It is common knowledge that we are God’s people. In the words of the Psalmist, He (God) created us and not we ourselves (Psalms 100:3). This means that man is a creature of God who is the creator. Christians also readily appreciate the symbolism of sonship where God is the father and we are his sons. But there is another important symbolism in the Bible that we need to consider – that of the vessels of God.
What are “Vessels of God”?
The Bible uses the metaphor of vessels to denote the relationship between God and man. Specifically, humans are considered vessels of God because they can be used to display God’s grace, power, and purpose. To be a vessel of God is to be a servant of God ready and willing to be used by God for his purpose.
Origin of the Phrase “Vessels of God”
The phrase “vessels of God” can be traced back to ancient times when kings had special vessels made of gold, bronze, and silver. These vessels were designed for the kings’ service and they were symbols of royalty. These vessels were reserved for significant and sacred purposes, including religious ceremonies and royal banquets.
There are several illustrations from scripture of vessels that were used for royal and sacred purposes. For instance, in Daniel 5:2-3, we see the story of how King Belshazzar used the holy vessels that he took from the temple at Jerusalem for a profane feast. This attracted judgment from God who wrote a mysterious message on his wall that signified his looming doom.
Another illustration of sacred vessels can be found in 2 Chronicles 36:18. This scripture narrates how Babylonians invaded Jerusalem where they “burned the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels.”
These Biblical examples serve to demonstrate the significance of precious vessels in Old Testament times. From this symbolism, the term “vessel of God” was derived to illustrate the importance of individuals availing their livelihoods to the ministry.
Vessels of God in the Bible
As we have already established, the Bible often uses the term vessels of God to refer to people who are given the work of ministry. There are different contexts of the phrase in the Bible which brings out different meanings/characteristics of the vessels of God. Here are some of the uses/meanings of the phrase “vessels of God.”
The vessels that were used in the temple were considered sacred. They were not to be used for any other purpose failure to which would attract judgment. As such, the metaphor of vessels of God requires that we be holy and set apart for God. In his epistle to Timothy, Paul reminds the church of the importance of living a holy life as God’s vessel. Check it out;
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. 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. 2 Timothy 2:20-21
The main idea in the above scripture is that holy vessels are used for noble purposes while those that are not are used for dishonor. All of us have the potential to become vessels of honor in God’s service. To achieve this status, we must cleanse ourselves from worldly influences and dedicate ourselves to God’s purposes. When we do this, we become sanctified and useful instruments for God’s work.
Paul emphasizes this truth in his Epistle to the Thessalonians. Here is what he says:
For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
In this scripture, Paul alludes to the fact that our entire bodies are vessels of God. He then admonishes that everyone should possess their vessels (bodies and souls) in sanctification and honor. By doing so, we demonstrate obedience to God’s will and set ourselves apart from the ways of the world.
Even though we are called to be holy vessels that are set apart for God, the Scripture does not ignore the fact that we are human. Paul uses the phrase earthen vessels to illustrate this point.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Corinthians 4:7
The term earthen vessel is a metaphor that points to the human nature that is fragile and imperfect. The contrast, however, is that even though human, we have the privilege of carrying God’s power and presence. This verse reminds us that our limitations highlight God’s excellence and glory when He works through us.
The concept of earthen vessels is meant to be a reminder that anything that God does through us is a testament to his power and not ours. For we are just vessels that God uses to perform his work. Knowing this not only humbles us but also reminds us to always give glory to God for all his great works.
Vessels Made by God
In Romans 9, we are reminded that we are vessels that were made and designed by God for his unique purpose.
Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? Romans 9:21
In writing the above scripture, Paul must have drawn inspiration from the scripture in Jeremiah 18 where the prophet was taken into the Potter’s house. At the potter’s house, God reveals to Jeremiah how the clay cooperates with the potter to be fashioned into whatever he desires. Similarly, God expects his children to be flexible in His hands so that he can fashion them as he pleases.
The metaphor of humans as vessels would be incomplete without that of God as the potter – for he is the one that shapes us into what he wants us to be. Just as a potter can reshape a marred vessel, God has the power to transform and mold our lives according to His divine plan. It underscores God’s sovereignty and His ability to work with us despite our flaws.
To sum it up, vessels of God refer to the relationship between man and God. In this relationship, man is the vessel while God is the potter. The Bible calls us to be vessels of honor which can only be attained through leading a sanctified life. When we do this, we will be ready to be used by God for his holy assignment(s) on earth.