The Person That Refreshes

Some of the most obscure heroes of the Bible offer some of the most practical lessons to our faith.  Such is the case of a man named Onesiphorus.  He was a businessman from Ephesus who traveled, apparently often, to Rome.  His quiet, personal ministry in a distant city was so personal and powerful, it was extolled in the pages of Scripture.

One writer says it this way: “It is easier to be a faithful Christian when one is surrounded by friends and not by strangers.  The very fact that one is being watched gives strength in the time of temptations.  Yet, when one is true to Christ in a strange city, where it would be easy to compromise, that is the test of loyalty.”  As a business traveler in the bustling city of Rome, Onesiphorus was alone and anonymous – but truly authentic in his heart for Christ.  

Honorable Mention

Of all the things the Apostle Paul could have addressed in his final letter, written from prison just prior to his death, he spent significant energy honoring this man Onesiphorus.  In 2 Timothy 1:15-18 he wrote, “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.” At the conclusion of this final letter Paul makes a simple request of Timothy as he resides in Ephesus: “Greet…the household of Onesiphorus” (2 Timothy 4:19).

Three things stand out from the life of this lesser known Christ-follower.  Each offers practical encouragement to businessmen, church leaders, homemakers, and every believer.

A proactive commitment to ministry –  Paul wrote, “When he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me.” Another translation says, “He searched everywhere until he found me” (NLT).   When away from our normal routine, it is easy to become slack.  When traveling, it is common to be too busy to focus on ministry.  Onesiphorus demonstrated an aggressive commitment to pursue ministry even in the midst of travel and other necessary activity.  Without any of the modern tools like cell phones, the Internet, or social networking, Onesiphorus worked diligently to track down Paul in order to connect and serve him.  He was an authentic friend and servant.

A persevering heart for leaders – As Paul described Onesiphorus to Timothy he wrote, You know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus,” then he noted that in Rome, this brother “was not ashamed of my chain.” Onesiphorus had clearly had a significant ministry to Paul much earlier when the Apostle was in Ephesus over a period of three years.  Visiting Rome, Onesiphorus was unashamed and undaunted in his commitment to continue to serve the Apostle.  His was not a ministry of convenience but conviction.  He was not a fickle fan of Paul but a faithful friend to the aged and imprisoned leader.  It is safe to say that Onesiphorus ministered to Paul in spite of the time, distance, and convenience barriers – to the very end.

A practical expression of concern – When describing the actual nature of Onesiphorus’ ministry, Paul writes, “He often refreshed me.” This was not a perfunctory one-time visit but a ministry that was fulfilled repeatedly.  The Amplified Bible gives a literal and specific description of this ministry of refreshment: “He showed me kindness and ministered to my needs [comforting and reviving and bracing me like fresh air].” Clearly, Onesiphorus was like a “breath of fresh air” to the soul of this proven spiritual soldier at the end of his life and in a time of great need.  What a gift.

Our Opportunity

Anyone who has been in Christian leadership knows that people like Onesiphorus are rare.  The ministry journey is marked by many fair-weather followers and fickle friends who care only when it is convenient or popular.  “Out of sight, out of mind” is a common reality in the service of Christ. 

Yet, on occasion, a brother or sister with a true heart for “refreshment” comes along – and stays long in your life.  Their encouraging words, thoughtful gifts, and enduring expressions of grace and gratitude are indeed a breath of fresh air.  It doesn’t always take an army of these folks.  Sometimes, just knowing there is one that you can truly count on serves as a powerful dose of spiritual and emotional well-being.

As you think of your pastor or other spiritual leaders in your life, remember the lesson of this lesser-known saint.  When no one is looking and when you are already busy with other things – look for opportunities to refresh the souls of those who have invested in your journey.  Persevere through the changes of life and seek to serve for the rest of your life.

God’s Blessing

If you are a church leader be sure to recognize and thank those who truly care for your soul. It is interesting to note that in his final letter, Paul referenced capricious former colleagues that had deserted, rejected, and forgotten him (2 Timothy 1:15; 4:10, 14-16).  We know there are many of those along the way.

Perhaps that is why Onesiphorus stood out as such a treasure.  In his remembrance of Onesiphorus Paul offered a blessing: “The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus.” It seems God had graced the family of Onesiphorus with faith, which is no surprise given his heart for ministry.  With one of the final strokes of his pen, Paul prays for the Lord’s special kindness on the entire household. 

I am sure that Onesiphorus experienced special blessings from the Lord because of his quiet, determined ministry to his imprisoned mentor.  The Lord has promised blessing to servants of this sort:  “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25).

Paul was truly indebted to and grateful for his friend Onesiphorus.  He never forgot his ministry of refreshment; neither did the Lord.  And neither will we.

Copyright © 2011 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.