Sermon Manuscript . . .
The Power of Courageous Example
2 Timothy 1:15-18
Only people matter. Goats are not eternal, nor are cats. Your car and house are not going to Heaven. Your video games will burn. Your computer will turn to ash. Your TV will rot. Your boat will sink. Your phone will die. Your most precious possession, the thing that brings you the greatest joy, will burn. People live forever–eternally with God in Heaven, or eternally in torment in Hell. But people, all people are eternal.
This is why marriage, family, friendships and the body of Christ are so important to God and so crucial to every single one of you. Relationships often define the kind of Christian you are. The people you are closest to and spend the most time with not only expose what kind of Christian you are, but also shape the kind of walk you have with Christ.
The Apostle Paul was often viewed solely as an authoritative theologian, aggressive preacher, and run-over-you church planter. But Paul was actually a people person. Paul had a massive capacity for friendship and a vast circle of comrades in ministry. John Mark had grown helpful to Paul, Silas accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey.
Onesimus was a fugitive Asian slave converted to Christ, Epaphroditus the friend of the Philippian church who came to see Paul in Rome, Priscilla and Aquila who risked their lives to help Paul, Tychicus was a “dear brother” (Ephesians 6:21), Tertias, his secretary Amplias “whom I love in the Lord” from Romans 16:8, Luke, and of course Timothy, Paul’s dear son.
If you had no information about Paul, you’d probably assume the massively brilliant theology of Romans must have come from an ivory tower intellectual with several PhD’s, who had no time for people. But in the final chapter of Romans, Paul’s closing greetings mention 33 names, 24 of whom were in Rome.
What makes this even more impressive is, Paul had never been to Rome. Most of the people he mentions in the last chapter had met Paul on his journeys and had subsequently taken up residence in Rome. Paul’s huge heart knew where each friend was geographically and spiritually. People, relationships, and friendships consumed Paul.
This is what makes Paul’s current situation horribly sad. Paul is not only in a dark, dirty, disgusting and difficult-to-find prison cell, awaiting a death sentence. But when it comes to people, Paul has been deserted, abandoned, betrayed and is now mainly alone. Chapter 4 tells us Demas has forsaken Paul, Alexander has done Paul much harm.
Sadly, Titus and Crescens had to return to their ministries, so now only Luke is with Paul. In Paul’s first imprisonment, he was not alone. But now, six years later, Paul has been arrested again and in this Roman dungeon, Paul is so isolated. If people are willing to risk identifying with Paul, his gross prison cell is very hard to find.
This means Paul, the great people-oriented person, the passionate lover of the church, was in pain. You have to be in a real relationship with people for them to really hurt you. People you don’t know cannot hurt you. Hurt comes when you have known them, loved them, and invested in them. CS Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. If you don’t want to be hurt, give yourself to no one. Not even a cat.” (Amen to the cat.)
But Paul had given them his heart. Paul had given others his whole life–everything. John Calvin, who experienced similar hurts when he was expelled from Geneva and was abandoned by onetime friends, remarked that such deserters invariably become accusers. Calvin used to say, many of his former colleagues wandered through France trying “to establish their own innocence by directing against us all the accusations they can.”
Because Paul had such a great heart, yet had been deserted and slandered by people he had loved, Paul was heartbroken. His implied message to Timothy, in verses 15 to 18 is, “Don’t model the traitors, follow the example of the trustworthy. Don’t model the cowards, follow the example of the courageous.”
Let’s get down and dirty. What will you do if the day arrives that I am arrested for believing the Bible, and if you identify with me in any way, you and your family could also be arrested? Will you visit me in jail? Will you identify with the faithful? Will you support those who teach the truth of the Word and proclaim the message of the Gospel?
Or will you tell yourself, “Hey–those with older kids can visit Chris. The collegians will support Chris? Students won’t get arrested, they can encourage him.” Or worse, you say, “FBC was wound a little tight on the Bible–we don’t need this scrutiny.” Will you be the coward, or will you be the courageous? That’s exactly the question Paul asks Timothy as he wraps up chapter 1 of 2 Timothy. Paul tells Timothy, “A courageous, Christlike model promotes Christlike courage.” Open your Bibles to 2 Timothy 1:15 to 18, and follow along with your outline.
How do you glorify God when your friends hurt you? How do you respond when the faithful you know are being persecuted? How can you develop a heart of courage for Christ when you are surrounded by cowards? Paul answers that in verses 15 to 18–read it aloud with me.
“You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. 16 The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; 17 but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me—18 the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day—and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus.” Let’s draw out what is here.
#1 The Negative Example of COWARDICE
Verse 15, “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me.” Paul had friends, coworkers, fellow ministers, brothers and sisters who turned away. Paul had loyal friends who betrayed him–believers Paul invested in, discipled, cared for actually fail to come to his aid when he needed them the most.
In 1 Corinthians 15:33, early in his ministry, Paul warned the church at Corinth, “Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals.” Where’s the deception? It says, “Do not be deceived.” How are we deluded concerning this true principle? The self-lying comes when we apply this verse to others and not ourselves. The deception is in full swing when we think of this only as applying to non-Christians.
We often lay this verse on our teenagers and forget it applies to so-called believers in the church. If we associate with spiritually courageous Christians, our courage will increase. On the other hand, if we associate with those who are ashamed of Christ and His Gospel, we will soon be tainted by that shame. Paul shares with Timothy how spiritual leaders in Asia reacted to his circumstances.
First A CROWD of cowardly Leaders
The first group Paul describes are those in Asia who betrayed him. Verse 15, “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me.” The Greek verb, you are aware, is you have known in the past and you continue to know now, informing us Timothy has been aware of this desertion for quite some time. But consider Paul.
In a lesser man, this event would’ve resulted in a major depression and temptation. To be rejected by the world is not pleasant, but to be deserted by fellow workers in the service of Christ is painful. To have those you have spiritually invested in then turn away from you, some even turning against you, is heartbreaking.
Paul was deserted by a substantial group of believers. The defections were so staggering, the entire province of Asia Minor and its capital, Ephesus, were prominent in this betrayal. Do you see how embarrassing this reading is? Paul’s writing this letter to Timothy, who is currently ministering in Ephesus. This is not a private text–this is God’s Word. The entire church of Ephesus is reading this letter and hearing about their cowardly reaction.
They were ashamed of Paul because they were ashamed of the Gospel he preached and they became even more fearful when he was imprisoned for the faith. It’s unlikely the Roman courts prosecuted Paul for religious reasons. He would have been held on a political charge such as sedition or endangering the peace.
But once Paul was arrested and imprisoned, the men in Asia who were with Paul were afraid of being found guilty by association. Because Paul writes this negative description of those in Asia in verse 15 in contrast to the positive example of Onesiphorus in verses 16-18, we know their turning away was more personal than it was a desertion of their faith.
The issue was simple–because their first priority was self-preservation, they had nothing more to do with the apostle, even though Paul had ministered with them and to them. It’s no wonder Paul longed to see Timothy and asked for his spiritual son to come to Rome twice in this letter. This was a sweeping rejection.
Turning away means to twist, turn or steer away. But what does Paul mean when he says, “All who are in Asia”? Some think Paul is referring to all the Christians in Asia. This seems unlikely since not everyone in Asia has turned away from Paul (such as Onesiphorus, Timothy and Luke). And since Paul lists two specific names in this very verse, Paul seems to have a more restricted group in mind–like a particular group of leaders.
Maybe the group was those Christians in Rome from Asia who should have stood by Paul but didn’t. Or the leadership who are now in Asia but failed Paul when he was arrested in their midst, or when they were requested to come to Rome for Paul’s trial, but didn’t. We don’t know, but they did turn away.
Doubtless, Paul’s imprisonment bolstered his enemies to mount an offensive against him and his teachings. Doubtless too, his imminent execution as a criminal at the hands of Nero caused some believers to panic. For their own safety, fainthearted believers decided to distance themselves from Paul. Such cowardice did not surprise the apostle Paul, but it saddened him.
Life got hard, costly, risky–so everyone deserts Paul. They said, “I’m out.” This happens today. People love our church, but when the Word of God cuts deep and these few know they have to repent, change or grow, what do they do? They leave. If they give a reason, it’s never their own heart, but some offense, some preference, some difference, something lame. Not everyone, friends, but some disappear.
So as Paul reminds Timothy of these things, his goal is to call Timothy to be courageous and stand up for God’s Word and God’s will, even though it’s costly. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “We will not bow down, even though you burn us alive, Nebuchadnezzar.” Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
Rejection and adversity separate the chaff of surface friendship from the substance of real friendship. This truth had become apparent through Paul’s difficulties. Though all of us reject the prosperity gospel, there are some of us who secretly embrace some of it. When trials hit, we think it means God’s disfavor.
When Paul was arrested and some believers felt Paul’s suffering was God’s punishment, but his wealth, comfort or release would mean God’s favor—far from it. There will always be some who will respond poorly.
Second A COUPLE of cowardly Leaders
Verse 15 continues, “among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.” Paul singles out two individuals from that group–“Phygellus and Hermogenes”. Now their mothers must have hated them, cause there’s no way these boys could spell their own names when they started school, right? Can you imagine being in kindergarten? “What’s your name?” “I don’t know. I can’t write it. I have no idea.”
These two are not mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. They are most likely singled out as the leaders, or perhaps because Paul is most disappointed in them. Of all of the thousands of people who were turning tail in cowardice, these two men stood out. It seems Paul was particularly hurt by their disloyalty.
Maybe at one time they had been close and helpful to Paul. Maybe, like Peter before he denied the Lord, they had vowed that, even if everyone else forsook him, they never would. Maybe they were leaders of a faction that took many other people away with them. We don’t know whether these two were Ephesians or not, but they needed no introduction to Timothy from Ephesus. Tim knew who they were, but you and I don’t.
John MacArthur writes, “Because Paul says nothing more to identify them, we can assume they were known to Timothy. And because he bothers to name them specifically out of the many others, it seems likely that they were well known in Asia, that they were close to Paul, and that they were leaders who had shown promise. They probably would have been the last ones to be suspected of cowardice, ingratitude, and being ashamed of Christ and of Paul.”
This desertion evidently refers to a specific event, though we’re not certain what it was. Paul, in love, literally draws a veil over their situation and we know nothing else. We do not know, but Paul knew, the Lord knew, and Timothy knew. We can read between the lines of verse 15. In effect Paul says to Timothy, “Surely, you don’t want to be in the same camp as Phygellus and Hermogenes.” Okay, Paul–so you don’t want me to model those two. Who then should I use as an example?
#2 The Noble Example of COURAGE
Paul brilliantly moves from the disappointment of those who turned away, with its implicit appeal to Timothy not to do as these men have done in verse 15, to the one who has greatly encouraged Paul. So he is now commended to Timothy. All we know about Onesiphorus in the New Testament is found in verses 16, 17 and 18 here. Paul begins by expressing a wish for the Lord’s mercy on Onesiphorus’s family in verse 16 and Paul ends by expressing the same wish for Onesiphorus himself in verse 18.
First A BELOVED example
Verse 16, “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.” Greek lesson time. There are four main moods with the Greek verb. A mood is the relationship of the verb to reality. Indicative is stating a fact of reality. The fourth mood, optative, is the most removed from reality and is so rare, we teach the TC men they may never see it.
Well, the optative mood is used twice in these verses–16 and 18 when Paul writes, “The Lord grant mercy.” He is literally wishing the Lord may grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus. Both are expressing a wish—that the Lord may grant mercy. Paul wishes for the Lord to bless the Onesiphorus family. This is because of what Onesiphorus has done.
Where is Onesiphorus’s family right now? Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 4:19, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.” His family is in Ephesus–so Onesiphorus was away from them when he ministered to Paul in Rome. Why does Paul speak of the man’s household–why does Paul write “to the household of Onesiphorus” (both here and in 2 Timothy 4:19), instead of simply “to Onesiphorus”? There is lots of speculation–so you Bible detectives reason this out.
A Paul wants Onesiphorus’s family, who enabled Onesiphorus to provide for Paul’s needs, to receive the same in return–to receive mercy, in the sense of having their needs met.
B Onesiphorus, having appeared in defense of a prisoner accused of a capital crime and having shown great interest in his case, was himself arrested and imprisoned. Hence Paul’s heart, filled with sympathy for the hero’s family–Paul utters a wish that the Lord may show mercy to these dear ones.
C Paul knows the departure of Onesiphorus, from Ephesus to Rome, had caused worry to those whom he had left behind. But they had nevertheless readily consented. Hence, not only Onesiphorus but also his household deserved to be specially mentioned by Paul.
D Onesiphorus was no longer alive–he may have been executed? Hence, Paul expresses the wish that the Lord might grant mercy to his household. But if that were true, it would seem somewhat strange that not a word is mentioned about his death. The text doesn’t give any clue, so this is all conjecture—but it seems safest to conclude . . .
A Paul wants Onesiphorus’s family, who enabled Onesiphorus to provide for Paul’s needs, to receive the same in return–to receive mercy, in the sense of having their needs met. What did Onesiphorus do? Two things here.
ONE “For he often refreshed me.” Refreshing means to be reviving–and that probably includes food and water, as well as personal encouragement to Paul’s very heart. Languishing in that kind of hell-hole, a personal visit can make all the difference in the world. These visits literally ministered to Paul’s soul–soul refreshment. We know that because the root of the Greek word, translated refreshed, is the word for soul.
Onesiphorus would drop in with some food, water, maybe wine and oil. He loves Christ. He’s not ashamed. He’s not concerned about being thrown in jail. He affirms his love for Paul, asks what he can pray for, possibly brings and carries out correspondence, gives him a hug, prays with Paul and for Paul and so much more. And verse 16 says Onesiphorus did this often–literally many times. Along with that . . .
TWO “And was not ashamed of my chains”–the word translated chain means handcuff. Paul, doubtless, had in mind the manacle that shackled him to a Roman soldier 24-hours-a-day. Here, possibly just chained to the wall. Some of the guards probably believed Nero’s lie that the Christians, of whom Paul was chief, had torched Rome.
Perhaps a number of them had lost loved ones in the fire. Some guards doubled as spies and likely reported Paul’s conversations and the names of his visitors to authorities. Yet Onesiphorus refused to be intimidated. A courageous, Christlike model promotes Christlike courage. Be like Onesiphorus, Timothy, since Onesiphorus was first a beloved example, and . . .
Second A BRAVE example
Verse 17, “But when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me.” In the previous verse, verse 16, Onesiphorus often refreshed Paul while in prison and was not afraid of him being a prisoner. He regularly visited the famous, aging apostle and ministered to his needs without fear and without shame. Now here in verse 17 Paul talks about the cost.
When Onesiphorus first came to Rome, perhaps on business, he eagerly searched for Paul until he found him. That suggests the search involved considerable time, effort, and possibly danger. Look at verse 17, “when he was in Rome.” That implies something about Onesiphorus.
Commentator Harry Ironside suggests, “Evidently this man was what we would call today a traveling man. He moved about, possibly on business, or it may be in the work of the Lord he went from place to place. In the course of his travels, he came to Rome, while Paul was a prisoner there and searched for Paul.”
Searched is the word you’d use to find your car keys–you have to find them or you’re not going anywhere. Search is a striving to look for in order to find. And this search was a risky business. Traveling all over Rome–to the market, to the forum, to the barracks, to the wealthy residential areas, to the courthouse, to the squalid slave quarters, and all the while asking for information regarding the whereabouts of Paul was hazardous duty.
Evidently the authorities were hushing up the arrest, trial, and imprisonment of this notable prisoner–possibly they feared Paul or his followers might instigate a riot. And it was not easy for the Asian, Onesiphorus, to locate Paul. He might not have ever been in Rome and did not know his way around. Part of the city had already been destroyed when Nero burned it down. For some time, the location of Paul’s imprisonment had been kept a secret from the Christians.
Also, believers in Rome had been reduced in numbers due to persecution and flight, and not all were eager to reveal to a stranger that they had any knowledge of Paul. Yet Onesiphorus, verse 17 says, “eagerly” sought for Paul. The word eagerly signifies “zealous diligence with haste,” and suggests exertion beyond the call of duty.
Picture Onesiphorus treading through the serpentine passages of Rome, knocking on doors, asking in his Ephesus accent about Paul. Doors slammed shut, disapproving eyes watched as he went on his way, but Onesiphorus refused to quit. He was asking dangerous questions. The lesser devoted would have made no search at all. Others would have cooled their consciences with minimal effort–“He simply can’t be found,” they’d say.
Anyone less determined than Onesiphorus would have given up, “Well, at least I tried!” But he kept looking and his diligence was rewarded. Paul says, “He found me.” What a meeting that must have been! Imagine the joy that surged in Paul when Onesiphorus arrived bearing supplies and Christian fellowship.
In this visit to Paul in prison, you actually see the living out of the Christian mercy that Paul prays God will give to Onesiphorus and his household. And the implied message, “Timothy, don’t be like Phygellus and Hermogenes. Be like Onesiphorus–because he is . . .”
Third A BLESSED example
A courageous, Christlike model promotes Christlike courage. Paul was obviously moved as he retold this incident and therefore breaks off the account and voices his appreciation for Onesiphorus by expressing his wish for him. Verse 18, “The Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day. And you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus.”
Paul begins this verse with wordplay–do you see it? May he who “found” me “find” mercy “from the Lord.” Now mercy is not receiving what we do deserve–we deserve judgement and eternal torment. But Christ was our substitute and God poured out his judgment and wrath for sin upon Christ in our place. As a result, God can grant us mercy and not give us what we do deserve for our sins.
In deep gratitude, Paul prays the Lord would grant mercy to Onesiphorus “on that day.” That day is the believers’ judgment, where Christians are judged–not for sin, but for the works we have done for Christ in His power and for His glory. Since Onesiphorus ministered to Paul in his most extreme need, Paul in turn wishes for Onesiphorus “mercy” on the most important day–“that day” (the day which is on Paul’s mind as he faces certain death).
Some commentators suggest Onesiphorus had died in his service to Paul or travels around Rome, or because he was a Christian close to Paul, and that is why Paul wishes for mercy for his family. Others suggest Paul’s prayers merely reflect that Onesiphorus is separated from his family and that is why Paul wants mercy for him and his family. Again, the text is not explicit–you’ll find out what really happened in Heaven.
As Paul writes about his friend’s consistent support, Paul reminds Timothy of his own firsthand knowledge of this great brother’s amazing service in Ephesus. Evidently, Onesiphorus had lived in Ephesus where Timothy was now ministering. “You know very well.” The Greek word for very well means better.
Paul tells Timothy, “You know better than I do all that this dear brother did for me in Ephesus.” Services is from the Greek word for deacon, making Onesiphorus a servant who functions like a waiter, but without a desire for pay or tip. The Greek text clearly indicates a large variety and a vast number of services which Onesiphorus gave to Paul.
Their relationship began many years earlier. Paul makes it clear, Onesiphorus had already proven his faithfulness through ministry in Ephesus, the seaport city of Asia Minor on the plain of the Cayster River, which became the center of New Testament ministry. Timothy is there, but don’t miss the obvious here. Onesiphorus himself connects Rome and Ephesus in this letter.
Paul is reminding Timothy of this courageous Christian who fearlessly serves the Lord, both in Rome and in Ephesus. Paul motivates his son in the faith to not follow the negative example of those in Asia, but to follow the courageous example of Onesiphorus, who served fearlessly in Ephesus and in Rome–anywhere and everywhere for Christ.
Timothy, do not be ashamed of the Gospel or of me His prisoner–be willing to suffer, stand out for Christ and proclaim the Gospel courageously, like Onesiphorus. A courageous, Christlike model promotes Christlike courage.
“Chris, I am courageous–what should I focus on in ministry?” For the answer to that, come back next week.
1-Ministers of mercy and diligent servants are CRUCIAL to the local church
I own the importance of elders and preachers. Without qualified and functioning men as leaders, and without an accurate pulpit, a church will remain weak no matter its size. But I am troubled by churches who focus so much on the preacher, they minimize the value of the members of the body and the other spiritual gifts given to the Church.
Paul was concerned about this as well in 1 Corinthians 12:22, “On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.” Paul is affirming what you already know–a liver is more important than an eye. You can live without an eye–you can’t live without a liver. Paul is saying those internal, unseen gifts–the non “up front” gifts, are really necessary. Those of you gifted to serve, those of you who are ministers of mercy, who care for others, are beloved and needed.
2 Genuine believers work at FORGIVING other believers
You don’t deny what’s happened, but in your heart, you know Christ has forgiven you for all your ugly, rebellious, hurtful sins. He calls you, in your heart, to forgive those who have sinned against you. Read this aloud in Matthew 6:14 to 15. “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
3 Rewards are given to those who actually SERVE
It’s not what you intend to do, dream you will do, but what you actually do for Christ in the power of the Spirit and for the glory of God, which are rewarded. Each of you are called to be serving faithfully in a ministry–it will make a difference in eternity. Read aloud with me 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
4 Courage is required to become INFLUENTIAL for Christ
You’ll never influence your children, spouse, parents or friends to turn to Christ if you’re embarrassed or ashamed to stand up for Him in public.
5 Being right with God means you have SURRENDERED to Christ
Have you exchanged all that you are for all that He is? Being His child means you obey. Being his disciple means you follow. Being his servant means you minister. Have you turned to Christ in repentance and faith? Ask Him to open your heart.