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One of the most rewarding tasks in studying the Bible is digging into the lives of the obscure people of Scripture; folks whose names appear only a time or two in the inspired record. On many occasions I've discovered that though there may be but a brief reference, there is actually a wealth of information provided. One such example is found only twice in the New Testament. While his name is obscure, there are some rich nuggets revealed about his life and the significant role he filled during Paul's final days.
As Paul penned his second letter to Timothy, he knew that the time of his "departure"
had come (4:6). Bound by chains in a Roman dungeon, he experienced physical
intense loneliness. Only Luke was with him (4:11). Phygelus and Hermogenes had "turned away" (1:15) and Demas had "deserted" him (4:10). Though his faith remained strong, we
must not assume that Paul was a bionic believer and immune to human emotions that accompanies such sadness. In the midst of this difficult ordeal, God provided strength and comfort through Onesiphorus. His name occurs in 4:19 and in 1:16-18, where Paul chronicles the qualities that buoyed him in his final days.
He Served: -- The first thing Paul says is that "he often refreshed me"
(1:16). The word "refreshed" means "to make cool." Imagine
working outside on a hot day and after hours
of toil you find relief in the shade of a nearby tree. As you sip on a tall glass of iced tea you enjoy a steady breeze that "refreshes" and breathes life back into your weary body. Onesiphorus was Paul's "cool breeze."
Note that the refreshment he provided was not confined to an isolated incident.
It came "often." Simply put, what Paul appreciated about Onesiphorus
was the faithfulness of
hist servant's heart. Onesiphorus wasn't looking for the limelight nor did he need to be the center of attention. He sought merely to "offer a drink of water" in the name of the Lord. The fact that Onesiphorus had made serving a regular habit of life is evidenced by Paul's remark -- "...you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus" (1:18).
He Was Willing To Risk: -- Additionally, Paul tells us that Onesiphorus "was
not ashamed of my chains" (1:16b). He set aside personal safety and reputation
to help a brother in need. In our comfortable 21st century culture, we can only
imagine the dangers he faced because of his association with a controversial
prisoner (this would be especially true if Paul
was executed shortly after writing this letter). But such hazards are often an inherent part of servanthood. If you are willing to serve, you must also be willing to risk. It may be your time or resources. It may be in the realm of energy or even your reputation. And, as with Onesiphorus, even your safety. While others had distanced themselves from the maligned apostle, Onesiphorus held fast to his friend -- and Paul loved him all the more for it!
He Was Steadfastly Determined: -- Paul speaks of the obstacles Onesiphorus
faced in his desire to serve him -- "when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched
for me, and found me" (1:17). Paul implies that when Onesiphorus arrived
in Rome he didn't know where to find him. Locating the apostle in the midst
of this major city of the ancient world would have been no easy task. There
were no phone books or yellow pages -- no Internet, city directories, or a computer
database. It was a task that may have taken hours or days. Yet, in spite of
the inconvenience, Onesiphorus "searched." The word speaks of his
persistence. In addition, Paul noted that his search wasn't done grudgingly.
Onesiphorus eagerly searched! He traversed the ancient streets of Rome in search
of his beloved brother and he didn't give up until he had found him.
Now that's determination!
Onesiphorus -- inconspicuous and obscure? Perhaps. Unimportant and insignificant?
Hardly! Though Onesiphorus isn't a "household" name when we think
of the faithful saints of the early church, there can be no doubt as to his
value to the apostle Paul. The man demonstrates that while such acts
of service may not get your name in lights, to the one who is "refreshed" by it, it may mean the world. As Paul neared the end, do you think he would have traded this fellow for anyone else? One word of warning: such service doesn't come cheap. If you chose to serve like Onesiphorus, it will cost you in a variety of ways, and you can bet Satan will do what he can to provide you with every excuse to quit.
Finally, on two occasions Paul prayed regarding Onesiphorus that, "the Lord grant to him mercy" (1:16,18). I believe it was a prayer the Lord was more than willing to answer.
By Terry Slack in Biblical Insights, Vol. 6, No. 8, August 2006.
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