v. 19. Nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
v. 20. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor and some to dishonor.
v. 21. If a man, therefore, purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work.
There are two thoughts that stand out in the connection between this section and the preceding one. For one thing, Paul wanted to show that the Word of God stands firm against all error, and in the second place, he wanted to expose the methods of the errorists. To warn against carnal security and to encourage true sanctification, that was his purpose. It is a great comfort to the believers: Truly the solid foundation of God stands secure, having this seal: The Lord knows those that are His; and: Let every one that mentions the name of the Lord refrain from unrighteousness. God Himself has laid a foundation here on earth, and that foundation of God remains secure, it stands firm against all attacks. His holy Church is built upon Christ as the Rock of Ages, and all attempts of the enemies to overthrow this Church have failed and must fail. A person, therefore, that deliberately denies a fundamental doctrine of the Christian truth thereby places himself outside of the pale of Christianity, whether he be a hearer or a teacher. But whenever such sad cases occur, the edifice of the Church itself remains unmoved, firm, and secure, Mat_16:18; Eph_2:19-22; 1Co_3:1-23; 1Co_9:1-27; 1Co_10:1-33; 1Co_11:1-34; 1Co_12:1-31. One or more individual stones or whole companies may fall away, but the City of God shall not be moved, For the seal or inscription of the foundation is: The Lord knows them that are His. This fact is our security, our guaranty for the everlasting firmness of the Church. Since it does not depend upon men's ideas and efforts, but only upon the mercy of God if a person is accepted into the Church as a living stone, therefore the structure is safe. But since these persons are known only to Him, since His merciful knowledge has brought them to the acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Savior, therefore He will use all care to keep them steadfast in is Word and faith until the end. The second inscription of the seal brings out this warning with double force. Every person that has mentioned or named the name of Christ as His Savior and Lord thereby has placed himself under the obligation to refrain from all unrighteousness. If he should again indulge in unrighteousness in any form, if he should in any way become guilty of godlessness, he would thereby deny the truth and its holy Author and lose his position in the Church. While a Christian thus, on the one hand, is fully certain of the grace of God in Christ Jesus and never for a moment has a doubt concerning his soul's salvation, he, on the other hand, is very careful not to yield to the false comfort, as though the conversion which he has once experienced were an absolute guaranty for his obtaining eternal life.
Timothy might now have the idea that it was an easy matter to decide who had the true faith in his heart, and that therefore a congregation might act very quickly. To meet this possibility, Paul adds a short explanation in the form of a parable: But in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also of wood and of clay, and some to honor, some, however, to dishonor. In order to represent the Church of Christ as it appears in this world, the apostle uses the picture of the vessels in a large household, the various dishes, articles of furniture, tools and instruments, etc. He wants to show how the various members of the so-called visible Church are to be judged, so far as gifts and moral condition are concerned. In doing this, he divides the vessels into two groups. In the first group the apostle shows the contrast between the richly and the poorly endowed Christians, between such as have a high degree of courageous faith and such as are like a broken reed or a smoking flax. This distinction is found also in other passages of Scripture, Mat_13:23; 1Co_12:14-27. The second group named by St. Paul presents a parallel to Rom_9:22; for here we have the contrast between such as have an honorable and such as have a dishonorable purpose. Through the unmerited grace and mercy of God certain Christians attain to honor and glory, others, through their own fault, are doomed to dishonor, disgrace, and destruction. For them the Word of God is a savor of death unto death, 2Co_2:16. So far as the application of the entire verse is concerned, it presents no great difficulties. We have not only a Paul in the Church, but also an Ananias, not only a Barnabas, but also a John Mark, not only an elder with a rich fund of Christian knowledge, but also a simple mother that clings to the Catechism truths. On the other hand, it is true also that there are, by the side of the true and faithful Christians, also such as are Christians in name only, hypocrites and errorists. It behooves the leader of the congregation, therefore, the pastor, to be very careful in forming judgments, lest he do someone a bitter wrong by hasty conclusions.
The apostle himself makes the application of his precept: If one will only keep himself unspotted from the latter, he will be a vessel unto honor, consecrated, altogether meet for the Master's use, ready unto every good work. This is not written for Timothy's personal information only, but is intended to serve as a guide for all times. If the vessels unto dishonor become manifest as such, then it is the duty of every one to separate himself from such, of course, after the steps of admonition have been observed. Every person preserving his Christian integrity in this manner would be judged accordingly, as a true vessel unto honor. He will be like one of the Old Testament Temple vessels, consecrated to the Lord. His entire life and conduct will serve for the honor of the Lord, for the hallowing of His name. Such a person will in truth be a member of the holy nation of the Lord, the Lord Himself revealing His holiness in him. Such a Christian will be ready and willing for the performance of every good work, and therefore of the greatest usefulness to the Lord. This continual purging should take place in the so-called visible Church at all times, lest the dross remain mixed with the gold, even in the eyes of men. Upon the last great day the final separation of the wheat and the chaff will take place.