Have you ever been falsely accused of something, with the majority of people around you thinking you are guilty? We have probably all had some small measure of that in our lives in some circumstance. But imagine that your alleged wrong-doing was seen as a capital crime and that you were in prison awaiting a trial from which there was little hope of justice. Who would come to see you, help you, or be identified with you? You would probably find out in a hurry who were true friends.
This is essentially what happened to the Apostle Paul – the missionary spokesman of an illegal religion in the Roman Empire. And sadly, few acquaintances and co-workers were bold enough to be associated with him. A couple of guys apparently just “went home.” But there was one friend who sought him out, almost surely at his own risk of a similar fate…
1:15 – You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.
16 May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. 17 On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. 18 May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.
We’re not sure how to read that last verse. Does it not sound like a statement about a recently-deceased person? Is that what we are to take from it? Was this because of identification with Paul?
We don’t finally know, though we do know of Paul’s affection for Onesiphorus due to the kindness and hospitality shown to Paul when he (prior to Timothy) ministered in that city.
All of us need an Onesiphorus in our life … or two … or three.
Thinking back to my earliest years in ministry, I now warmly remember an Onesiphorus in my formative days – a Dallas doctor named Trevor Mabrey. He was a prominent surgeon, far beyond Dallas renown, though I never knew or understood the extent of it until later. I knew him as a nice guy who was a doctor and on the elder board of the church. (At the time, I thought of him as a rather old man, though doing the math I realize that he was then actually 15 years younger than I am now!)
As minister of music on the church staff, I did not preach often. But on the several times I did, I have this very clear memory of Trevor coming up to me afterward and encouraging me. He would talk about a point or two and how something I said gave him a new perspective, etc. He was always very kind and encouraging about my music ministry leadership. Along the way, Diana became rather ill on one occasion over the 4th of July weekend, and he made a special effort to see us and get a necessary medication. His large home was near the church, and we had church baptisms there … Trevor inviting everyone to be in and out of his home, just serving the church family.
Trevor was on the Board of Directors for Focus on the Family, and those of you who have listened much to James Dobson have surely heard him speak about four dear business friends who met with him in Colorado in 1987, including Trevor. In flying home to Texas on a private jet, the aircraft crashed and they were all killed. It had a profound effect upon James Dobson.
Now years later, I look back and recall what an encouragement it was to me at the time to have been on the receiving end of Trevor’s kindness. It was more significant than I realize, as I consider in now. He didn’t need to do that. I was just another of a long line of seminary students who worked and served in the church. At that same time there were three or four others on the staff. But he sought me out in kindness.
If you have walked with and served the Lord for long, you can recall the “Onesiphori” (seems the right was to pluralize Onesiphorus!) who were along the path of your life. And in any event, it is better yet if you covenant to be an Onesiphorus to others. And to coin another term, what I am saying is that you need to grow to be Onesiphorusish! Just do it!
I’m not sure on the household of Onesiphorus, looked at all the phrases “household of…” and Paul often uses the term or always uses that term without pointing out the person and his household. This contrasts with Acts where Luke speaks of certain people and their household separately.
However are there other scriptures that also show how God wants us to behave to leaders? There are. Hebrews 13:17 “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” The NIV alone uses the word “confidence” while other versions use “obey.” A quick look at the Greek, left me even more confused. However, we can be pretty confident that God wants us to be helpful to the church leaders who are dedicating themselves to God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This whole topic of how to love and support others in the church … I could probably write a lot about that … doing these things is more challenging for people like myself who might prefer writing over doing.
Doing good ought to include prayer … even poor people might be able to do that … unless they are run ragged with crisis upon crisis.