The Bible devotes a surprising amount of attention to vessels – plates, forks, bowls, pots, pans, and snuffers. One long and repetitive chapter of Numbers describes a 12-day procession during which leaders from each tribe bring forward animals, grain, and incense for the tabernacle service, along with a silver dish, a silver bowl, and a gold man.
When Solomon builds the temple, we again get a list of “vessels”: basins, shovels, bowls, pails, tongs, cups, snuffers, spoons, firepans, all of pure gold. And when Nebuchadnezzar destroys the temple, we learn that these vessels were all packed up into exile with the people of Judah.
Paul draws on this imagery when he describes the church as a “large house” where there are “gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.” Vessels are people within the new temple, the church.This is the background for Peter’s description of wives as “weaker vessels.” Feminists take offense, but Peter is emphasizing the privilege that women have in the church. In the Old Covenant, no woman ever entered the temple, but now in the New Covenant men and their wives are both implements for temple service, equipment for the worship of God.
Since we are temple vessels, we are holy, claimed by God and devoted to His service. If we are going to be useful in the Lord’s service, we must guard our hearts, and cleanse ourselves. We must put aside wrangling and fighting, worldly and empty chatter, youthful lusts, foolish speculations.
Alluding to the cleanliness laws of the Old Testament, Paul writes, “if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”