From the day of his conversion, Paul was greatly used to spread the gospel message, ‘he is a chosen vessel unto me’, Acts 9. 15. The book of the Acts and the Pauline Epistles reveal his triumphs, his trials, and his travels in preaching the word of God. It is obvious that in his journeys he had a love for fellow believers. In his writings some seventy names are mentioned. He never over-rates or under-estimates these people, but delights to commend them, some of whom are mentioned only once in scripture.
In 2 Timothy, Onesiphorus is mentioned in four verses only, but this man brought refreshment to God’s people.1 Onesiphorus – his name means ‘one that brings profit’ – certainly lived up to his name. He was a shining example of Paul’s own ministry, for in chapter 1 verse 8 he writes, ‘Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner’. Four simple truths regarding this brother challenge us today:
When we consider the conditions of Paul, in a dark, damp, dismal, dirty place, he was very appreciative of one who ‘refreshed me’, ‘sought me’, ‘found me’, and ‘ministered unto me’. Looking at the context of his mention in scripture, we read of Phygellus and Hermogenes, 1. 15, who are ashamed of the truth, Hymenaeus and Philetus, 2. 17-18, who have erred concerning the truth, and Jannes and Jambres, who resisted the truth in Moses day, as do others in Paul’s days, 3. 8. In the closing days of his life, we can almost discern his disappointment and despair as he reflects upon these believers. But one shines through – Onesiphorus!
He was a brother not ashamed to spend time with a great servant of the Lord and to know that his service was much appreciated. Paul could reflect upon those who had turned from him, but this man turned towards him, in what we may consider was not conducive conditions. This was not a ‘one off’ visit, but ‘he oft refreshed me’. We can ascertain from the scriptures the frequency of his mission, ‘oft’; the urgency of his movements, ‘sought me out very diligently’; and the constancy of his ministry, in the past and the present. Surely, Onesiphorus was ‘a breath of fresh air’ in the midst of the prison cell, and in relation to those who were no longer associated with Paul. Indeed, he was different to others. Is there not a need for such a ministry today, to give refreshment to those who may be finding the way difficult?
Proverbs chapter 29 verse 25 states, ‘the fear of man bringeth a snare but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe’. Some may have been ashamed of Paul’s imprisonment, but not this man. There may have been a measure of danger in his exercise, but ‘he pressed on and feared not’. Surely, this is true devotion in action. He brought timely relief and comfort, but also refreshment of a spiritual nature, Philem. 5-7.
What lengths he went to in order to find Paul, 2 Tim. 1. 17. He never gave up in his search for Paul in whatever circumstances he was in. He may have aroused suspicion about himself in his search, but he was not ashamed. Potential risk was discarded. Some believe that he may have paid the ultimate price for his allegiance to Paul.
Think of the service he gave. We are unaware if his ministry in Ephesus was public, but whether in the city, or in sight of the chain of Paul, he was constant and dependable to the Lord’s servant. He was a ‘help’, 1 Cor. 12. 28. He went out of his way, or we might use the phrase ‘he went the extra mile’, to seek out and be with Paul. This dear man may have accomplished more than many prominent men. Think of how the Lord could use Ananias in Acts chapter 9. We can so easily sing Frances Havergal’s hymn, ‘Lord speak to me that I may speak’, but do we put it into practice?
Here is a brother who was faithful in his undertaking of what help he could be to the Lord’s servant despite the conditions, the chain, and the cost. We acknowledge, today, his concern, his courage and his compensation. ‘Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find’, Prov. 20. 6.
Do we feel the challenge to consider today a brother or sister in Christ to whom we can bring refreshment? Onesiphorus’s name is recorded only in this epistle, but his name lives on. May we remember that there are many serving the Lord today, unsung, unknown, unseen, doing a ministry to a saint, or saints, that they feel they can do before the Lord. How can we best help the people of God today?
For a few examples of refreshment the reader is referred to: soothing music, 1 Sam. 16. 23, the harp in the hands of David; speaking/talking/listening, Elihu, one of Job’s friends, Job 32. 20; visitation, Paul writes of a mutual sharing of refreshment, ‘that I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed’, Rom. 15. 32; cp. 1 Cor. 16. 17-18.