Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy while imprisoned in Rome. His life was nearly at an end, but more importantly, he knew that his work was done: For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.
With some understanding of the language of scripture and the Old Testament symbols we can see the picture of Paul’s whole life being an offering to God, a vessel ‘poured out’. Earlier in the letter he uses similar language describing those who likewise belong to the Lord: a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. 2 Tim 2:21. Scripture is full of symbols like this ‘vessel’.
A vessel is made by a craftsman for a specific use, whether it be a cup, a jug, or a bowl. The Master Craftsman made us to be vessels of his life and for his specific use. Knowing that God made us and wants his life to dwell in us is a marvelous truth. But how does it work?
Is it just about receiving blessing from God and being thankful? That would certainly be a good start, but what is our ‘use’ to the Master? How is his life to come alive in us? The answer is found as we move beyond being mere recipients of God’s unmerited favour, to being participants with him in the impartation of his life. Here is a key.
His life is gained when you give it away. A vessel is for pouring out. We read in Paul’s letter to the Philippians that God the Son emptied himself, not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped.
In 2 Corinthians 8:9 Paul describes the grace of Christ this way, though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. This is the way of God. This is how his grace comes to us. He pours it out. He gives grace to the humble, but opposes the proud. The proud person cannot receive anything from God – they are a vessel ‘full’. But by his grace we can empty ourselves.
In so doing we become vessels fit for his use. He pours in grace, and we pour it out toward another. Consider again the apostle Paul who was a man excelling in ability beyond his peers. When the Lord broke in upon him he began to learn the secret of being poured out for others. He changed completely from being a vessel full, to being a vessel emptied. What Jesus had said became his reality:
My strength is made perfect in weakness.
Paul learned this secret and saw the grace of God spread to many. In our day, the Lord wants to pour out his grace beyond measure. Can we learn the secret of being empty so that his grace is poured out and spreads to many? Then we can testify with the apostle Paul, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.