Onesiphorus was a ministry of refreshment to Paul. When the Apostle was in a Roman dungeon awaiting execution at he hands of Nero, Onesiphorus risked his own life by travelling to Rome and locating Paul in order in jail in order to bring him some much needed refreshment. Why was this so impactful to Paul that he mentions it when writing his final letter to Timothy?
The answer can be summed up in one word - LONELINESS! Paul was lonely. Frankly, most leaders are - especially when the going gets tough. You can really see Paul's loneliness in these words that he writes to his closest and dearest friend, Timothy, at the end of this letter:
"Make every effort to come before winter." (2 Timothy 4:21)
Though he was without question the most important person to the church of his day, at the end of his life, Paul found himself alone. That's what made Onesiphorus' ministry in his life so amazing.
If you go back to 2 Timothy chapter two and look at the verse right before we are introduced to Onesiphorus, you see a startling contrast. Verse 15 speaks of two other men that Paul knew and seemed to know well. There names are Phygelus and Hermongenes. Because those names are simply way too difficult to pronounce, and in keeping with the Sesame Street theme we started yesterday, let's just call these two "Bert and Ernie!" Verse 5 says:
"You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Bert and Ernie."
Paul had become somewhat toxic to believers. To associate with the Apostle would put any other believer's life on the line as well. As a result, all the believers in Asia turned away from him. How many turned? they all did! What did the do? They deserted him. They denied him. This was like Peter three times saying that he didn't even know who Jesus was.
But why does Paul mention just two names? They "all" turned away but he specifically mentions Bert and Ernie. That tells me two things. First, That tells me that Timothy must have known who these two men were. Had he not known who they were I seriously doubt Paul would have specifically named them in his letter. Second, it tells me that Paul didn't see this one coming. It is as if he is saying, "All who are in Asia turned from me, believe it or not, even Bert and Ernie.
I may be wrong, but it appears to me that Paul never would have imagined these two guys turning their backs on him. Bert and Ernie were two guys that Paul seemed to be confident would be there for him no matter what. But at the end of the day, Bert and Ernie were nowhere to be found and Paul was alone.
In contrast to that - Paul speaks of Sunffleupagus (Onesimus). In contrast to the disloyal abandonment of Bert and Ernie, this man's ministry of refreshment was more valuable than enough gold to fill Nero's Palace. If you have ever been there, you know what I am talking about. If you have ever found yourself in the pit where even the ones you thought would always stand with you turned tail and ran, but in your loneliness God brought you an Oneiphorus, then you too would say as Paul did:
"The Lord grant to him (Onesiphorus) to find mercy from the Lord on that day - and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus." (2 Timothy 1:18)
"Greet the household of Onesiphorus!" (2 Timothy 4:19)