Second Timothy is likely the last letter Paul wrote, which he composed while in Roman custody. The first time he was a Roman prisoner, he was acquitted (Philippians 1:25). This time, he foresees a different outcome.
I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
With execution bearing down, Paul’s relationships draw into sharp focus. He gives Timothy warnings concerning false brethren, and words of appreciation for supportive brethren.
You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me—the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day—and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:15-18).
What loneliness Paul must have felt, abandoned to face a Roman sword. Persecutions had a way of revealing those who were Paul’s real friends, or more accurately, those willing to risk themselves for the cause of Christ.
Onesiphorus proved genuine. He did not use Paul’s imprisonment as an excuse to leave him. He helped Paul on multiple occasions. Refreshment could refer things needed for physical comfort, or to companionship, conversation, and prayer, things that would build up Paul’s mind, spirit, and heart (Philemon 20) and allow him to carry on courageously. How wonderfully Onesiphorus lived up to his Greek name, “bringer of profit!”
One deed stands out. Onesiphorus was well-known in Ephesus, but at some point traveled to Rome—whether on business or specifically to minister to Paul, we cannot tell. When he arrived, he “eagerly searched for me and found me.” The way Paul phrases that makes leads me to think he draws attention to Onesiphorus’s stick-to-it-iveness. There have been times that I’ve gone to visit a patient in the hospital, poked my head in the room to discover the patient out for a test, and feeling relieved, hastily headed back to the office. I would rationalize, “Well, I gave it a shot,” or, “If they ask, I can say I tried,” or, “Hey, it’s the thought that counts.”
Onesiphorus’s love for Paul was steadfast. No delay or inconvenience or obstacle would prevent him from achieving his goal of building up Paul. I can only imagine it was a more daunting task to find Paul in the Roman prison system than it is in our age of cars, computers, and ID numbers. It must have taken a lot of time, patience, prodding, and money. I would guess Onesiphorus encountered some false doors and dead ends. He searched, and kept searching until he found him!
Furthermore, desiring the company of a notorious prisoner could have been damaging to any standing Onesiphorus may have had in Rome. Why, just asking the wrong Roman soldier for access to Paul could have been dangerous! Onesiphorus didn’t let that stop him. When the time comes, may we have the same unashamed love for Jesus and His disciples. “Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess Him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will deny Him before My father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
Since Paul greets the “household” of Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 4:19), some think he had already passed away when Paul wrote this letter. While we understand that works do not earn salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), Paul prays that Onesiphorus’s deeds would be recompensed by an outpouring of God’s mercy. Perhaps Paul was thinking of physical blessings, but since he says, “on that day,” I think he means eternal salvation. There is no comfort here for those who hope that philanthropy will cancel out entrenched immorality (only repentance and blood of Jesus answer for sin). But, recall Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, who risked his own life to save Jeremiah from the muddy cistern into which his enemies had thrown him, and whom God spared from the destruction of Jerusalem because of his faithfulness (Jeremiah 38:1-13, 39:15-18).
There is, in fact, an overlap of helping others in the name of Christ and preparing our souls for heaven (Matthew 5:7, James 1:27, Revelation 21:8, 22:12). “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:31-40). May God grant us the courage to be loyal brothers, faithful servants, and compassionate supporters. –John Guzzetta