This past weekend was the 50-year reunion for my high school graduating class (1964…Libby High School). As we drove up to the Fred Brown Pavilion (Fred was one of our teachers and long-time mayor of Libby) on the Kootenai River where we to had a potluck get-together, I wondered if we were in the right place as we saw all these “old-looking people” getting out of their vehicles. I thought maybe it was a special outing for the folks from the Libby Care Center! Amazing how much we can change in 50 years. There were a couple who had changed very little, but most of us showed the evidence of what half a century can do for you! Sadly, some 20 out of our class of 90 have already passed away.
One of my classmates, David Olson, who attended, stayed overnight with us. We did a lot together during high school, including playing in the band, he a trumpet and I a French horn. (We had a large band for a fairly small school, and a fantastic director, Fred Nelson—no relation. We had the unique distinction of having eight French horns that played together at music festivals). I practiced solos for festivals at the Olsons’ since his mom was my accompanist. His family also took me out to their cabin on Crystal Lake and taught me to water ski. In high school he was known as “Ole” and I as “Nellie.” We also shared in common our faith in Jesus Christ which gave/gives us an even closer bond. “Ole” was also the “best man” in our wedding and a few years ago when Ole remarried after losing his first wife to cancer, I got to be in his wedding, which was a real honor. His new wife, Naomi, is a widow who has lost two husbands. She is a very godly woman so she and Ole have a great relationship and ministry for the Lord.
It was such an encouragement and blessing to have Ole with us, to hear all the “God stories” in their lives and just to have a sweet time of fellowship in the Lord. We also had lots of laughs over the memories of our high school days.
As I pondered the blessing of having someone who is a great encourager in our life, I thought about a particular individual in the life of the Apostle Paul who meant a lot to him. His name, “Onesiphorus,” sounds a bit like some kind of disease or infection, but actually it is a Greek word which means “useful,” or “profitable.” Onesiphorus was a resident of Ephesus in Asia Minor (II Tim. 4:19) where Paul had helped start a church and pastored for a time. While he was there, Onesiphorus had ministered to him (II Tim. 1:18). The Greek word for “ministered” or “served” that Paul uses in II Tim. 1:18, is diakonos, from which we get “deacon,” so it is also possible that Onesiphorus was a deacon in the church at Ephesus. Since Timothy, to whom Paul is writing, also pastored in Ephesus, he too would have known Onesiphorus and his family, and likely was blessed by them as well. Every pastor—myself included—is very thankful for those faithful members who come alongside to encourage and to help in the ministry. Some minister behind the scenes, but the Lord will one day openly reward them (II Tim. 1:18).
Paul was now in prison in Rome for the second and final time before being executed at the hands of the wicked Roman Emperor, Nero. He was writing his final letter to his dear friend and understudy, Timothy, who was currently pastoring in Ephesus, urging him: “make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me…Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus” (II Tim. 4:9-12). It was certainly a dark and lonely hour for Paul. Demas had forsaken him and his other associates had been sent to distant places of ministry. But, there was one man who dared to leave Ephesus and come to Rome and risked his life looking for Paul and ministering to him—Onesiphorus (Mr. “profitable” and “useful”). Once in Rome Onesiphorus diligently looked for Paul so he might encourage him. It was apparently hard for him to locate Paul, for in his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote: “…he eagerly searched for me, and found me” (II Tim. 1:17). Perhaps some of the Roman Christians were still opposed to Paul as they had been during his first imprisonment (see Phil. 1:12-17). Or perhaps the Roman officials were not cooperative, and did not want their choice prisoner to receive any help. But, Onesiphorus persisted, risking his own life to stand with Paul and to assist him in any way he could. Once Onesiphorus located the hard-to-find, high-security prisoner, he ministered to his physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. This was not the only time that Onesiphorus had ministered in this way to Paul, for the apostle wrote: “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chains” (II Tim. 1:16). Onesiphorus could have just stayed in Ephesus and prayed for Paul—and he needed that—but instead he made the dangerous journey to Rome and ministered to Paul. Paul’s description of this man’s ministry was that “He often refreshed me.” The Greek word he used means “to cool again,” like a burst of fresh air. How we thank God for Christians who are “a breath of fresh air,” especially in our hours of trial.
Were it not for Paul’s letter to Timothy, we would never know that Onesiphorus had served Paul and the church, but the Lord knew, and “the Lord will remember him on that day” (II Tim. 1:18.) (NOTE: It may be that Onesiphorus was the one who carried the letter—II Timothy—back to Timothy in Ephesus.)
So, are you an “Onesiphorus” to someone? Are you a “breath of fresh air” to another believer who needs encouragement? You can be. You should be. Is there a fellow member of Christ’s body to whom you could offer this same kind of refreshing service? It might be an older person who needs help with chores around the home, a single mom who needs a day without the kids, or someone who lives alone who would love fellowship around a meal with your family, or maybe a pastor who needs someone to come alongside and minister to and with him. I’m sure if you ask God, He will provide some opportunities for they are inevitably all around. I thank God for the “Onesiphoruses” like Ole in my life who have blessed and refreshed me. I trust that I will be available to the Lord to be that to others.