Question & Answer Forum: Assembly Issues

What is the “great house” of 2 Timothy 2:20? Does it mean I need to separate from believers in my own assembly who I think are “unclean vessels?”

The assembly is called “house of God” in 1 Timothy 3:15. However, in 2 Timothy 2:20, the “great house” is simply an illustration of any house in Ephesus where vessels of gold and silver, wood and earth could be found. Paul has used other illustrations in this chapter. In verse 3 he speaks of a soldier, in verse 5 he uses the figure of an athlete, and in verse 6 that of a farmer. Verse 21 must be understood in the context of verses 16-19.

Two men are singled out in verse 17, Hymenaeus and Philetus. They were guilty of the denial of fundamental doctrine. They erroneously asserted that the resurrection of believers is past; as a consequence they were upsetting and overturning the faith of genuine believers. Paul responds to these fears by giving assurance that “the foundation of God stands.” This could be a specific reference to the foundation of God in regard to resurrection (v18). It is more likely a general principle; that in contrast to evil men and their false doctrine, God’s truth will stand. Verse 19 makes clear that God has given His seal which denotes both the security and authenticity of His own. What is of God will stand because the Lord knows them that are His, and all who profess to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ in their lives, will prove their reality by departing from iniquity.

In verse 20, it is not the value or ability of the vessels which is being contrasted. The principle is simply being stated, that if we hope to be used by God, there is only one requirement and that is purity. It is possible, theoretically, that I could be a vessel of gold, but if I am unclean, I cannot be used by God. This will mean that we will need to “purge ourselves from these,” a clear reference to the false teachers of verse 17. As God’s people we need to maintain separation from anything which will defile us. Notice, Timothy is told to “shun”(v16), “depart” (v 19), “purge” (v21), and “flee” (v22).

In summary, this verse is not teaching separation from fellow believers in assembly fellowship, who we have judged to be unclean. If moral or doctrinal evil is manifested in the lives of believers, godly overseers will indicate this to the assembly and discipline will be carried out. This verse is much wider in its teaching and gives clear direction about principles of fellowship. I am to disassociate myself from those who hold and practice wrong doctrine.

John Meekin

What is the significance of the expression in 1 Corinthians 5:11, “With such an one, No not to eat”? Is this just a meal or is it something broader?

It is sadly evident that there was a member of the Corinthian assembly engaged in sin “such as is not so much as named among the Gentiles.”

The apostle teaches them that such conduct “without” in the world, is left to the “judgment of God,” but such conduct “within,” must be dealt with by the assembly. Such an one must be “put away,” that is put out of the fellowship. The sin will already have put the person out of fellowship with the Lord. The believers are “not to keep company,” “not to eat” with one “called a brother” who is “a fornicator, covetous, idolater, railer, drunkard or extortioner.”

There is a threefold reason for such action by the assembly.

1. The purity of the house of God.

2. The preservation of the people of God.

3. The restoration of the child of God.

The phrases “not to keep company” and “not to eat” must be seen as broader than the breaking of bread or even sharing a common meal. It is a denial of personal social fellowship with the person in question.

To “keep company” with a person engaged in such sins would be a disregard for the principles of God. Others would see it as condoning the sin being committed. It would further be undermining the intent of the discipline of the assembly and hindering restoration.

The principle is broader even than the assembly action. How can a believer be seen as a friend or companion of one who professes and so dishonors the name of the Lord? We must separate ourselves from the sin and the sinning one. The passage is clear that this is not isolation from the world, but rather separation from the one who professes Christ and lives in such a way.

Gordon Williams

What should our relationship be with someone under assembly discipline, especially if they show no sign of repentance? Is it wrong to shake their hand if we see them in a store or mall?

The Corinthian believers had a wrong attitude towards the sin amongst them; they should have mourned. We also must be careful of our attitude toward those under discipline. As believers we should never be unfriendly nor avoid meeting the person; a kind greeting, even a question of concern as to family or work could help rather than hinder restoration. However we must be conscious of the discipline and its purpose. Leave them with the thought that they are being prayed for.

Gordon Williams