Onesiphorus: Who Often Refreshed Me
Written by Pastor Jim Law
In last week’s post, I referenced relationships in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. Scripture does not hold back from the good and the painful, and Paul’s relationship with Demas was certainly a sorrow. In the final chapter of his final New Testament epistle, Paul mentions Demas with these parting words, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” (2 Timothy 4:10)
Paul’s ministry was marked by crushing disappointments, as well as great joys and triumphs. There are a number of instances in his letters where he writes about those who stood in the gap on his behalf. Men and women who cared for him when life and ministry were hard.
In Romans 16, Paul references 27 men and women by name along with many others associated with them. His network of friends was vital to sustaining the demands of his ministry. How can we not be moved by these references in Romans 16 where he spoke of these brothers and sisters with such love:
*Phoebe, “…welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you…”(v. 2)
*Prisca and Aquila, “who risked their necks for my life…” (v. 4)
*Epaenetus, “who was the first convert to Christ in Asia…” (v. 5)
*Mary, “who has worked hard for you.” (v. 6)
*Rufus, “chosen in the Lord; also his mother who has been a mother to me as well.” (v. 13)
Paul concludes by saying to one and all, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (v. 16) Clearly the list of names in Romans 16 was much more than a list of names. Paul communicates to them, “I couldn’t have made it without you.”
In 2 Timothy 1:16-18, we meet another brother named Onesiphorus, who received one of Paul’s greatest words of commendation: “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, 17 but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me— 18 may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.”
How did Onesiphorus refresh Paul, and how can we give this ministry to others?
The word Paul uses for “refresh” means “to cool; to revive by fresh air.” It was used to describe the cooling down of a hot beverage. By application it means to be an encourager to others by refreshing them and cooling them down in the heat of life’s battles. This is a priceless gift to other believers.
From Onesiphorus’ example let me leave you with four ways we can bring this type of ministry to others:
1. With Our Presence
Paul writes that when Onesiphorus “arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me.” (v. 17) He came in person to Paul. The Lord brings needed encouragement with the flesh and bones of a personal visit. Letters, emails and texts have their place, but nothing replaces a personal visit.
2. With Our Support
Paul said of Onesiphorus in v. 16 that “he was not ashamed of my chains.” He was not ashamed to identify with Paul and all the stigma and inconvenience that his imprisonment brought. Perhaps this was the very issue that put Demas over the edge as he was embarrassed by Paul’s circumstances. He couldn’t take it anymore, and so he bolted for the comforts of Thessalonica with its beautiful view of the Aegean Sea.
Onesiphorus was different, and I can hear him saying to Paul, “I am with you Paul. I’ve got your back. I’m holding the rope. We are committed to the same Savior. I am not ashamed to call you my Brother.”
3. With Our Sacrifice
Connecting with Paul was not an easy venture. It was not a relationship of convenience. In the passage we read, “he searched for me earnestly.” (v. 17) Every friendship and partnership requires sacrifice and effort. Maybe this is the reason few men pursue friendships at this level.
Over 30 years ago Alan Loy McGinnis in his best-selling noted a consensus of America’s leading psychologists and therapists who estimated that only 10 percent of all men ever have any real friends. While such an assessment sounds scathing, the data seems to support the claim. In short, men often minimize the need for true friendship that goes beyond surface conversation. For sure, friendships that matter require sacrifice.
4. With Our Love for Christ
Onesiphorus did not pursue Paul for personal gain. Paul’s circumstances had nothing to offer but problems. No, it was the love of Christ that knitted them together through the hardest of times.
This brief description of Onesiphorus in 2 Timothy 1:16-18 brings to the forefront our need for solid friendships in the Christian life. R. Kent Hughes in his classic, Disciplines of a Godly Man, devotes a chapter to friendships. Hughes makes the case that friendships really are a practice of spiritual disciplines in the believer’s life as we give ourselves to the same God, the same authority, the same commitments, and the same experience of holiness and worship.
The ministry of Onesiphorus is encased in Scripture for our learning. May we put some holy sweat into our relationships, for it is there that we learn that we were never created to live this life alone.