20 Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.
Paul reminds us that there will always be a mixture of good and bad. As a group of people grows (in any context) there is going to be some who go against the grain of the group; the same occurs in the church body. I believe this is something we need to keep in mind.
I think it is easy for us to have unrealistic expectations of “church goers”. Our society has built up religion and religious organizations as being a group of self-pious and perfectionist people. In this church body that Paul is addressing, that isn’t the case at all. Rather, he is warning Timothy that the congregations will in fact not be perfect because they are human. He is encouraging Timothy to lead in a way that provides the cleansing and correcting of those who are acting contrary to what they claim to believe. Paul instructs many of the churches to take care of one another by pointing out hypocrisy and helping others cleanse themselves of it. He talks often of correcting others in brotherly love and extinguishing behavior that is not Christlike.
We need to keep this in mind as we participate in our own church congregations. Maybe we don’t like what the preacher is teaching. Maybe we frown upon the actions of others who we expect to live a holy and clean life. However, we need to realize that none of us are perfect, even those we expect to be. Paul encourages us to cleanse ourselves here, so that we can be effective in the Kingdom of God. I don’t think Paul is insinuating that we need to avoid such people, but rather to constantly perform a “heart check” to make sure we are not one who is acting contrary to what we profess.
Are you quick to point the finger? Do you shake your head in disdain at others or do you use it as an opportunity to check yourself and examine your own actions? Sanctification is a constant process and Paul presents us with an opportunity here to continue it. How will you respond?