The only other “great house” in the Bible is the temple that Solomon built for God (IIChron.2:5,9). Today God lives in a new great house, “the church, which is His body” (Eph. 1:22,23). Since the word “ye” is plural, Paul was telling the Corinthians that the church collectively is “the temple of God” in this dispensation (ICor. 3:16).
In calling the Body of Christ a great house, Paul means to compare it to Solomon’s. For example, every great house needs a great foundation. Solomon’s temple had one (I Kings 5:17). It was built on “great stones,” and the church today is built on the great stone of Christ (ICor.3:11). He was a “costly” stone because laying Him as our foundation cost God the death of His Son.
You know Paul’s thinking about our foundation because He just finished saying that “the foundation of God” is that men are saved and should depart from iniquity (IITim.2:19). When you strip away all the advanced doctrines of the church, that’s what lies at the foundation.
Inside the great house of the church are “vessels” (v.20), more comparisons to Solomon’s temple (IKings 7:48). Each of the items of furniture in the temple had its own vessels. The brazen altar had some (IIChron.29:18) to remove the ashes (Ex.27:1-3). The table of shewbread had some (IIChron.29:18) to bring the bread in (Lev.8:26). The candlestick needed oil (Ex.35:14) which had to be brought in vessels (cf.Mt.25:4). The mercy seat and the altar of incense had to be sprinkled with blood from a vessel called a basin (Ex.24:6; Lev.4:7) and the laver would need the water replaced that was lost due to the priests washing in it and evaporation. So all the vessels of God’s old house were used to serve the Lord (IChron.28:13,14;Heb.9:21).
But today we don’t have a priesthood like that, so God doesn’t need vessels like that, He needs the people kind of vessels (Hos.8:8). When Israel got too sinful to bear God’s name before the Gentiles, God raised up another vessel to replace them (Acts 9:15), and all of us vessels since him.
It used to be true that Gentiles were unclean and couldn’t serve the Lord, but the Lord showed Peter a “vessel” to convince him otherwise (Acts 10:10-16). Many of Solomon’s vessels were of gold and silver (IIChron.24:14), and Paul says there are gold and silver vessels in our great house as well (2:20). Paul says these vessels are “unto honor” (v.20), the honor of being “meet for the Master’s use” (v.21). Vessels of wood and earth are “to dishonour” though (v.20).
If you are a vessel unto dishonor whom the Lord can’t use, you don’t have to stay that way. You can “purge” yourself, a word that is used of being purged from sin (Ps.65:3) and sinners (Ezek.20:38). In the context, Paul is talking about the sinners of Hymenaeus and Philetus (2:17,18) and their doctrinal sins. We know it is just as important to purge ourselves of doctrinal sinners and sins as it is to purge ourselves from carnal sins of the flesh because Paul speaks of how purging ourselves from doctrinal sins will makes us “sanctified” vessels unto “honour” (v.21), and then he uses those same two words “sanctified” and “honour” in speaking of the importance of purging ourselves from fornication (IThes.4:3,4).
If you want to know how God feels about the holy vessel of your body being used for unholy purposes, remember when Belshazzar used the holy vessels from Solomon’s temple for the unholy purpose of a drunken feast (Daniel 5:1-7). He lost his kingdom and was slain the same night (v.26-30). Now in the dispensation of grace, God won’t slay you for using the holy vessel of your body for fornication or to teach error, but that passage in Daniel lets you know how He feels about it when you do.
Aren’t you glad He has chosen to react to it today in grace! Doesn’t His grace make you not want to presume upon His grace? Don’t you want to be a vessel unto honor, meet for the Master’s use, “prepared unto every good work”?