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3. Performing the Ministry of Refreshment (2 Timothy 1:15-18)

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You know that everyone in the province of Asia deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my imprisonment. But when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well all the ways he served me in Ephesus.

2 Timothy 1:15–18 (NET)

How should we perform the ministry of refreshment?

Paul has just been challenging Timothy to stand firm, to be unashamed, and to be willing to suffer with him for the gospel (1:8-14). Paul was imprisoned in Rome awaiting a death sentence, and the majority of believers in Asia, who previously supported him, deserted him, including two men named Phygelus and Hermogenes (v. 15). We don’t know who these men were. What seems clear is that they were professing believers who deserted Paul and probably encouraged others to do so as well. Maybe, like Job’s friends, they declared that his sufferings proved that he was not right with God and probably not an apostle.

However, in the midst of Paul’s darkness was a bright light—a man named Onesiphorus. His name means “profit bearing”1 or “help bringer.”2 This man lived out his name. When Paul was deserted by others, Onesiphorus sought him out and refreshed him (v. 16). The word “refreshed” means “to cool again.”3 The Amplified version translates it “Bracing me like fresh air”.

Living in a world with sin and the consequences of it, means that we will always need refreshment. We all are negatively affected by trials, our sin, or the sin of others and therefore need refreshment. Paul was a great apostle and yet still needed to be refreshed. Similarly, in Christ’s last hours, when he was ‘weary unto death’, he called upon his three closest disciples to pray with him—to provide support and refreshment. We all need this type of ministry, and we all need to offer it to others.

By mentioning Phygelus and Hermogenes and then Onesiphorus, Paul essentially calls Timothy to be like Onesiphorus—a refresher—and not like Hermogenes and Phygelus—deserters. How can we perform the ministry of refreshment? We will learn six principles from the example of Onesiphorus.

Big Question: What principles can we learn from the example of Onesiphorus about refreshing others?

To Perform the Ministry of Refreshment, We Must Reach Out to Those in Need

You know that everyone in the province of Asia deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my imprisonment.

2 Timothy 1:15-16

Again, when everyone in Asia deserted Paul, Onesiphorus went to see him. People were deserting Paul because associating with him could lead to imprisonment or execution. Christians in Rome were being burned at the stake by Nero and offered to lions in the Colosseum. One author said this about Onesiphorus, “He went to Rome at a time when every Christian was trying to get out of it.”4

Someone said this about friendships: “In times of prosperity, our friends know us, but in times of difficulty, we know our friends.” When all deserted Paul, Onesiphorus faithfully reached out to him—even risking his life to minister to him. We must do the same to practice the ministry of refreshment.

It’s hard to reach out to people in pain. We often feel like we don’t know what to say. We’re afraid talking with them will be awkward. Sometimes we’re even afraid to make things worse. It’s good to remember that often the best thing we can do when people are suffering is simply minister through our presence. Like Job’s friends did initially, as they simply sat and mourned with him, we should do the same.

Ecclesiastes 7:4 says, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of merrymaking.” The fool only wants to laugh and have pleasure, but the wise is drawn to the house of mourning—both to minister and to learn.

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a relative is born to help in adversity.” The author of the proverb is using parallelism—reinforcing the first phrase with the second. A real friend is like family—they are there at all times, even in adversity, just as Onesiphorus was. In order to practice the ministry of refreshment, we must reach out to others in need.

Are you reaching out to those around you in need?

Application Question: Why is it difficult to meet with others in times of adversity? Describe a time when someone faithfully ministered to you in a time of adversity.

To Perform the Ministry of Refreshment, We Must Prepare and Protect Our Families

May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my imprisonment.

2 Timothy 1:16

When Paul first mentions Onesiphorus, he does so in a prayer for his family. This implies that his family suffered in some way through Onesiphorus’ ministry to Paul. No doubt, they suffered by his being away perhaps for months. Some commentators even believe that Onesiphorus was captured and killed in Rome. They come to this conclusion because of Paul’s present tense prayer for the family in verse 16 and his future tense prayer for Oneshiphorus in verse 18. He prays for him to receive mercy on the day of judgment. It seems clear that, at minimum, Onesiphorus was currently not with them. They were either separated by distance or by death.

If Onesiphorus was dead, it would appear that Paul is praying for the dead. Catholic commentators use this verse to support the need for believers to pray the dead into heaven. However, Scripture does not support belief in purgatory. Nor does it support the belief that we can contribute to salvation (ours or anyone else’s) by works. Christ did everything needed for one to be saved. All we are called to do is put our faith in his work and follow him as Lord and Savior (John 3:16, Rom 10:9-13).

With that said, the point is that there was some amount of suffering Onesiphorus’ family experienced because of his ministry to Paul. This is common in ministry. There is strain when a husband or wife is absent. There is extra spiritual warfare on families who serve in ministry. However, having parents who serve is healthy for children: it helps them develop a ministry mindset, delivers them from selfishness, and often leads them to a lifetime of ministry. But, it is important to understand that we should never sacrifice our families for ministry. Sadly, this happens too often. Paul said our first ministry is our family (1 Tim 5:4), and he required potential elders to run their households well in order to be selected for ministry (1 Tim 3:4). To neglect one’s family means to be disqualified from serving in other ministries.

Application Question: How do we prepare and protect our families and yet maintain a healthy balance with ministry?

(1) One way we prepare our families is by having honest conversations: That means asking them about how the balance between ministry and family is going. Do they feel neglected? Are the children getting enough attention? (2) Also, we prepare them for busy seasons by talking with them beforehand and committing to make up missed time. (3) In addition, we prepare and protect them by constantly praying for them, even as Paul did for Onesiphorus’ household. We should ask the Lord for special mercy and protection over them. (4) Finally, we protect our families by always prioritizing them. Family members should always know that they are first. Yes, there will be times of sacrifice in serving God and others; when those times come, families must work together to best navigate those periods.

Edith Schaeffer gives wise counsel on balancing family and ministry in the book “What is Family?” (Revell, 1975), as shared by Steven Cole:

As you may know, the Schaeffers raised their children at L’Abri in an open home, where many people came at all hours. In one chapter, Mrs. Schaeffer describes the family as a door with hinges and a lock. The hinges open to welcome those in need, but the lock gives the family time to grow and be refreshed for ministry. They did not damage their family by over-commitment to ministry, and yet they instilled in their children a ministry-mindset.5

To prepare and protect our families, we must do the same. We must open the door of our home for ministry and lock it to protect and refresh our family.

Are you preparing and protecting your family?

Application Question: Why is it important for ministers to prepare and protect their families? In what ways have you seen those in ministry (or in other occupations) damage their families through over-commitment? What are some other wise principles for protecting our families?

To Perform the Ministry of Refreshment, We Must Persistently and Practically Serve Others

May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my imprisonment... And you know very well all the ways he served me in Ephesus.

2 Timothy 1:16, 18

In verse 16, Paul says that Onesiphorus “often refreshed” him, and in verse 18, he comments that while in Ephesus, Onesiphorus “served” him in many ways. The word “served” comes from the same Greek word we get “deacon” from. Therefore, some think Onesiphorus was a deacon (servant) in Ephesus.6

Onesiphorus certainly served Paul in many ways and often. When Paul was hungry, he brought food. When thirsty, he brought drink. When discouraged, he prayed with him. When rejoicing, he sang with him. No doubt, Onesiphorus refreshed Paul physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We should do the same with others.

It is especially important to minister persistently to people in seasons of adversity. This is necessary because difficulties often come in packs and take a while to dissipate, as seen in the story of Job. This means we need to meet up with them often. It means listening, listening, and listening again. It means lending a helping hand often. To refresh people, we need to minister persistently and practically.

Application Question: How can we faithfully serve others, especially in times of difficulty?

We gain great insight by considering the Macedonian churches’ ministry to the Jerusalem churches in 2 Corinthians. Consider what Paul said about them:

For I testify, they gave according to their means and beyond their means. They did so voluntarily, begging us with great earnestness for the blessing and fellowship of helping the saints. And they did this not just as we had hoped, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and to us by the will of God.

2 Corinthians 8:3-5

The Macedonians gave themselves first to the Lord and then to others. Ministry to others always comes from an overflow. If we are not abiding in Christ, we cannot effectively minister to others (John 15:5). To serve persistently and practically, we must first give ourselves to God, then, look for others with needs and go meet those needs.

In considering this, we must recognize that another hindrance to the ministry of refreshment is selfishness. For many their life and ministry is all about themselves. They come to church to get encouragement, to learn about the Bible, for a good children’s program, and when their needs aren’t met, they complain and leave the church. For many, their focus is always, “Me! Me! Me!” instead of God and others. When God is not first, we will be increasingly prone to selfishness, discouragement, and burn out. To serve persistently and practically, we must give ourselves first to God and then to others.

Are you willing to refresh others by serving them persistently and practically?

Application Question: How can we find the balance of putting God first before ministry to others? How do we keep from burning out when seeking to refresh others? How can we set up appropriate boundaries?

To Perform the Ministry of Refreshment, We Must Accept and Empathize with Others

May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my imprisonment.

2 Timothy 1:16

Paul also said Onesiphorus was “not ashamed” of his chains. This means that when Onesiphorus visited Paul, he didn’t condemn him. He didn’t say, “If you just had more faith, God would set you free!” He just accepted Paul as he was. This is where Job’s friends failed. Initially, they just remained with Job and mourned with him. When they did that, they did well. But eventually, their true colors were revealed; instead of accepting Job and his suffering, they poured condemnation on him. They said he was suffering from sin and called him to repent. Like the Asian Christians who deserted Paul, Job’s friends were ashamed of him and his suffering.

In contrast, we must accept people where they are, just as Onesiphorus did. Yes, there are times to rebuke and correct, but we must wisely discern those times. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” When refreshing others, many times those hurting are primarily looking for empathy—someone who understands them emotionally and who will stand beside them. They need someone to say, “It’s OK to cry,” “It’s OK to feel betrayed,” and “Yes, that wasn’t fair.” That’s what we see in many of the Psalms—honest sharing of a person or community. However, they also need the balance presented in the Psalms where the writer ultimately says, “But God.”

Are you willing to accept and empathize with others in order to refresh them?

Application Question: Why is empathy so important to refreshing others? What are some helpful tips for developing and practicing empathy? How can we help people see God in their trials without condemning them or disregarding their pain?

To Perform the Ministry of Refreshment, We Must Accept Various Inconveniences

But when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me.

2 Timothy 1:17

When Onesiphorus went to Rome to minister to Paul, he experienced various inconveniences. Even the trip from Ephesus to Rome was difficult in those days. It covered a distance of over 2000 kilometers. Most likely, he traveled by boat and foot. However, his journey wasn’t done when he got to Rome. It seems that Onesiphorus initially couldn’t find Paul. Maybe, there were many prisons, and it was difficult to find the right one. Maybe, the Roman officials weren’t helpful and probably rude. Maybe, since Christians had gone into hiding because of persecution, they were skeptical of a person searching for a state prisoner. In order to minister to Paul, Onesiphorus experienced various inconveniences.

It’s the same for us. If we are going to practice the ministry of refreshment, we must be willing to accept inconvenience. At times, it means tossing our original plans for the day to minister to someone in pain. It means going to bed at a later time or getting up earlier. At times, it means caring for a person who won’t listen and who makes bad decisions. There are various inconveniences that come with the ministry of refreshment. It’s always easier just to do nothing, as it would have been for Onesiphorus.

However, if we’re going to perform this ministry, we must accept inconvenience, including, at times, being unappreciated. When people experience trials, they tend to become self-focused and selfish. This extreme self-focus can at times blur the lines between those who are trying to help them and hurt them. For this reason, genuine ministers are often unappreciated or even hated.

Obviously, Paul was tremendously appreciative of Onesiphorus’ ministry; however, that is not always the case. Christ gave his life for the world and the majority of the world rejects him, and even Christians often take him for granted. To do the ministry of refreshment, we must accept inconvenience.

Are you willing to be inconvenienced, and maybe even unappreciated?

Application Question: How can we be prepared for the various inconveniences that often come with ministering to those in need? How have you experienced inconvenience in ministry, including being unappreciated?

To Perform the Ministry of Refreshment, We Must Focus on God’s Reward

May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well all the ways he served me in Ephesus.

2 Timothy 1:18

Finally, Paul speaks a blessing over Onesiphorus for his faithful ministry. He says, “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day!” Mercy in this context seems to refer to receiving rewards from God at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10).7 It reflects the promise in Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. God’s favor is on the merciful both in this life and the life to come. God will be gracious to them.

This blessing is seen in how Christ responds to the merciful in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. At Christ’s coming, he says to those who fed, clothed, and visited his brothers in prison, “Take your inheritance in the Kingdom, for what you did to the least of these, you did to me” (Matt 25:34-40, paraphrase). There is a reciprocal blessing with the ministry of refreshment. Proverbs 11:25 (NIV) says, “Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” In the context of washing the feet of others, Christ said “blessed will you be if you do this” (John 13:17, paraphrased).

If we are going to perform the ministry of refreshment, we must focus on God’s reward. Focusing on God’s reward is especially important when our ministry is rejected, demonized, or appears to be unfruitful. God sees, and he will faithfully reward. Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints.”

Are you focusing on God’s reward, especially in times of discouragement? If not, it will be easy to become depressed and give up.

Application Question: Why is it important to focus on God’s reward when performing the ministry of refreshment? Is serving God for reward wrong? Why or why not?

Applications for Those Being Refreshed

We’ve talked about how to perform the ministry of refreshment; now, we’ll briefly consider how to respond when we are the ones being refreshed.

1. When refreshed, we should constantly give thanks to God and to the refresher.

We would never know about Onesiphorus if Paul hadn’t mentioned him here in 2 Timothy. He is memorialized by Paul for his faithful ministry. Paul demonstrates his pleasure and thanksgiving before Timothy, the churches in Ephesus, and the world through this letter.

It’s important to be thankful for a refresher’s ministry because it’s so easy to take it for granted. It’s kind of like most children’s relationships with their parents. They birth, raise, and educate us, and yet we easily forget and neglect them. This often happens with people who refresh us without requiring our appreciation or remuneration.

Do you often thank those who refresh you? Refreshers at times feel awkward when receiving appreciation, but they’re always thankful for it.

2. When refreshed, we should constantly remember our refreshers in prayer—praying both for them and their families.

Paul prays for Onesiphorus and his family. We should do the same. Galatians 6:6 says, “Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it.” One of the good things we should share with those who refresh us is prayer. Pray for protection from the enemy, encouragement, intimacy with God, knowing of his Word, and bearing fruit. We must bless our refreshers through prayer, even as Paul did.

Do you often pray for those who refresh you? Let us lift them up often.

Application Question: Paul often started his letters with prayer and thanksgiving for those he served or served with (cf. Phil 1:3, Col 1:3). How can we be more effective at praying and thanking our refreshers? Who is God specifically calling you to pray for and give thanks to?

Conclusion

How can we perform the ministry of refreshment? How can we embrace people in need like a breath of fresh air?

  1. To Perform the Ministry of Refreshment, We Must Reach Out to Those in Need
  2. To Perform the Ministry of Refreshment, We Must Prepare and Protect Our Families
  3. To Perform the Ministry of Refreshment, We Must Persistently and Practically Serve Others
  4. To Perform the Ministry of Refreshment, We Must Accept and Empathize with Others
  5. To Perform the Ministry of Refreshment, We Must Accept Various Inconveniences
  6. To Perform the Ministry of Refreshment, We Must Focus on God’s Reward

Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentary have been added.

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1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 243–244). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

2 Guzik, D. (2013). 2 Timothy (2 Tim 1:16–18). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

3 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 244). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

4 Albert MacKinnon, cited by Guy King, To My Son [Christian Literature Crusade, 1976], p. 34 (as cited by Steven Cole in his sermon on 2 Timothy 1:15-18 at https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-7-ministry-refreshment-2-timothy-115-18)

5 Accessed 10/15/16, from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-7-ministry-refreshment-2-timothy-115-18

6 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 243–244). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

7 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2114). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Pastors

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