young man packaged twice as fast with his feet as others did with their hands and this mistake turned into a great opportunity for him because the next time that company needed a permanent employee he got the job.

We’re all imperfect human beings, but we all have a talent, or talents. God has given each one of us something to do and it’s really important that we discover what it is, develop it, and use it for the good of all, and all includes us, this is good for us too.

We can all do something.


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