I’m generally not known for keeping quiet. I’ve been told that even if I manage to hold my tongue and not say what’s on my mind, my facial expressions still give my every thought away. It’s whatever. I’ve made peace with it. I’ll never be a professional poker player, but also you don’t have to worry what I’m really thinking. Usually, you’ll know. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.
Truthfully, though, you’d be surprised how many times I’ve kept my mouth shut and not spoken up. Sometimes, that’s been a good thing — because really, nobody needs a front row seat to every thought that floats through my mind. Can you even imagine?
Sometimes, though, it isn’t a good thing. Sometimes, I’ve deeply regretted keeping quiet.
One of those times was about eight years ago. I was in a room filled with people, and I chose being polite and nice and well-behaved instead of speaking up for truth. And I still think about it often with regret.
I’d been invited to speak at a youth conference at a local Baptist church. Of course, I wasn’t the keynote speaker; I was speaking in a tiny Sunday school classroom at one of the breakout sessions – because I’m a woman. Anyway, that’s another topic for another day.
After my breakout session, I sat in the main sanctuary to listen to the keynote speaker’s message. The pews were filled with teenagers. Some of them had been raised in church and were there because they really wanted to hear the messages and grow in their faith. Some were there because they wanted to go tubing down the river later, so they were enduring the mandatory sermons first.
I listened as the speaker read some verses taken out of context from 2 Timothy, chapter 2 in the KJV: “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 honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
And then he preached. With great animation and zeal, he preached to those teenagers. “Do you want to be an honorable vessel? Or do you want to be a dishonor? Do you want to be a vessel God can use? Or do you want to be put on a shelf, hidden away because you’re a dishonor to God?”
Loudly. Passionately. He told those kids that God will only use you if you purify yourself. If you run from youthful lusts. If you make yourself clean. Otherwise, God will put you on a shelf, hidden away because of your dishonor.
I was sitting behind and off to the side. I could see the shoulders begin to slump as some of those kids took in his words and believed they weren’t good enough to be used by God, as they believed they weren’t honorable enough to be useful to God. I could see their body language change as they realized this man was saying they were hidden on a back shelf in God’s pantry, not fit for anything good.
Well, first of all – this man was not reading and interpreting this passage of scripture well at all. There are so many flaws in his exegesis, but I’ll focus on this one matter for now. This passage isn’t about remaining “pure” in any sort of sexual way. But too often, that seems to be the only way the conservative evangelical church can think of purity and honor and young people – in a sexual sense. No, the sin Paul keeps mentioning is the quibbling about trivial matters, bickering about semantics, and focusing more on persuasive techniques than about expressing real truth. He’s talking about people who want to be teachers without truly understanding what they’re teaching (chapter 1, verse 7).
It’s ironic really — this speaker set himself up as a teacher, but he yanked Bible verses out of context to try to make them mean what he wanted to yell at kids about. As he tried to shame these teenagers into thinking God wouldn’t use them if they didn’t meet a particular list of rules, he was really demonstrating what this passage is actually about. Chapter 2, verse 14 says, “warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.”
Next, has this guy ever read the Bible before? Was he actually trying to convince us that God won’t use people unless they keep themselves pure and clean and good? We could go chapter by chapter throughout the entire Bible and see all the people God uses that this guy wouldn’t consider “clean enough” or “honorable enough.”
But I’ll limit myself to one example — Rahab. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. You can read her story in the book of Joshua. When God sent Jewish spies to Jericho, they met Rahab and stayed with her. When the king of Jericho hears the spies are in town and sets out looking for them, Rahab hides the spies, throws the authorities off their trail, and tells them how to escape. She was a prostitute. A. Prostitute. And she was used by God. Not IN SPITE OF being a prostitute. No. She was particularly useful in this situation BECAUSE she was a prostitute.
God absolutely uses anyone and everyone. And God specializes in weaving every detail – “honorable” or not – into goodness for us and for others.
God did not deem Rahab dishonorable and put her on a back shelf in a closet. God did exactly the opposite of that!
And I wish I had stood up in that church auditorium that afternoon and interrupted this man’s message and shouted to the teeangers — These are lies from Hell! This man wants to be a teacher and doesn’t understand what he’s teaching or making assertions about. He’s the dishonorable vessel in this passage! You are not! God loves you. God knows everything about you and wildly, relentlessly loves you! You are honorable because God loves you. God makes you honorable. This entire passage is about relying on the grace of Jesus and believing in Jesus’ power to resurrect, to bring back to life. It isn’t about following lists of rules to try to be clean enough to impress God and be a useful container for God. God isn’t ashamed of you. God loves you.
I didn’t say all of that to a room full of teenagers on that hot summer Saturday eight years ago. I was too polite to stand up and interrupt. And I regret that because I fear this man’s teaching “did no good, but only ruined those who were listening.” I fear his sermon pushed some of those teenagers away from God, making them feel worthless and hopeless.
I can’t go back and change eight years ago, but I’m saying this today. To you.
God loves you. God knows everything you’ve done and exactly who you are. And God loves you. God will use you for good – not in spite of who you are and what you’ve done, but because of who you are and what you’ve done. That’s who God is. That’s what God does.
My friends, nobody puts Baby in a corner. And nobody puts you on a shelf. You are a beautiful, honorable, special vessel. God’s love and God’s grace surround you and spill onto and into you. You are of great value. This is the good news, the gospel.