2 Timothy 1:16-18
We praise God for the many, many followers of Jesus that give themselves unselfishly for the good of others. They labor behind the scenes, not sounding trumpets (Matthew 6:1-4) to attract attention to what they’re doing. I encourage people to read biographies of Christians, because they testify to what the living God can do through his followers. (Thank God for his work through them without exalting them. Remember 1 Corinthians 1-4.) However, you do not find many biographies of common Christians. That should not dissuade us from noticing and celebrating what the Spirit does through average children of God. We can profit from their examples.
Paul the apostle presented one such example in his second letter to Timothy. It is an example that easily goes unnoticed in the teaching most of us receive from the Word. As Paul neared the end of his life, he found himself deserted by many; the loss of Demas seemed especially bitter to him (1:15; 4:10). In this context, the Spirit of God directed him to write about a man who remained faithful. His name was Onesiphorus. What Paul says of him gives us a four-part paradigm about how to help in the service of the good news of Christ. May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus (NIV).
- Onesiphorus was an encourager (1:16). Paul experienced many down times during his years of service for the Lord (2 Corinthians 4:8-10; 6:3-10; 11:23-33). Except for this text, we would not know that Jesus had Onesiphorus there often to encourage Paul. It should make us all pause to think of how much the apostle of Christ depended on the service of Onesiphorus and others like him. The story of his life would be much different from what we read in Acts apart from these people. Paul especially praised God that he refreshed This word can include both spiritual and physical actions. In both cases they would have been a strong encouragement to Paul. Many times a simple encouraging word does wonders. Other times, more extensive works are need to refresh people. He understood how to help Paul in a way that left Paul refreshed and encouraged.
- Onesiphorus was bold (1:16). He was not afraid to serve Paul while he was a prisoner. Anyone in jail or prison in ancient times was in deep trouble. Often they were dependent on friends outside for food, clothing, and other needs. For those helping there was the danger of “guilt by association” with the imprisoned. Onesiphorus boldly helped Paul in spite of whatever dangers might come. When we help people, we can expose ourselves to danger, like when someone has an illness that is contagious. He trusted the Lord to care for him as he took these risks.
- Onesiphorus was diligent (1:17). When Paul was a prisoner in Rome, Onesiphorus had to look hard to find him. It is easy to make a quick effort to try to contact a person and then to give up. Obviously, he cared about Paul enough to persist through disappointments. I can imagine the conversation going something like this. “I’m looking for Paul, the prisoner being held for trial before Caesar. He’s under house arrest. Do you know where’s he is?” And the answer comes back, “Let’s see; that’s really not my department. But if you contact Julius Gaius, he might be able to tell you what you know. However, he’s out of town for a couple days.” We all have been through this runaround, but he didn’t quit.
- Onesiphorus was generous (1:18). He helped Paul in many ways. It is always tempting to assume that we have done enough when we have done a little. But Onesiphorus did not have that kind of attitude. When one task was done, he was spiritually and mentally prepared for the next one. What some might have looked at as an expense, he considered to be an investment in God’s kingdom.
We need examples like this to spur us on to love and good works. Our vision is limited by what we think is easily doable. Onesiphorus provides a better model. May the Spirit use it to impel all of us to do more for the cause of God and truth!
Grace and peace, David