You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. 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. (NIV)
Tell the Church
When I first read Paul’s denunciation of Phygelus and Hermogenes, I had to stop and think a while about what was going on. What he did in naming names and making accusations didn’t seem like a very Christian thing to do. This isn’t the only place Paul does this. He names Demas in 2 Tim 4:10. The Apostle John also names Diotrephes in 3 John 9.
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matt 18:15-17 NASU)
I can only assume that these men of God first tried to reconcile before announcing to the Church in letters that the men named had sinned with enough seriousness that their actions had to be exposed. Certainly, Paul and John would have expected to have their letters to Timothy and Gaius read to the Church. James tells us that teachers will be judged with greater strictness than others. If Phygelus and Herogenes were teachers, then even their action of abandoning Paul will be judged and apparently Paul had done that already.
Have you ever been in a situation where you really needed some moral, financial, or other support and those who were closest to you didn’t show up to help? I often read about people who do this when a family member dies or is dying. They don’t know what to say or do so they stay away. The hurt and pain of the desertion is often remembered longer than the loss of the loved one.
Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him. (Job 2:11 KJV)
So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great. (Job 2:13 KJV)
I’ve always marveled at the way Job’s friends came to him in his distress to mourn and comfort him. For seven days they just sat there with him. Sometimes, just being with a person brings great comfort. They had the right motive and actions. However, when Job started to pour out his heartache, they should have continued to listen. Instead, they tried to answer him and even told him that the calamity had come upon him because of his sin.
Sin does cause calamity at times, but we are often wrong in assuming that. In John 9:1-3, the disciples wanted to know who sinned because a man was born blind. Jesus answered that the blindness was to bring glory to God. God told Job’s friends that they were wrong in what they had been telling Job, in fact they were to ask Job to intercede for them (Job 42:7).
We can learn from Job’s friends what to do and not to do. Paul’s followers deserted him, Job’s friend came to him. Both groups had problems with understanding God and His work in the lives of His people. Paul’s friends were probably afraid of the association and the harm that could come to them as a result. Perhaps they questioned the Gospel that Paul preached if it caused him to end up in prison. They didn’t understand that God’s work through Paul and his suffering was part of God’s plan, just as Job’s friends didn’t understand the same for Job.
Where does that leave us? It should leave us convicted if we see a brother or sister in the Lord in trouble, mourning the loss of a loved one, or suffering through a dread disease and possibly dying. We don’t always have to fix everything but we shouldn’t abandon them either.
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body. (Heb 13:3 RSV)
In the context of the book of Hebrews, I would venture to say that the author was talking about prisoners who were there unjustly as was Paul. However, having visited prisoners, I know that there are a lot of Christians behind bars because they committed crimes. They need encouragement. They aren’t claiming injustice; they know they deserve their punishment. Some slipped and stumbled while others became Christians after entering prison. How they got there isn’t as important as remembering them and encouraging them. They are trying to function as believers in a prison society that is intensely evil. Temptations are everywhere to lie, steal, do drugs, submit to sexual abuse, and receive violence if they don’t cooperate within this ungodly social order. They need all the help they can get.
Are you afraid for your own safety if you were visit prisoners? Are you afraid that somehow you will get caught up in some kind of scheme from a con artist? These are valid concerns but there are many ways to minister to prisoners. Visiting people or helping conduct worship services inside the prisons are not the only ways to help. Sometimes it is by helping their families. Prisoners for Christ is an organization in Washington State that has many ways to help. They have programs and services in many institutions within the state and one in Arizona. They have correspondence Bible studies for prisoners all over the U.S. and can use graders and encouragers. They have pen pal programs which is a direct way to encourage a prisoner with built in safety proceedures. They provide transportation for families to visit members in prison. They have been ministering many years and know the pitfalls and problems but also the procedures to protect and prevent the problems that scare you. Visit http://pfcomweb.dreamhosters.com/ to find out how you can get involved.
The NIV says to remember those who are mistreated as if we were also suffering. I read Dear Abby in the newspaper and often see comments from people who were abandoned by friends when they went through some tough times. Those times may be mistreatment but most often it is an illness or death of a loved one. People disappear because they don’t know how to minister to hurting people yet it is simple. Look back at Job’s three friends and learn from them. Go and be with them. Let them know you are praying for them and don’t miss the opportunity to pray right then. Don’t accuse them even if they have brought the calamity on themselves. That’s God job. Yes, if they ask advice, make sure it is Biblical so that God can work through His Word and not your worldly wisdom. Then be prepared to watch them ignore your advice without taking it personally or reprimanding them.
Paul used Onesiphorus as an example of how to encourage in some practical ways. The first way was by not being ashamed of Paul’s situation. Even if you think that a person’s problems are a result of their sin, you shouldn’t be ashamed to reach out to help them. This doesn’t mean you continually rescue them from the consequences of their sin, but that you don’t avoid them because you don’t want to be seen with them.
This flows right into the second way to help which is to search for them. Many people withdraw and hide from society when they are going through problems. The reasons are many, they feel ugly, unworthy, depressed, embarrassed, or a myriad of other reason. Have you noticed that someone is missing at church, in your small group, at the PTA meetings? Find out what’s going on. Maybe they need someone to sit with them and encourage them in their grief.
For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. (Matt 25:35-36 KJV)
Onesiphorus refreshed Paul. Jesus’ words were worked out in his life. In Roman prisons, it was the prisoner’s responsibility to meet his needs. This is exactly what Onesiphorus did. He brought clean water, good food, clothes, and other necessities when he visited Paul in prison. In every way, physically and spiritually, he refreshed Paul. We can do the same thing, especially when someone has an illness or other calamity that makes it hard to do the regular chores that we often do without much thought. I’m thinking about the mom that has been spending 24/7 at the hospital with a child, spouse, or parent. What’s happening on the home front? Not much. We can refresh them by pitching in and helping.
Mercy from the Lord
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: (Matt 25:34 KJV)
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? (Matt 25:37 KJV)
What is your motivation for looking after others? Paul prayed that Onesiphorus would receive mercy from the Lord on the judgment day. Reading what Jesus said, I have no doubt that he will receive mercy. He is probably with Jesus at this very moment enjoying the rewards that God has promised. However, when I look at the reaction of the righteous people at the judgment, they are actually surprised at the reward. They were just doing what they normally do, loving and taking care of each other but Jesus says they were doing it to Him.
Sometimes it is hard to take care of someone. They may be difficult or the circumstances may be difficult. If we love them more than ourselves, then we will work it out. If we still have a problem, then we need to consider that we are doing it to Jesus. We aren’t doing it for Him but to Him. We are told over and over again in the New Testament that we are in Christ. When we are in Christ, and someone does something, either good or bad, to us, he is doing it to Christ as well. That is why Jesus asked Paul why he was persecuting Him. Jesus didn’t ask why he was persecuting His followers.
If we can’t muster up love for the person then we should consider our love of Jesus. If we are still having a problem then we should also consider that the way we treat Jesus will determine how we will be treated in the judgment.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: (Matt 25:41 KJV)
James summed it up well when he said that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17). A lack of caring for other is a demonstration of the depth of our faith. John would agree that if we don’t take care of other then we are demonstrating that we don’t have God’s love in us (1 John 3:16-17). When we know Jesus and show mercy to others, we can be assured that we will receive mercy from the Lord.