2 Timothy 1:16 ‘The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus.’
Read Through the Bible 2020
This Week’s Focus Passage: 2 Timothy 1:16
‘The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus.’
In 2 Timothy 1:15-18 [forming a paragraph in some copies], the name of Onesiphorus is brought before our attention by the apostle Paul as he writes this second of his two letters to his young fellow-worker in the gospel, Timothy. This passage contains the sole reference to this individual, Onesiphorus.
This thou knowest, that all that are in Asia turned away from me; of whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. The Lord grant mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus: for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but, when he was in Rome, he sought me diligently, and found me (the Lord grant unto him to find mercy of the Lord in that day); and in how many things he ministered at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.
This is the only reference to Onesiphorus apart from one other that Paul has included in his salutations at the close of this epistle, when he said very simply, verse 4:19, Salute Prisca and Aquila, and the house of Onesiphorus.
It has been left to conjecture as to the later circumstances of this believer who frequently refreshed Paul during his confinement in prison. Because of the rather unusual language employed by the apostle in this letter to Timothy, many are of opinion that Onesiphorus was no longer among the living at the time of the writing of this letter to Timothy. Why would he, otherwise, use the expression, ‘The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus’, unless it was because the head of this house was no longer with them? There could be other reasons, other than the death of this servant of the Lord, for his not being with his household at the time the letter was written. Paul might have been aware that he who had ministered to him in prison would be yet on his journey back to his home in Ephesus. We simply do not know. But another feature, possibly somewhat odd, is the manner in which Paul has prayed, it seems, in a parenthesis, that ‘the Lord grant unto him (Onesiphorus) to find mercy of the Lord in that day)’. Many are of the opinion, because of the use of such an expression, that this faithful attendant was not a believer, which would reduce him to a loving friend. This is not impossible. Hendriksen may help us here:
“Does the fact that Paul expresses the wish that Onesiphorus may find mercy ‘in that day’ (contrast what is said about the household of Onesiphorus, verse 16) mean that this true and loyal friend had already departed from this earth, so that he could no longer receive mercy in this life? It is possible, but in view of the fact that the apostle does at times express the wish that eschatological blessings be granted to those who, while the apostle is writing, are still living on earth (for example, 1 Thess. 5:23b), the conclusion that Onesiphorus had actually died is not necessary. Here again we must confess our ignorance.”—William Hendriksen. And we, with the popular commentator, confess our ignorance as well, although Paul’s salutation at the close of this epistle, where, once again, the reference of the apostle is to the “house, or family, of Onesiphorus,” which could lend itself to further meet the concept that he was no longer among the living at the time Paul wrote Timothy.
It is an interesting paragraph, 2 Timothy 1:15-18, where the apostle has spoken so highly of Onesiphorus, while on the same occasion denouncing the actions of two other individuals, Phygeles and Hermogenes. These two individuals are, in houseNewer Testament. One dictionary informs us that, ‘Phygelus is mentioned with Hermogenes, in 2 Timothy 1:15, as among the disciples in proconsular Asia who had turned away (i.e. repudiated) the writer, Paul, afraid, or ashamed to recognize him (being a prisoner), and are thus contrasted with Onesiphorus.’ It is very reasonable, nonetheless, to expect that while they were mentioned but once, it was prudent to state their names because Timothy and other readers of the epistle would know by their very names just who they were. And Paul wished to have it made known how they had forsaken him even, perhaps, as he had been careful to put the names of others on record, such as, just a few verses earlier, he had to report that Demas forsook me, and much more sadly, that it was due unto, his having loved this present world. Poor Demas! Is it not surely the case for each one of us, the longer that we remain on this earth, the greater number of individuals are brought into our lives, perhaps for just one time; on only one occasion? Or at least for only a short span of time? This was the case in the life of our apostle; he has need only to mention several folks by name and only once. If we have been walking with our Lord for more than a few years, surely we have met our own Phygelus’ and Hermogenes,’ happily, our own Onesiphorus’ too. We have had some that turned away from us; some that refreshed us. Sadly, we have likely encountered a Demas now and then; and possibly and Alexander the coppersmith. We cannot ‘set our pen down,’ figuratively speaking of course, without reference to this Alexander.
We say, ‘this Alexander,’ because there are five references in the Word to one by the name of Alexander. These are each of them, we believe, different men of that name, Alexander, though some writers contend for the Alexander of 1 Timothy 1:20 being the same Alexander the coppersmith of 2 Timothy 4:14. We don’t agree. But we could be wrong. Nonetheless, Paul’s rather remarkable allusion to this smithy causes questions to arise in our minds……..and hearts. Paul informs his young colleague that, Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord will render to him according to his works: of whom do thou also beware; for he greatly withstood our words. Is it alright to pass on negative remarks about another? Have we not been taught from our youth, ‘If you cannot say something nice about a person, say nothing at all.’? Yet, here, Paul is not practicing that view at all. Is the likely answer to our momentary perplexity perhaps found in the distinctions of the individual’s behavior that we have been observing here in Paul’s letter? Phygelus and Hermogenes, after all simply abandoned Paul when the going got rough. Demas forsook Paul because he loved this present world. But what was it that Alexander the coppersmith had done? Paul tells Timothy to beware, be aware, of this person, for that ‘he greatly withstood our words.’ He ‘greatly’ opposed ‘our’, perhaps Paul means to say to Timothy, the gospel that you and I proclaim, Alexander greatly opposed, he withstood, our doctrine; not just some passing remark, but he ‘greatly,’ vehemently, withstood our teaching regarding our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Paul could not, would not, remain silent under such opposition to the Truth as it is in Christ. Even as it is patently clear in Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia, so also in the case of these individuals who were opposing the Truth; opposing the doctrine of salvation by none other than Jesus Christ, and through no other instrument than His precious blood shed for all those that He came to save, having set His face steadfastly toward Jerusalem knowing the cross that awaited Him; ‘yea, the death of the cross.’
David Farmer, elder
Fellowship Bible Church
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