2 Timothy 3:1-9
Vessels of Dishonorable Use
We spoke yesterday of the vessels for honorable use, vessels “useful to the Master of the house, ready for every good work.” Today, we take up the vessels dishonorable. We also noted that the vessels for honorable use are honorable because they have repented and seek to walk with the Lord in holiness. They have fled youthful lusts and passions and have embraced righteousness, faith, love, and peace. But the vessels of dishonorable use are not so; they have not fled youthful passions and prefer to follow their pleasures rather than godliness.
So the Apostle provides us with a list that details the sinful nature and actions of such vessels. It’s a fairly exhaustive list. What troubles us is that we see ourselves in not a few of these descriptions. This is to be expected of people pursuing godliness. It is the knowledge of our sins and our lack of purity of heart which make us cringe when we read this list. It is good that we should be so humbled, confess our sins, and receive forgiveness and reassure our hearts before Him (1 John 3:19-24). But what the Apostle describes here are those for whom these sins are a state of being and out of which they live. And when in the church, they invariably have an appearance of godliness but deny its power—by not repenting and pursuing godliness. This is why I said yesterday, there is no godliness without repentance, no holiness without crucifying our passions.
So what else do these people do? They tend to prey on the weak and unsuspecting, in this case women, perhaps the young and widowed. These charlatans worm their way into their houses, minds, and hearts with motives matching their passions, pretending to teach them religion while wanting to defile their bodies, or at least lead them down the same path to hell on which travel, thus proving that their ascetical and religious ways were only cover for hypocrisy and lies. What marks these out (both they and their victims) is that though they are forever talking, forever disputing, forever quarreling, forever “learning,” they are “never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth,” and this is because they never repented their evil deeds.
Paul uses Jannes and Jambres as examples of those who oppose the truth but whose folly is eventually manifest before everyone (1 Timothy 5:24). In the end, vessels of dishonor crash upon the wheel of truth and are shown for the useless pots they were. May God’s people be ever examining themselves and pursuing godliness that they may be the useful vessels God desires.
We have in verse eight the mention of “Jannes and Jambres [who] opposed Moses.” It happened in later Jewish oral tradition and literature (Targum of Jonathan and Talmud and other sources now lost), that names were given to two of the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses when he went to Pharaoh saying, “Let my people go!” These are the magicians recorded in Exodus who copied Moses’ miracles and foolishly increased the plagues in the land. But there came the time when they could mimic Moses’ miracles no longer and declared, “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 7:1-8:18). The names for these two magicians were well-known by the first century and had become a part of the tradition. That Paul should refer to them as examples of useless vessels should not surprise us as they were pagans counseling a pagan king in their pagan religion. Did Paul accept them as the given names of two of the magicians who stood against Moses? If he did, he certainly knew that the names were a matter of Jewish tradition and not Scripture, and I seriously doubt he would have argued the point given that quarreling over such a trivial question (that is, if these were the actual names) would have been to engage in the very behavior he was condemning among the false teachers with whom Timothy was contending in Ephesus. To sum, Paul simply used the account of the magicians opposing Moses in Exodus to show the relationship between them and the false teachers. That he used the names provided for two of them in Jewish tradition made his comparison more vivid to Timothy and other readers of the letter.