By Larry Ray Hafley
The Lord give mercy onto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: But, when be was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well (2 Tim. 1:16-19).
The Bible records the meanness, hypocrisy and iniquity of Hymanaeus, Alexander, Philetus, Demas, Diotrephes and Alexander the coppersmith, but it also reveals the goodness, sincerity and righteousness of men like Onesiphorus. We can be grateful and thankful for him, Phebe, “Apelles approved in Christ. . . (and) the beloved Persis, which labored in the Lord” (Rom. 16).
Every age and generation has its counterparts to the characters above, both good and bad. Often it is necessary to dwell on the negative, but let us not forget the positive. You may know a Demas or a Diotrephes, but you also know a Dorcas and an Onesiphorus. Thank God for them; pray for them; encourage them; support them (Rom. 16:2). Do not allow a depraved Demas to blind you to a dear Dorcas. For every Philetus there are scores of Phebes. Yes, there was an Ahab, but there was also an Elijah. There was a Jezebel, but there was an Esther. There was a Mrs. Job, but there was a Ruth. Rejoice.
Around the great throne of that endless day, I want to meet Paul, Peter and John, but I also want to see Onesiphorus and Epaphroditus. I want to exult with them in the grace and mercy of God and learn the particulars of their humble courage and selfless sacrifice. Truly, “What joy ’twill be.”
“He Oft Refreshed Me”
Paul had a hard and difficult life. Occasionally, he “despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8). But, then, there was Onesiphorus. “He oft refreshed me.” Like a servant who might wash and gently massage the feet of a weary traveler, Onesiphorus “oft refreshed me.” Note, he often did so. What a blessing are those who can soothe and ease the burdens of trouble and travail. Like a cool breeze at the close of a hot and hard day, Onesiphorus “refreshed” Paul.
Could it be that without the refreshing comfort of men like Onesiphorus that we would not have had men like Paul who finished their course? The following verses may lend Support to that conjecture. ,”Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all” (2 Cor. 7:13). “I am glad for the coming of Stephanus and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours: therefore acknowledge them that are such” (1 Cor. 16:17,18). “Strive together with me in your prayers to God for me. . . That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed” (Rom. 15:30-32).
“He . . . Was Not Ashamed”
Paul was an outcast. He was “reviled,” “defamed,” “persecuted,” and “made as the filth of the world” (1 Cor. 4:9-13). He was viewed as a weak, despised fool, even “a pestilent fellow” (Acts 24:5). it would be degrading to one’s standing in the community to be allied and identified with such a man, but Onesiphorus “was not ashamed of my chain.” It took great courage to stand with Paul who was “despised.” Onesiphorus had a family, a “household” (2 Tim. 4:19). What of them? If he had children in school, might they. not be ridiculed because their father assisted and associated with a “jail bird,” a prisoner? Might not his business suffer, or might he not lose his job? These are all real possibilities, but “he. . . was not ashamed of my chain.” Surely, it was such people that the Lord had in mind, when in describing the awesome scenes of Judgment, He said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
“Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Tim. 1:8). “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16). The ignominious death of Christ was a source of shame. Imagine one who would claim that his spiritual Savior redeemed him by being executed by the state. What power is there in that? What wisdom is there in being put to death by civil authority? See 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. Paul’s chains were for that cause, but Onesiphorus “was not ashamed.”
“He Sought Me Out”
Onesiphorus’ efforts to find Paul were done “very diligently.” It was not an easy task to cut through all the “red tape” in order to visit Paul. It took persistence, but, at last, he found him. Good works and deeds of kindness often require tenacity and boldness. Onesiphorus could have made a lame attempt to see Paul, and at his first rebuff he could have said, “Oh, well, at least I tried.” But he did not; instead, “he sought me out very diligently and found me.”
Our minds drift to the lost sheep, alone in the wilderness. The shepherd will not be thwarted by thorns and thistles. Onward he lunges and plunges until he hears feint and weak bleats and pleas of fear. With renewed spirit, he forges on, issuing words of reassurance with every step. Finally, he rescues his wandering one and embraces its shivering, quivering frame against his comforting breast. Can we not see Paul, stranded and abandoned, as he first views the brave Onesiphorus? With chains and shackles he rises to greet his beloved benefactor. His body is bound but his spirit is now free and unfettered by the blessed appearance of Onesiphorus. For, a moment, the painful memories of Phygellus and Hermogenes who forsook him are forgotten. Oh, blissful moment! Oh, glad reunion!
“How Many Things He Ministered”
We can only surmise the “many things,” the many ways, that Onesiphorus ministered unto Paul. Perhaps, again around the throne of heaven, we can ask Timothy, for he knew these things “very well.” Onesiphorus probably would not tell us.
There is a message in this for all of us. Such service will not go unnoticed by Him who sees the sparrow fall. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints and do minister” (Heb. 6:10). “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:26-28). If the Lord of us all ministered unto all, what should we, who are Lord of no one, do?
“The Lord Give Mercy”
Assuredly, Paul’s prayer that, “The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day,” will be granted. We speak confidently in this regard, for our Lord Himself hath promised, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7).
All of us need prayers for mercy. Is there not someone you have neglected to pray for? Good and godly souls are frequently neglected in our prayers. We assume that their grace and piety need nothing from us. But if a man of Onesiphorus’ stature was the object and subject of the great apostle’s prayers, should we not also pray for those whom we esteem and admire in the work of the Lord? Yes, but why should we? “For they have refreshed my spirit and yours: therefore acknowledge them that are such” (1 Cor. 16:18). Begin now.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 10, pp. 302-303
May 15, 1986