The Godly Man – 2 Timothy 1:15-18


Towards the end of the 19th century, as the globalization of the world was slowly increasing, a nationalist group in China, known as the Boxers, began to rise against foreign imperialism and influence, particularly against Christianity. This uprising quickly became violent as in 1900 some Chinese forced foreigners to take refuge in the legation quarter, where embassies were located. Pressed by the Imperial Court, the Chinese Empress supported the boxers and declared war on foreign powers, putting a siege on the Legation Quarter for 55 days. The war was extended across 26 prefectures of China. During this first summer, many foreigners and as many as 2000 Chinese Protestants were killed.

During that time the rebels captured one of the mission stations and sealed off all the exits except one gate which they left open. Then they took a cross and put it on the dirt right by the gate, so that it would be difficult not to walk over it by going through the gate. Following this, the Boxers told the missionaries and all the students who were there, since it was some kind of a mission school, that all of them had to go through the gate, and whoever would trample the cross could go free. The first seven students did just that. But then, the 8th student, a girl, came to the cross, knelt down, prayed for strength, stood back up, and walked carefully around the cross right into the firing squad. The 92 other students, which were all that were left, did the same thing and walked to their death rather than denying Christ and trample His cross. [pause]

The example and courage of this woman of God was enough to feed the souls of 92 people and give them strength to lay down their very lives for the sake of the gospel. This is what true courage does. It is contagious, it generates strength, and it is unstoppable.

This courage is one of the key virtues needed for the minister of the gospel. We have already discussed in our two past messages of this series how ministry comes with difficulties. It comes with pain and suffering, with trials and opposition. It is hard and it is foolishness in the eyes of the world. Why should people suffer for something that does not grant immediate pleasure? People might endure hardship to get their lusts satisfied, but why in the world should they suffer for Jesus Christ, someone who already left this world?

Once a month I go to a place called the Bible Tabernacle, a rehab center for homeless people, drug addicts, ex-convicts and all sorts of people. This Saturday, as I was walking to the chapel to go preach, I was talking to Andy, and asked him how he was doing. He answered me: I’ve blown it again. I was caught smoking drugs again and I’m just thankful that I wasn’t kicked out and sent in the streets again.

For the pleasure of one beefed up cigarette he was willing to risk spending the winter in the cold.

That’s how the world thinks. It’s not that they are not willing to suffer, but they can’t suffer for what truly matters. For this it takes a spiritual man, man of God. A man of conviction. A man of true courage.

That’s who Paul was, and that is who he wanted Timothy to be. And in order to have his disciple rise to that state, Paul encouraged Timothy to remember several things. In our first message of this series we saw that he reminded Timothy of his calling and of his gifting. Then we saw how he reminded Timothy of the superiority of the gospel. Today, he reminds Timothy of the example of a man of God, Onesiphorus.

Onesiphorus was a model in that he was a living example of what Paul wanted Timothy to be. A man of God, full of courage and conviction.

Do you want to be a man of God?

Then let us together look at 3 aspects of a man of God, so that we would learn to be examples in the faith.

2Ti 1:15  You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.

2Ti 1:16  May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains,

2Ti 1:17  but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me–

2Ti 1:18  may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!–and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.

I. A Man of God is Courageous (v.15-16)

The first aspect that we see from verses 15-16 is that a man of God is courageous. A man of God stands up in times of adversity and takes initiative in spite of danger.

2Ti 1:15  You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.

2Ti 1:16  May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains,

The first chapter of this book is full of reminders. We saw in our first study how many times Paul used vocabulary relating to remembering and reminding. Here again, he begins and ends this section with the verb “to know.”

He begins “you are aware” or literally “you know this thing.” Paul is not telling Timothy anything new. He is simply reminding him of things he has witnessed so that he could call them to remembrance and be challenged by them. As we will see, Onesiphorus had modeled what Paul wanted of Timothy, for him to come to Rome unashamed, what it meant to be a man of God, an example that Timothy was to follow.

So first Paul reminds Timothy of straight-forward facts. He affirms, “all who are in Asia turned away from me.” Now, we must understand that this is some kind of hyperbole. The region of Asia, which is really in Paul’s day the western part of modern Turkey, had for its most important city Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering and where Onesiphorus was from. So we know it couldn’t be that all in a literal sense had abandoned Paul, since at least there were two faithful disciples who had not.

This could be better understood however in light of what Paul mentions in Ephesus 4:16

“At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!

Roman trials were in many ways similar to ours. There was a judge, a jury, an attorney, a prosecutor (or accusatory) and also many witnesses. But when it came to witness in favor of Paul, nobody showed up.

Now, was it risky? Certainly. If as we believe Paul had been arrested by Nero following the Great Fire of Rome, then the terms of his sentence would have been nothing short of treason, public threat, and possibly murder.

Associating with Paul or identifying oneself to him was dangerous.

And this is why everyone abandoned him. They literally “deserted” him. They turned away from him. It is a verb implying rejection and disaffection. Abandonment.

Even Sadam Hussein had people protesting against his arrest at the risk of open shame and possibly their very lives.  But not Paul. This man who had brought his disciples to the knowledge of God and to eternal life, was abandoned by them.

But particularly painful for Paul was the fact that those who abandoned him were from Asia. Paul’s ministry in Asia, particularly in Ephesus, had been a climax in his ministry. There he stayed for over 3 years, teaching daily in the hall of Tyrannus, “so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10).

Paul’s stay in Asia had not been without troubles. We remember the commotion in Ephesus, led by Demetrius, in defense of “Artemis” or “Diana,” the goddess of the city. In his second letter to the Corinthians he also wrote,

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” (2 Cor 1:8)

These people from Asia, Paul had loved to the point of risking his life for them. But they would not do the same for him. With Phygelus and Hermogenes, they all left him.

Now, we do not really know who those people were. This is the only mention of them in the Bible. All we know is that Paul knew them and Timothy knew them. They were probably believers and even leaders among Christians. People who had proven to be of value for the gospel. Names of good reputation.

And here even though the term of abandonment is strong, it does not necessarily imply apostasy. Simply failure. Demas, on his side, who had been a partner of Paul for years, we see in chapter 4 left him for the love of the present world. He took advantage of Paul being put aside to finally do what was on his heart.

You can imagine Paul being at one of the lowest point in his life. The people that he had loved and that he still loved were deserting him and dissociating themselves from him one by one.

But then comes verse 18:

2Ti 1:16  May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains,

But while a growing movement of believers seemed to have begun to dissociate themselves from Paul, one man stood for him, Onesiphorus. And while others abandoned Paul, this man did not. His heart was consecrated for Paul and for the ministry, and there could be no shame or threat that would stand in the way.

And here in this verse 16 we see both the strength of Paul’s character and Onesiphorus’ character. Paul is in jail, abandoned by all, ready to die, and he is praising the Lord and praying for the family of his friend. And it is interesting what he is praying for. He is praying for mercy.

Now, you don’t pray for mercy for someone who is doing well. Praying God to have mercy is that same as praying Him to have pity. That’s a prayer of someone in need. For Onesiphorus and his family, to have helped Paul had come at a great cost.

Trips to Rome were long and dangerous, but even more, to stand for the name of Paul was a great act of courage. Paul’s name had become shameful. He was a prisoner ready to be executed. In the eyes of the government and the whole Empire, he was a scandal. Now, to make a trip all the way to Rome, Onesiphorus was probably a man with certain financial success. We see that he has a household, he is not a servant or a day-laborer, he is a well-established man. This might be part of what he used to refresh Paul, as we read. But we must also remember, associating with Paul could cost him everything. Not only his very life, but also his business, his influence, the future of his family. Even future ministry opportunities, as he stood in opposition to others.

But Onesiphorus was not ashamed of Paul’s imprisonment. He was willing to lose everything so that he could continue to refresh this man of God, as he had done in the past.

To “refresh” in Greek comes from the root to “re-vive” or “re-soul.” It is the action of giving life again, to restore the soul, to give spiritual refreshment.

And this is what Onesiphorus was about. It fits his name well, meaning “one who brings profit.” He was a man of God, a man who believed that giving spiritual blessings to others was even more important than life itself. That’s conviction. That’s courage. That’s the attitude of a true man of God.

And there have been many Onesiphorus’ in history. I would never forget the story of the young wife of a Huguenot who would visit her husband imprisoned. He was sentenced to death for his faith, and she kept coming to encourage him to stand firm as he was awaiting the deadly blow. The soldiers let her do it, because the sounds of her pleas made them believe that she was trying to get her husband to recant and live. When they finally found out what she was doing, they tried to stop her, but instead she began to evangelize them. Because of her perseverance she was thrown in jail with her husband and executed with him on the same day.

True men and women of God do not back off during times of adversity. They stand and put the authorities of this world to shame. Their lives are example. They are characterized by courage.

II. A Man of God is Zealous (v.17)

So first, in verses 15-16, we saw how a man of God is courageous. Secondly, in verse 17, we see through the testimony of Onesiphorus that a man of God is also zealous.

2Ti 1:17  but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me–

We do not exactly know the reasons why Onesiphorus came to Rome. His name, ending in –us, shows that it is Latin. He might have had ties with the city. He might have gone for a business trip. We do not know. But what we know is that whatever brought him to Rome because secondary next to finding Paul.

Onesiphorus searched for Paul earnestly. He applied himself for the task. He took it to heart without giving up. Paul’s writing that Onesiphorus actually found him seems to come as a surprise. Paul was hard to find, and there must have been several reasons for this.

First, as we know, the city of Rome had been destroyed by a great fire. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, the fire had burnt for 6 days, affecting most of Rome. Only 4 of the 14 districts had been spared. The city was certainly changing and in re-construction, and you can only imagine that the comfort of prisoners sentenced to death would be the last priority of the city, especially when it came to those accused of having began that fire.

In fact, the condition of those prisoners awaiting execution was the worst of all. One of the prisons, in which many believe that Paul had been incarcerated, was named the Mamertine prison, a famous place that had been used to keep notorious prisoners such as Vercingetorix, my distant Gallic cousin who let the armies of what is now France against Rome.

This prison, initially built as cistern for an underground spring, had been transformed to keep the criminals that were condemned to death. It was in some ways a dungeon in the ground, a circular pit of about 30 feet in diameter with a hole at the top a little larger than that of a manhole in the street. It would be common for 30-35 prisoners to live in the pit in the same time.

There was also a door on the side of the pit that allowed that natural spring, which had now become the city’s sewage, to fill the room, drawn the prisoners, and wash them back out. The door would then be shut again until the place would drain and ready for another 30-35 criminals.

Key prisoners, such as conquered rulers and notorious criminals would be taken out of the hole to be paraded in the streets of Rome and executed.

My Gallic cousin with the long complicated name stayed there 5 years before he was killed publically.

Whether Paul was in that particular jail or not, we can’t be certain, although the fact that he was hard to find could imply that he was in a pretty similar condition.

This is why he would ask Timothy to come before winter and to bring a cloak, so that he would not die of cold.

In human standards, definitely a condition to be ashamed of.

But now imagine Onesiphorus, knocking on doors, asking officials, wondering through Rome, doing all he can to find Paul. The more he looked, the greater the danger on his life would increase. The more he persevered, the more the opportunities for him to be accused of the same crimes that brought Paul in prison increased.

There is no doubt the persecution against Christians had raged in Rome. Most of us have heard stories of them being used as human torches in Nero’s palace. The fact that Paul was hard to find had surely some implications concerning the state of the other Christians. Paul, who had ministered greatly in the city under his first house-arrest was certainly known and appreciated by the true believers of the town. Yet no one could bring him a cloak. No one had come to his first defense. Who knows who could give directions to Onesiphorus.

But this faithful believer was zealous for his convictions. He knew Paul desperately needed encouragement. He knew that Paul was suffering and needed to be refreshed again. These convictions to encourage and build up the great apostle of the faith were enough for him to persevere even at the risk of his life.

And that is what it means to be a man of God. A man of God is a man of conviction. A man who is not guided by mere opinions but who is taken captive by belief in the truth; who is controlled by it, who is owned by it, and who will not be halted by anything.

Do you call yourself a man of God? Do you see yourself as a man of God? Then test yourself to see what kind of zeal you apply in the things of the Lord.

What made Onesiphorus different from Phygelus and Hermogenes was that he wasn’t driven by circumstances. He was faithful regardless of what people thought, of what people could threat him with or what people could do to him and even his family. And even in times of great danger, he kept pressing on.

How zealous are we to take steps of faith? To take risks in our walk with God? To take risks in our giving? To take risks in loving people? To take risks in spending less time doing stuff and praying more?

How eager are we to see holiness in the church? Do we take ownership and pain in the sin of the body, or do we find comfort and pride in comparing ourselves to those that are less mature? How zealous are we to see people repent? To see the Bride of Christ be made perfect? Do we pray for these things?

How zealous are you to be read by the Word? Hebrews 4:12 is clear the Word reads us. It discerns our thoughts. It is like a mirror James said. How zealous are we to be changed by the Word? Or have we already arrived? What eagerness, expectation and prayer are there around our time in the Word?

Oswald Sanders noted, “So strong was Jesus’ zeal that His friends thought He had abandoned common sense (Mark 3:21) and His enemies charged Him with having a demon (John 7:20)”

As Piper said, brothers, let us not become professionals. People who have figured things out. People who stop pressing on, especially in times of difficulty.

But let us be like Jacob, not wanting to let go of God until He brings a blessing. Let us be like Moses, when told by God that he would be given the Promised Land but that God Himself was not coming but was sending an angel instead, crying out, “Show me Your glory! I’m not going if you are not going! And if you come, show your glory!!”

Onesiphorus was on a mission, and apparently it had been a mission that not many people had been willing to undertake. But he was zealous, and he completed his mission. And Paul was strengthened.

Like Onesiphorus we are on a mission. We have limited time, limited resources, limited energy, and the world is against us. But if we want our lives to count, we must be zealous. A man of God is a zealous man. Someone who does not stop to grow. Someone like Paul, who runs to win the race.

Wherever God sends you, don’t run behind. Be an example. Be a leader. Be a man of God. Let your kindness be known to all men. Let your prayer life be a source of inspiration. Let your knowledge of the Word be a knowledge of God, personal, deep, alive, and not just intellectual.

Find your mission, within God’s Great Commission, and suffer for it until it is completed and you go in peace.

III. A Man of God is faithful (v.18)

Onesiphorus was courageous and zealous, but he was also an example of a man of God to Timothy because he was faithful.

2Ti 1:18  may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!–and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.

Here again is Paul’s second request for mercy for Onesiphorus, this time in an eschatological sense, in a similar manner that he expressed in his first epistle to the Thessalonians.

Some believe that Paul’s prayer for Onesiphorus implies that he had died during his journey to Rome or back from Rome, and Roman Catholics even use this passage to defend the doctrine of prayer to the dead. In Latin there is an expression that was used to describe such reasoning, “Capilo Tracte” meaning “pulled by the hair.” In other words, it is way over-stretched and it is just non-sense. First there is no evidence that Onesiphorus had died, and even though it is somehow unusual that Paul asked for blessings for his household in v.26 and for him at the Day of the Lord, he certainly had his reasons for it.

First of all, Onesiphorus had gone all the way to Rome, and was probably there for more than a simple visit to Paul. And if he was away from his family, they certainly needed mercy. Also, as Paul had stayed in Ephesus for such a long period where Onesiphorus was with his family, and Onesiphorus often refreshed him and served him, we can assume that Onesiphorus’ family had a part of that.

In fact there even was an apocryphal writing, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, which mentioned Onesiphorus as exercising hospitality to Paul during one of his journeys.

The reason why Paul was praying on behalf of Onesiphorus wasn’t because he was praying for the dead, but because he was praying God to be generous to his friend in rewarding his faithfulness.

Onesiphorus’ trip to Rome had not been the only proof of his dedication to Paul and to the ministry. While in Ephesus, he was constantly serving him. The word for “all” could be translated as “how many things.” he had been there again and again, faithfully.

And this is what brought Paul much joy, even in the midst of those horrible conditions in which he was living. He was seeing a true man of God, continuing to be faithful even when it cost, even when it hurt, even when it worked against his reputation.

But as an author said rightly, “today’s church wants to be raptured from responsibility.” The commitment of our people is more based on how they feel rather and on unshaken convictions.

Let me read to you an anonymous letter written some time ago that illustrate this:

Dear Sir,

You manufacture aspirin tablets that relieve sufferings, colds, and fevers. The mixture used in your tablets makes it possible for people to get out of bed and fight off headaches, bad nerves, and muscle spasms. I have noticed that these tablets work wonders on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and especially well on Saturday. But people who take them on Sunday seem to get no relief. They claim they cannot get rid of their aches and pains and are thus not able to attend Sunday school and church. Is it possible to put in an ingredient that will work on Sunday? Hopefully, A Concerned Pastor

And we laugh but the truth is that our churches are lacking of people that are faithful and courageous in the same time. That are faithful and zealous in the same time. That not only are committed, but that are always seeking to take things to the next step, to move forward, to grow in Christ-likeness and in the effectiveness of their gifts. The truth is that we are lacking men of God.

Biblical faithfulness is not only to do the same thing all over again without getting tired. That is called complacency. It is called traditionalism. Yes you want to keep in line with the truth, but you want to do everything in your power to keep on doing it better and better and better.

I have a brother who is very faithful. Every time he goes on the piano he plays the exact same song. Well, that’s the only one he knows.

Paul wrote in 1 Cor 15:58: « Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding [which means to be in excess, to super-abound] in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. »

What made Onesiphorus an example to follow was not only that he was consistent, but that he did not forget to put the word “faith” in faithfulness.

And Timothy knew this. He knew Onesiphorus’ character and faith ad faithfulness. He knew it very well, as Paul mentioned. He knew the challenges ahead of him and what he needed to do.


And I believe it is the same for us. We’ve heard of countless examples of men of God, of men of faith, of men of prayer, of men of conviction, showing us a path to follow. As Onesiphorus had done what was expected of Timothy, to go to Rome unashamed to testify with Paul for Christ, we have also many examples, in Scriptures and elsewhere, showing us what we need to do for each of us to accomplish our mission, as we clothe ourselves with courage, zeal and faithfulness.

And again, as we remember Paul and Timothy, we must also remember this unequaled task and privilege before us, not only to learn from the previous generations but also to be a source of inspiration for the coming generation.

As I mentioned before, I come from a line of pastors. By God’s grace, when I return to France for the ministry, I will be a 5th generation minister. And it all started with my great great-grand-father. He was an American of British parents with a heart for mission. He went to Turkey, but because of his bad health he had to leave the field and went back to America. He died at 33 with Tuberculosis. His son, my great-grand-father lived only for the gospel. I mentioned some of his ministry to you. He had a vision for the Word of God to be read and heard. He was the chairman of a committee of 12 people with a vision that eventually gave birth to Wycliffe Bible Translations, now one of the fastest growing evangelical movements in the world.

My great great-grand-father did not have time to do much in his life. But he passed the baton. He left an example that was followed. And because of his courage and his faithfulness, I am here today being trained and getting ready to return to France.

Onesiphorus is not a famous name. His testimony can easily be overlooked. But he stepped up to show a path that Timothy could follow. He stepped up in courage, zeal and faithfulness as a man of God.

Will you be this kind of man?

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