We all have our favorite Bible characters — notable ambassadors of God’s kingdom like Moses, Paul and David — but delving in the Word a little deeper, we can see that there are quite a few cameos throughout Scripture whose stories yield valuable lessons. Like being on a treasure hunt, it thrills me to no end when I discover a new underrated saint of the Bible. While studying 2 Timothy with my mentor, I came across one of these unsung heroes by name of “Onesiphorus.” Let’s dive in!
“The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day — and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus.” ‐2 Timothy 1:16‐18
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus” ‐2 Timothy 4:19
Who was Onesiphorus?
Although he’s mentioned in only two verses in the Bible, we are still able to glean a decent picture of the kind of man he was. The name Onesiphorus means “bringing profit” or “useful,” and while it is not specifically noted, we can also guess that Onesiphorus was likely a Gentile, given the Greek origin of his name and where he resided in Ephesus. Historically, we know that Gentiles weren’t necessarily the godliest people in that time, so it is remarkable to see again how God’s divine calling applies to us all, regardless of our origins or past, Jew or Gentile, underdogs and unlikely persons are all able to receive the redemptive work of Christ. (Hosea 2:23)
In 2 Timothy 1, Paul contrasts Onesiphorus to his former friends who had deserted him in his circumstances. There’s some real weight to the word deserted. On reflection, you may remember a time in your life that you felt deserted by a fellow brother or sister whom you perceived to have your back. If so, then surely you know how it can leave a substantial wound. As I read through this passage, one thing speaks out loudly — Onesiphorus was an incredible friend in Christ. Let’s break down how he exemplifies this trait.
- He was hospitable.
“…for he often refreshed me…” An antonym of the word refreshed is weary. I can imagine the show of hands of those who know that feeling, especially if you’ve spent even one summer here in Texas; boy, you know the value of a cold glass of water! To Paul, Onesiphorus was that cold glass of water, but on a much deeper and spiritual level. Reflecting on this, you may recall someone in your life that refreshed you in that state of utter weariness; whether that was the friend who comforted you with a homemade meal, or that friend who was always a phone call away, it’s not easy to forget the ones who have so lovingly strengthened us in that time of need.
- He was not ashamed.
Paul was not a popular man. To the outside world he was a criminal, imprisoned and chained. But that didn’t seem to faze Onesiphorus; he was not ashamed because he understood the great work Paul was doing for the Lord. Previously in verses 8‐12, Paul urges Timothy to not be ashamed of him, even though many, like Phygellus and Hermogenes were.
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”
Paul wasn’t concerned with the opinions of man, but rather how God viewed him and that he was faithful in obedience. Regardless of the sacrifice and suffering that would ensue, he stood by what he previously wrote in Romans 8:18, “For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not comparable to the coming glory to be revealed to us.” Onesiphorus exemplified this as well and was not ashamed of his friend, but in both humility and confidence he stood by him.
- He was zealous and courageous.
At this time (around 61 AD) Rome was a dangerous place for Christians. Nero was emperor and notorious for his hatred and brutal persecution of Christians. Yet, Onesiphorus sought Paul until he was found. Despite the risk involved from being in a hostile environment, and the tiring and extensive journey he had to make from Ephesus to Rome, he remained relentless in his pursuit. What a beautiful reflection of the character of Christ himself and His pursuit of us, lost and wounded sinners!
Onesiphorus’s actions demonstrate a bold contrast to what is more commonly promoted in today’s culture — self‐care and self‐love. Onesiphorus could’ve acted upon the latter, to stay behind in Ephesus, looking after his personal safety and needs, but he didn’t. This is genuine Christian love. Compared to what the world often encourages, we know we need one another to thrive as the Church. We cannot be “every man for himself” — we need one another to uphold another in Christ. There’s no surprise behind the weight of the phrase, “it takes a village” because in life it truly does. We cannot solely depend upon ourselves to achieve what Christ has called us to accomplish or endure the suffering and storms that life throws our way. We are not meant to do this alone. In different seasons of life we may be called to be more like Paul, and in others we are called to be like Onesiphorus. Our calling and circumstances are continually shaping and reshaping with the turn of every calendar page — but no matter where we are or who we are, we are called to be faithful wherever we are planted, to be ready for whatever God has set before us. Reading of Onesiphorus both encourages and challenges me to be even more mindful of this. So as brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s strive to be more of a friend like Onesiphorus.
Sunday, July 28
Join us for Family Backyard on Sunday, July 28! We’ll be having fun with real-life superheroes – our city’s first responders! Kids can explore a real-life fire truck and police car, plus there will be a snow cone truck, bounce houses, an inflatable obstacle course and more.