One item that I enjoy in life is a good cup of tea. Whenever I travel, you can be sure I have a supply of teabags in my case. I have sipped tea from throw-away paper, foam and plastic cups, from earthenware mugs, and from glass and porcelain cups. I have even sipped tea from the finest bone-china cup, complete with crooked little finger in the proper English manner. While I like a nice cup on a saucer to drink from, it is the tea that is important–“Darjeerling, with milk and half a sugar, please”. My wife has been known to change the brand on me just to see if I notice, and of course I do!
Often at the close of a teaching session, when I announce that refreshments are available, I will say, “Tea for the Christians, coffee for the rest!” Of course I’m only kidding, but it’s what is in the cup that satisfies the saints. Each container from which I have sipped tea had some intrinsic value, but it’s the liquid it contained that I enjoyed. Now, what has tea drinking got to do with God’s positive principles? The simple truth of the Word is that all humans are containers of a deity nature, and like a glass cup the container directly reveals or expresses the contents.
The first picture the church epistles gives us is that of vessels, in other words, cups, jars, flasks, et cetera. “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery [vessels, KJV] for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:21). The context has to do with people (see verse 20). The same Greek word is used throughout the verses quoted here, and the NIV translates the figure of a vessel in the light of the various contexts. In verse 21 we read of vessels for noble purposes and vessels for common use. The illustration continues in the next two verses: “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects [vessels, KJV] of his wrath–prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects [vessels, KJV] of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory” (Romans 9:22-23).
Here we have “vessels of wrath” (KJV) and “vessels of mercy”. We are either one or the other. “The vessel of wrath… is a container of the god by whom we experience wrath, and the vessel of mercy of Him by whom we receive mercy” (Norman Grubb). The “vessels of wrath” are the unsaved, and “the vessels of mercy” are the believers. While there may or may not be differences in the outward appearance of the vessel, what is important is the nature of what it contains–which could range from the finest wine to the water in which the dishes were washed.
“In a large house there are articles [vessels, KJV] not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument [vessels, KJV] for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (II Timothy 2:20-21). This statement is similar to that in Romans chapter 9, giving two groupings of vessels: those for noble purposes and those for common use (ignoble purposes).
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay [earthen vessels, KJV] to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). Again the truth is evident that we are merely vessels and can only demonstrate the contents we contain. The vessel has no meaning apart from the liquid it contains. This verse rightly describes our physical bodies (on which we lavish so much time and expense) as just jars of clay. The important issue is not how we decorate the jar but that we have resident within us “this all-surpassing power [of] God”.
“That each of you should learn to control his own body [vessel, KJV] in a way that is holy and honorable” (I Thessalonians 4:4). Again, the human body is described as a vessel. Here we learn that each of us has responsibility over the vessel, so no one can say, “The devil made me do it!” The context of the chapter is “how to live in order to please God” (verse 1).
“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner [vessel, KJV] and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (I Peter 3:7). Husbands and wives are described as vessels, the wife being the physically weaker, more delicate, beautiful vessel. All the above Bible verses teach the principle of vessels, that both saved and unsaved are containers and all have responsibility for their vessel.
Another descriptive term is that of a temple, and there are two kinds of temples in Bible terms. “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: `I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people'” (II Corinthians 6:16). “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16).
The important thing about a temple is not the architecture or the ornate decoration but the deity who dwells there and reveals His presence there. In the Old Testament, the tabernacle and later the temple was the place where God revealed Himself to His people. Believers are described in the two verses above as “God’s temple” and “the temple of the living God”, for the temple has no nature of its own but only that of the deity it contains.
Most Bible students are familiar with the description of believers being members of the Body of Christ. “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part [members, KJV] of it” (I Corinthians 12:14,27). The context of these verses clearly makes the point that the various parts of the body are not separate units, but they take their instructions from the mind and will of the head. They are, in fact, agents of the occupier, the person that inhabits the body.
“And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (Colossians 1:18). The church, and all believers as comprising the Church universal, are to take their instructions from the Head of the Body, Christ Jesus.
Yet another picture of people is given by the word “slave”, sometimes translated “servant”. “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey–whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:16-18).
Notice the two kinds of slaves: slaves to sin and slaves to righteousness, or slaves to Satan and slaves to God. Slaves have no independent life of their own, but exist only to carry out the will of the owner. They are merely the property of the owner, agents of the owner.
A little known picture of people in the Word is that of wives. “For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage… So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong [be married, KJV] to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the [flesh], the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death” (Romans 7:2,4-5).
All humans belong to one husband or another, and in this passage the emphasis is on the fruit-bearing aspect of the relationship. The wife is the fruit bearer, not the fruit producer. The husband supplies the seed and the wife bears the husband’s children. Before we became Christians “we bore fruit for death”; now that we belong to Christ we “bear fruit to God”.
The final picture I want to share with you is that of the branches and the vine, from the teachings of Jesus in John 15. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
The branch is merely a part of the vine and has no separate life or nature of its own. It obtains all its sustenance from the vine and expresses the nature of the vine by bearing fruit. Verse 6 speaks of the branch that is separated from the vine and “… is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned”. “I am the true vine…” (verse 1) implies that there is a false vine, also bearing fruit. The true vine bears God-like fruit; the false vine must therefore bear Satan-like fruit.
Romans 11:16-24 also speaks of vines and branches. Note this statement in verse 18, “You do not support the root, but the root supports you.”
Vessels, temples, body members, slaves, wives, branches–and other figures in the Word–all teach that we are containers who achieve meaning in life by expressing the contents of the owner and occupier.
Copyright © 1998 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/.
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