May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. 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. (verses 16-18)
Paul wants Timothy to be strong and steadfast as he engages in the ministry of the gospel. He’s urged Timothy to follow his own example in guarding what has been entrusted to him – to guard the gospel, faithfully maintaining sound teaching. Fan into flame the gift of God, he says. Don’t be timid. And “do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner” (2 Timothy 1:8).
Don’t be ashamed. It’s a crucial piece of instruction for Timothy. Likely, being of a timid nature, he specially needed this exhortation. Perhaps we do, too.
Indeed, Paul raises this issue three times in this first chapter alone. The first time (which we’ve just seen in verse he explicitly directs it to Timothy. The second time (verse 12) he uses it of himself when speaking of the suffering he’s currently enduring in prison: “That is why I am suffering … Yet I am not ashamed,because I know whom I have believed.” And the third time comes here, at the end of the chapter, where Paul reminds Timothy of Onesiphorus who, he says, “was not ashamed of my chains.”
Likely this is the reason Paul mentions Onesiphorus at all, because he is eager to make this very point: he “was not ashamed.” He wants Timothy to be inspired by this man’s faithfulness to Paul, but also to the gospel itself, because others by this point were deserting. Presumably they were ashamed of Paul’s imprisonment and fearful of the possible danger of ending up in prison alongside him if they maintained their association – Phygelus and Hermogenes are specifically mentioned as being part of this group (verse 15).
Reading between the lines we feel Paul’s pain, together with the loneliness of the desertion. But greater yet, it seems he is troubled by what these desertions imply about allegiance to the gospel itself. If they are deserting Paul because he is identified with the gospel, then it is in fact the gospel itself they are deserting.
But not Onesiphorus. He operates differently. He didn’t shy away from contact with Paul. No, he actively sought him out, going out of his way, searching high and low until he discovered his location. Just imagine how many people he had to ask, “Do you know where the prisoner, Paul, is being kept?” Talk about unashamedly exposing your allegiance. Onesiphorus was “all in” with Paul and the gospel he preached.
Be like that, Timothy. That’s the implication.
There is, of course, a tenderness in Onesiphorus’ allegiance, also. “He often refreshed me,” Paul says, helping us to see the compassionate care that motivated him. But it’s clear that Onesiphorus, unlike the others, was not afraid of being identified with the gospel. He didn’t let fear get in the way.
He wasn’t ashamed.
For those of us in North America, the likelihood of ending up in prison for the sake of the gospel is not great, at least currently. But, nonetheless, it is very possible for us to back away from letting our true colours be known. Not speaking of Christ when we have opportunity. Not sharing the simple goodness of the gospel with those in need. Not openly living its truth.
Oh, may we embrace the freedom and grace of Onesiphorus, not ashamed of the gospel, nor of those, like Paul, who minister in its name.
O Lord, I thank you for the gift of grace given to me in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let me never be ashamed to speak of it, to rejoice in it, to share it, to live it, and to willing identify with all those who likewise have received salvation from you. May I let your light shine in me … and through me. To your glory. Amen.
Reflect: Is there any circumstance or social circle in which you find yourself ashamed (or simply reluctant) to identify yourself as a Christ-follower? Speak openly with the Lord. Ask for his strength and grace.