Positive and Negative Examples (2 Timothy 1:15-18)
2 Timothy 1:15-18
Good morning everybody on this wet fall Sunday. If we could take our Bibles and open them to the book of 2 Timothy, chapter 1, starting at verse 15. The title of our message this morning is Negative and Positive Examples. We learn a lot through role models; there are negative role models and positive role models. And the Apostle Paul, in this letter, in the verses we’re looking at today points out several negative examples and positive examples for the major point that he’s trying to communicate in this book, which is a book, as I’ll show you in a minute, as we have studied, about how to persevere in the faith, how to stay at the task when it gets difficult and the winds of opposition start to blow against us.
So this is really a book, the whole book, all four chapters of it, 2 Timothy, which is where we’ve been looking, is all about finishing the race, finishing strong. It’s a call, if you will, to Christian perseverance. The book, as we know, was written by Paul, an apostle, to Timothy. Paul wrote this from Rome. Timothy was being challenged in the church that he was pastoring, the church at Ephesus, he was being challenged to sort of, maybe not so much quit, but be less aggressive in his calling, be less assertive, blend in with the crowd a little bit more.
Timothy was already somewhat timid anyway; add to the fact that Timothy had some physical problems. Add to the fact that Timothy was very young, and then you kind of throw into the mix that a madman, named Nero, has ascended to the throne and is doing crazy things, like burning Rome and blaming it on the Christians, lighting Christians on fire and using those Christians to illuminate his garden parties. And you can begin to see why Timothy was beginning to shrink backwards in his calling, as many of us are challenged to do from time to time, shrink backwards, be less assertive about it.
Beyond that, Timothy’s mentor, Paul, the man who taught him everything he knew was now in jail and Timothy probably thought if I’m too much like Paul I’ll get thrown in jail also. So consequently Paul, in his very last words, because this is Paul’s final book prior to his death, which is imminent, written about A.D. 67, is challenging Timothy to persevere in the task…persevere! Continue to run the face that God has called you to run. So we have moved into chapter 1, God willing we’re going to finish chapter 1 today, which essentially is a generic call, if you will, to endurance.
Here is some of the ground we have covered, we’ve seen a basic greeting, a thanksgiving for Timothy’s faith, that he’s in the faith, that he’s in the ministry as Paul expresses himself in thanksgiving. But then he reminds Timothy of his gifting. Timothy had a very special and unique spiritual gift. God doesn’t give gifts for the purpose of a lack of use. In other words God gave the gift to use and Timothy is exhorted, verse 6, to use that gift. And he is also exhorted, verse 7, to not yield to fear. The emotion of fear is very real in this young man, Timothy, as fear is a reality in all of our lives. So in verse 7 he is told not to yield to the emotion of fear because the emotion of fear does not come from the Spirit of God. God has not given us a spirit of fear but of love, power and a sound mind, or sometimes translated self-discipline. [2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”] Then he moved on into verse 8-14 where Timothy is essentially told here not to be ashamed of the gospel. Why not be ashamed of the gospel? Because the gospel has in it ingredients or truth that is found in no other source. So Paul, therefore explains the benefits of the gospel in verses 9-10. Paul, verses 11-12, even explained his own, as an apostle, connection to the gospel; Paul’s whole life, in essence, revolved around the gospel.
And then he told Timothy in verses 13-14, which is where were at last week, last Sunday morning, to guard this gospel, to protect it because if the gospel becomes not the gospel then it is emptied of its power and its resources, because the gospel is the only source of information a person can ever hear and believe in that will make them right with a holy God. And it’s this very gospel that Timothy was somewhat reticent or reluctant to aggressively propagate.
And now we sort of wrap up this chapter by looking at some negative examples, verse 15, and then a positive example, verses 16-18. What does perseverance not look like? Paul essentially is going to explain that in verse 15 and then he says here’s what perseverance looks like; he’ll deal with that in verses 16-18. That’s why I’ve entitled this message Negative and Positive Examples. Paul reaches into his deep life experience and he surfaces various individuals, people that Paul knew, people that Timothy most likely new, as examples of what to do and examples of what not to do.
And I have to tell you, I really appreciate that about the Scripture. The Scripture tells you everything about people that are in the Lord’s service, the good, the bad and the ugly. And many times in the Bible there are examples held out to us of a positive nature, and then there is, as I’ll show you in a minute, examples held out to us of a negative nature. But all of these examples relate to Paul’s purpose in writing to Timothy, teaching Timothy to persevere, to stay at the task, to continue on with his calling.
Notice, if you will, verse 15, Paul actually surfaces here three negative examples: Timothy, here’s what not to do. Notice, if you will, verse 15 or chapter 1, “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” What’s the first negative example that Paul calls to Timothy’s attention? He calls to Timothy’s attention these people that were in Asia. Most people just sort of rush right over this verse without understanding its import. But Paul says to Timothy, “You are aware of the fact,” notice that word “all,” you might want to even underline that word, “that all in Asia turned away from me.”
Why does he bring up people in Asia? Because that’s where Timothy was. Timothy was a pastor of the church in Ephesus, which in that Asia Minor area. And it’s a very interesting verse because Paul a little over a decade earlier had a thriving ministry in that area. In fact, Acts 19:9-10 says this about the Apostle Paul, the ministry that he had there a decade earlier. “… he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.  This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”
If you look at all of the ministries that the Apostle Paul had the ministry that he had in Asia on his third missionary journey was most likely his most prolific fruitful ministry. This is a time period when all who dwelt in that area heard the word of the Lord. And that’s where all of those Asia Minor churches come from that we read about in the New Testament: Colossae, Ephesus, Laodicea, Smyrna, many of the churches mentioned in the book of Revelation owe their start to the Apostle Paul’s ministry and God’s work through the Apostle Paul in Asia Minor.
And what has happened is over a decade has passed, Nero is now on the throne. Nero, as I mentioned before, is launching a first formal wave of persecution against the church. The church had never faced anything like this before, they had faced persecution from the unbelieving Jews but now Rome itself has declared Christianity to be illegal. And in essence it was no longer cool to be a Christian; it was no longer “in vogue” to be a Christian. In fact, if you stood out too much as a Christian there was a price that had to be paid. And so all of those that had heard the gospel and no doubt believed the gospel, now all of them (and that’s why I emphasize this word “all,”) all of them had now deserted Paul, deserted the gospel in just a little over ten years.
And so don’t gloss over this statement here about what Paul is saying in verse 15, “all” those, not some, “all” of those who the Lord allowed me to reach on my third missionary journey, in my most prosperous ministry, have now deserted me.
Now there is a school of thought today that goes like this, you get it from Calvinism, you also get it from Arminianism, and the school of thought says this: Every true Christian must persevere in good works and if they do not persevere in good works to the very end of their lives, then they are, as Jacob Arminius said, they lost their salvation. The Calvinist school of thought says every true Christian must persevere in good works and if they don’t make it through the rest of their life persevering in the faith then they never were a Christian. So the Calvinists say you never had salvation and the Armenians say you lost your salvation.
Are we to, therefore, conclude that everybody in Asia Minor that turned their back on Paul was unsaved and went to hell? That to me seems somewhat ridiculous to think that way. What had happened is these Christians became intimidated and they didn’t want to stick out too much like a sore thumb so they simply began to mask or to hide their Christianity. They began to blend in with the crowd, they began to not publicly identify themselves too aggressively with the Apostle Paul, who after all was now thrown in prison because of his aggressive posture regarding the gospel.
This idea that all Christians who demonstrate they’re Christians will automatically persevere in works is a nice philosophy. It is a very nice theology but it is something that the Bible does not support. Now why would I say that? I say that because we have a plethora of examples in the Bible of people that no doubt were saved but simply did not persevere in good works to the end of their life. The Old Testament and the New Testament are filled with these examples. One example would be Noah. Did Noah persevere in good works right up to the end of his life? No he did not! Genesis 9:21 says Noah “drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.” Now are we going to say Noah wasn’t saved? That’s very difficult, isn’t it, because Hebrews 11:7 puts Noah in the hall of faith. [Hebrews 11:7, “By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteous which is according to faith.”]
Or what about this man named Lot? How does the story of Lot end? A good sermon title is “Are you a lot like Lot?” Lot is, after he is spared from Sodom and Gomorrah, in an incestuous drunken relationship with his two daughters, and from those unholy unions came forth the Moabites and the Ammonites, perennial enemies of the nation of Israel. So you can take Lot out of Sodom and Gomorrah but you’re having a more difficult time taking Sodom and Gomorrah out of Lot. Now are we going to say that Lot was unsaved? That’s a very difficult case to make because 2 Peter 2:7-8 calls Lot a righteous man three times in two verses. He was righteous positionally, but he was not living out in his behavior his right standing before God. Lot did not persevere until the end of his life. [2 Peter 2:7-8, “and if he rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men,  (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds).”]
Or how about Moses? Did Moses persevere right unto the very end of his life? No he did not! Because of Moses’ sin he was denied entrance into Canaan. He could only see Canaan from a distance. Now are we going to say that Moses was not saved? You have a difficult time making that argument because when Jesus appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration and glorified Himself Moses is right there with Him, in that vision that Peter and others saw.
You take, for example, the character, Samson; Judges 16 records how he broke his Nazirite vow, how he became intoxicated with prostitutes; how he spent his waning days being blinded and in a state of bondage, and how Samson actually contributed to the destruction of many people’s lives as he brought down the foundations of the temple and committed, in a sense, suicide. Samson did not finish well. Now are we going to say that Samson was unsaved? I think you have a hard time making that argument because Samson, like Noah, is in the hall of faith, a record of saved people, Hebrews 11:32 you’ll find his name there. [Hebrews 11:32, “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson….”]
Or what about Saul, the first king of the united kingdom. How did Saul’s career end? With his kingdom being taken from him, with him attempting over and over again to murder David, with him consulting a medium, and also with Saul committing suicide. Saul did not persevere in works until the end of his life. Now are we going to say that Saul was not saved? You have a very difficult time making that argument because of Saul, in 1 Samuel 10:1 it says this, “‘Has not the LORD anointed you a ruler over His inheritance?’”
1 Samuel 10:6 says, Samuel speaking to Saul, “Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed” through the power of the Spirit, “be changed into another man.” Here’s a man that was touched by the Spirit of God to be a prophet, to be a king. There is very little doubt that this man, Saul, was a believer and yet very clearly he did not persevere in works until the end of his life, did he?
Well, what about Solomon? That’s another example. Solomon is the third king that reigned over the united kingdom. Did Solomon finish well? Did he persevere in works till the very end of his life? The answer, of course, is no, because 1 Kings 11:4-5 says this? “For when Solomon was old, his wives” plural, there’s part of the problem, “his wives,” plural, “turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was now wholly devoted to the LORD his God,” now are we going to say Solomon wasn’t a believer? That becomes quite ridiculous, doesn’t it, since Solomon contributed not one, not two, but three books to the Biblical canon. One of those books he even wrote in a state of rebellion, that we call the book of Ecclesiastes.
You say well, those are all Old Testament examples, certainly this idea of a believer getting to the end of his life, being a believer but not persevering in good works, certainly this is not a New Testament idea, is it? Well, when you get to heaven ask Annas and Sapphira about that, who were slain in the Holy Spirit, which is not a good thing. Acts 5:5 of Ananias says: “And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard it.” And then God began to deal with Sapphira, it says this: “And immediately she fell at his feet breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.” [Acts 5:10] Obviously Ananias and Sapphira did not finish well, they did not persevere in good works. Well, people say they weren’t believers then.
Well then, you explain to me Acts 5:11, which says, “And great fear came over the whole church [and over all who heard of these things”] when this happened. You don’t fear an unbeliever being struck dead as a Christian; what fear comes in is because one of your own just got disciplined to the point of death.
Another New Testament example of a group of people that were not persevering in good works to the end of their lives were the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 11:30 talks about how they were drunk and disorderly at the Lord’s table and the Lord, just like he dealt with Ananias and Sapphira dealt with many in that church and this is what it says in 1 Corinthians 11:30, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number have fallen asleep.” “Sleep” of course in Paul’s thinking is a euphemism for death. We say well, they weren’t Christians then? Well, that argument becomes somewhat ridiculous, doesn’t it, because this is how Paul describes the Corinthians at the beginning of the book. 1 Corinthians 1:2 says, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”
Paul says Jesus is your Lord, Jesus is my Lord. Paul calls them sanctified; he calls them saints, they’re calling on the name of the Lord. There isn’t any doubt these people are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, yet they did not persevere in good works till the end of their lives and consequently God disciplined some of them to the point of death.
You see, just read your Bible and what you’ll discover is some of these pieces of evidence that I’ve surfaced are just very minor in comparison to the totality of Scripture. There is just example after example after example of people who were genuinely, authentic Christians who we will see in heaven, either in the Old Testament sense or the New Testament sense, that simply did not reach the end of their life persevering in good works.
And that is why the book of 2 Timothy is necessary. If every single Christian persevered in good works Paul could have said you know, I don’t need to write 2 Timothy because I know Timothy is going to persevere in good works, because after all, Calvin, who wouldn’t be born for 1,500 years or Arminius is going to correct my belief system and my theology and teach the perseverance in good works as automatic. If that were true, if Paul had bought into Arminian theology, if he had bought into Calvinist theology, the whole book of 2 Timothy becomes unnecessary.
Why did Paul write this book? For the simple reason that it is entirely possible for a Christian to be an authentic born again Bible believing Christian whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life but who drift away from the things of God and get into heaven with a life that by and large is unfruitful. By the way, when I teach this I’m not saying it’s a good thing, I’m saying it’s a bad thing to be in that position and consequently the book of 2 Timothy becomes necessary.
You see, Sugar Land Bible Church does not teach the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints for the simple reason that we are Sugar Land Bible Church. In other words, “Bible” is our middle name; the authority in this church is not me, the authority in this church is not Calvin, the authority in this church is not Arminius, the authority in this church is the Bible! And therefore if points are being made or espoused from this pulpit or in any of our Sunday School classes or any other teaching time that we have, formal or informal, we strive to build our belief system from the Bible rather than the philosophies and theologies of fallen human intellect.
Now when you begin to talk this way, here’s what people say, and I know this because I teach in a college and I teach this way constantly in the classroom and people always say back to me as students, well then, it doesn’t matter how I live? I mean, if I’m a Christian anyway and I’ve believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and I’m going to heaven, then you know what, I’m just going to go out and sin up a storm because if once saved always saved then it really doesn’t matter how I live. And the answer to that is wrong, or no, and Paul will deal with the consequences of that in verse 18. But for the time being we’ll simply say that it is a possibility, not a good thing.
Why is it even possible? It’s possible for the simple reason that we have right standing before God through grace. You say well, what is grace? Grace is unmerited favor, it is favor coming our direction that we do not deserve. It is not based on works that we do prior to salvation, nor is it based on works that we do after salvation. And the reason people stumble over this basic issue, even though it’s a blatantly biblical concept, is they really don’t understand the grace of God. They think that their right standing before God is based on their performance because after all, I get ahead at work if I do well for my boss. I got disciplined by my parents growing up because I was misbehaving.
And so we transfer that to God and we transfer to God constantly this idea of a works based system. God likes me today if I’m doing good works; He doesn’t like me tomorrow if I’m not doing good works. That’ how we think. And the fact of the matter is good works, as I’ll show you, have eternal significance but they do not relate to our standing before God because we never got our standing before God in the first place on the basis of merit.
So we do not teach the perseverance of the saints. Well, what do we teach then? We teach the preservation of the saints. We don’t teach that we have to constantly produce good works to prove we’re God’s people. What we teach is we do good works because we do it out of worship for what He’s done for us. We do it out of gratitude. We naturally want to worship God, we naturally want to serve God because look at what Jesus has done on our behalf. And so we do not serve God because we’re afraid; we serve God out of worship and of gratitude.
And what about my salvation then? If it’s not based on the perseverance of the saints, what is it based on? It is based on the preservation of the saints. Because we have this standing before God by grace God is going to keep His promises related to our eternal destiny. In fact, in 2 Timothy 2:13 it specifically says, “If we are faithless, He remains” what? “faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” Timothy, you may, in all possibility, depart from good works, depart from the things of God and I don’t want you to do that. And here are a bunch of negative examples that I know of, from my own very fruitful ministry here are a bunch of negative examples that you know of because you, after all, are positioned or stationed in Ephesus with people that are poor role models to follow. They are Christians but they are poor role models in this area of perseverance.
Now we continue on through verse 15 and he actually mentions a couple of people by name. First he’s mentioned “all who are in Asia,” then he focuses in on a couple of people that I think were a special disappointment to Paul. These people are mentioned because these people, when they departed really broke my heart, I think is what Paul is saying. It’s interesting that these two names are not mentioned anywhere else in the entire New Testament. Apparently they were known to Timothy; one is named Phygelus and the other is named Hermogenes. You say, well, didn’t Richard Sandlin pronounce those differently? Who’s right? The answer is I don’t know, it just depends on which syllable gets the emphasis a lot of the time.
But you see, the perspective that we get on these two individuals is that they were close friends of Paul and they let him down. I don’t know if this has happened to you, I’m sure it has, but the further I go in ministry I see it more and more frequently. People that you confided in, people that you trusted in, people that by and large presented themselves to you as a confidant can begin to veer away from you and they begin to veer away from the things of God, and they let you down. In fact, in some cases they may even stab you right in the back. And of all of the things in ministry I wish I could jettison and not expose myself to this would be it, because this is painful when this happens.
But when it does happen we’re so shocked that it happened and we forget very quickly what Jesus said in the Upper Room. Didn’t Jesus say in John 13:16, repeated in John 15:20, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.” Did you know Jesus was let down by friends? Did you know Jesus was let down, not just by the masses that were superficially disconnected from him but he was let down by people that were extremely close to him. One of them was named Judas. We forget this because we villainize Judas so quickly; we forget the close relationship between Jesus and Judas.
Psalm 41:9, written by David a thousand years in advance speaks of this betrayal in this way: “Even my close friend in whom I have trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Jesus always looked at Judas, not as the enemy but as his close friend. And Jesus was as disappointed as any person could possibly be disappointed when Judas betrayed Jesus for a few measly pieces of silver. In fact, Jesus said this as Judas was doing the public act before the Romans to betray Christ, Matthew 26:49-50 says this: “Immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, ‘Hail, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him.  And Jesus said to him, ‘Friend,” don’t let that word escape you, “Jesus said to Him, ‘Friend, do what you have come for.’ Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him.”
How interesting it is that Jesus saw Judas as a close friend right until the very end. And if all of this is true and if a servant is not greater than his master, why wouldn’t it happen to Paul? Why wouldn’t Phygelus or Hermogenes betray Paul. And if it happened to Paul why can’t it happen to you? Why can’t it happen to me? I’m reminded of Peter’s words, where he says don’t marvel about this trial that you’re in, as if some strange thing is happening to you. [1 Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.”] When these things happen to us we think it’s some kind of odd or strange thing, and yet what is happening is we’re being fit into the blueprint of God because Jesus said “a servant is not greater than its master.” [John 15:20]
Now you say well, this is a real downer, this sermon, good grief, it’s raining outside, I’m depressed anyway, it’s dark outside and you tell me all this stuff. Do you have anything positive to say? Well I do actually, because the Bible has something to say. He not only gives us, Paul, negative examples but he closes off the chapter on a strong note by giving us a positive example. And he does that in verses 16-18, through a man called Onesiphorus.
Let me read these verses to you; it says this: “The Lord,” this is by contrast, “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains;  but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me— 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.”
We’ve seen the negative examples, now we have this positive example; three negative examples, but Paul interesting to me doesn’t dwell on the negative. He doesn’t dwell on everybody in Asia that bailed out on Paul. He decides to end this chapter by focusing on a bright shining light and he focuses on this man, Onesiphorus. The word “Onesiphorus” actually means help-bringer. We really don’t know too much about this individual, we don’t have a lot of data on him in the Bible but Donald Guthrie, in his New Testament introduction says this: “In the apocryphal books of the acts of Paul Onesiphorus is spoken of as a convert of Paul’s, who gave him hospitality on his first visit to Iconium.”
So if this apocryphal text is accurate, I can’t guarantee that it is, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, we know a little bit about Onesiphorus then, it’s somebody that Paul converted through the power of the Holy Spirit and it’s someone that actually played a role in practically and tangibly ministering to Paul’s life very early on in his ministry. And Paul highlights this individual and he says I want to bring to your mind, Timothy, five things about Onesiphorus.
I don’t want you to imitate the folks I’ve mentioned in verse 15 but I want you to imitate Onesiphorus, I want you to know five things about him as revealed in verses 16-18. First thing that Onesiphorus did is he refreshed Paul. Look again at verse 16, it says, “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me….” Don’t let that little word, “house of Onesiphorus” escape you. It wasn’t just Onesiphorus who ministered to Paul’s needs, it was his entire household.
Now one of the things that’s interesting is in the marital relationship God has put the position of authority in the husband. You say well, I don’t like it that way? Well, go talk to God about it because it’s His standard, not mine. You all know Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.  But just as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”
The design of God for the family is the man has the place of leadership, and I believe this, that when the man of the house moves in the right direction it has a consequence, positive, on his wife and his children and his whole family. In other words, they start to think and believe the same kind of things he thinks and believes in because after all, the husband is the head of the home. Now the opposite is true, if the man becomes rebellious towards God what you’ll discover is very quickly it contaminates the entire household, including his wife, including his children.
You see, Onesiphorus was moving in the right direction, he was not throwing in the towel as everybody else in Asia had done, but he was refreshing Paul. He was publicly identifying with Paul and his whole household quickly followed suit. And this helps us explain so many verses in the Bible, like for example, Acts 16:30-31. It says, “and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs,” this is the Philippian jailor, “what must I do to be saved?’  They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” now we usually cut the verse off right there; have you read the rest of it, “you and your household.’”
Well, what is that talking about? Is this talking about some kind of transferred faith, if the father has it then the whole family automatically has it? No, it’s not talking about that because God has no grandchildren. All of us have standing before God based on our own faith. What it is saying is once you, Philippian jailor, get saved it’s not going to be too much longer till everybody else in your house is saved because God has put you in the position of authority.
And just by way of practical experience I have seen over and over again this happen. If the man catches on fire for the things of God, if the husband of the home gets serious about spiritual things, if the husband exercises initial faith, saving faith in Christ Jesus it’s not too long later until the wife and the children follow suit. Now I understand there are exceptions to every rule; I’m just speaking here in general terms. Why? Because of this authority structure that the Creator has ordained.
You remember what Joshua said in Joshua 24:15, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” I’m making a decision to serve the Lord and that is going to naturally impact everybody else in my household and in my family. And just by way of personal experience, I’ve seen the opposite happen, where the woman gets saved and the man remains in unbelief and the husband’s salvation, if it ever comes at all, is part of a prolonged battle. He does not come along as quickly as she would have come along had the roles been reverse, he’s saved first, she’s saved second.
What happens if she’s saved first? It’s like pulling teeth, and that’s why we have, in the Scripture, special instructions for women that are believers and their husband is unsaved. 1 Peter 3:1-6 carves out that exception and explains it in detail. Paul goes into it in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16, he tells women what they are to do, what they’re to focus on.
[ 1 Peter 3:1-6, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,  as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.  Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;  but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.  For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands;  just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.”
1 Corinthians 7:10-16,  “But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband  (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.  But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.  And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.  For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.  Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.  For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”]
It’s very interesting to me, I don’t find a lot in the Bible about what if the man is saved and the wife isn’t, because it’s sort of assumed in the Scripture that once the man gets saved the wife and the children will quickly follow along. But what if the situation is on the other foot? We’ve got a lot of women in our congregation that are in that very boat; they’re fighting uphill. And thus the Bible addresses that issue specifically for those believing women in relation to their unbelieving spouse because they are climbing uphill of an authority structure that God established all the way back in Eden.
Paul says of this man, Onesiphorus, it wasn’t just him that ministered to me, it was his whole family. And what did he do exactly? He “refreshed me,” verse 16. “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me,” what does it mean to refresh? The Greek word here is anapsuchō, and it means to cause someone to recover a state of cheer or encouragement after a time of anxiety and trouble, to encourage or to cheer up. This man, Onesiphorus, and by the way, his whole family, encouraged me, did you catch this, not a few times but many times.
You mean even Paul himself needed encouragement? If you were in his position, in verse 15, and you spent a prosperous ministry somewhere and now the whole crowd, in that whole area wanted nothing to do with you or Christianity, you would need encouragement too; watching your life’s work go up in smoke (from a human point of view) would be extremely depressing, would it not? And Onesiphorus came alongside me and he “refreshed me” in the midst of this difficulty.
And how we need people in the body of Christ today who are refreshers. How we need encouragers, and exhorters. Does your life emanate refreshment and encouragement when you get around other people? Or is it like a toxic being has entered the room when you come in? Do people like being around you or do they avoid you? That will tell you a little bit if you’re a refresher or not. There are some people that the moment they enter the room it’s like oh, no, here comes Mr. or Mrs. Doomsday; everything is negative, everything is sour, everything is bad, criticize this, criticize that. And those are people that you just don’t want to be around because life is discouraging enough, isn’t it, without getting further discouragement in God’s church. Do you refresh or are you toxic? Onesiphorus stood out in Paul’s mind and in his life because he brought great refreshment to me. Not only that, number 2, this man wasn’t ashamed of me, verse 16, it says, “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and he was not ashamed of my chains.” The Greek word for “ashamed” here is epiachunomai, and if you back up to 2 Timothy 1:8 you’ll discover that Timothy himself, with that same verb, was ashamed of Paul. That’s why Paul says to Timothy, “Therefore do not be ashamed,” same Greek word, “of the testimony of our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join me in the suffering of the gospel according to the power of God.”
You see, Timothy thought, you know, if I get too close to Paul then I might suffer like him, so I will distance myself from Paul. I don’t want to be seen too closely with this man, the Apostle Paul, because I don’t like this suffering that he is going under. But how different Onesiphorus was, who was not ashamed of Paul or his chains.
You know, the American church is very ashamed of the doctrine of suffering and yet the doctrine of suffering is as real as anything else in the Bible. But our pulpits to a large extent have edited that out of the diet. Why is that? Because it’s not American to suffer, it’s not part of our culture. People that suffer are not honored in our culture, they are people to be shunned. Are there things in the Bible that you are ashamed of? Like the doctrine of suffering. Timothy was going down that road but not Onesiphorus, he was not ashamed of me or my chains.
In fact, this man, Onesiphorus did a third thing for Paul, notice if you will, verse 17, “but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me–” not only was Onesiphorus not ashamed of me but he actually searched me out. I know he searched me out because Paul says he searched me out diligently, it wasn’t kind of a half-hearted effort. It was something that was on his heart. He wanted to attach himself to Paul, he wanted to bless Paul. He wanted to minister to Paul, even in his chains. And I know he searched me because he found me.
Do you know how you can tell if you really want something badly enough that’s lost? You’ll eventually find it. I say to my wife many times, I can’t find my car keys. She says well did you look? Yeah, I looked around a little bit. She says no, did you LOOK, and she’s like ripping out the sofa and upturning drawers. See, when she looks for the car keys it’s something diligent, it’s not half-hearted because it’s her heart to find the car keys. Me, I’m just lazy and rather have her do it, quite frankly. But if you’re searching for something diligently you eventually find it. And I got here this morning in one piece, she must have found the car keys.
Let me ask you a question: does your heart break for the things that break God’s heart? Or is your life focused on other interests, things that in and of themselves don’t seem bad on the surface but they just really do not represent the heartthrob of God. We just heard a wonderful missionary presentation. Is your heart, when you hear that, WOW! I didn’t know that there was this level of Christian influence in our own military. I didn’t know that the gospel was being shared with people in despair, or is this kind of something we’re looking at our watch, yeah, when’s he going to get done, we’ll give him five minutes, when is he going to get done? And more importantly, when is the pastor going to get done because I’ve got lunch plans and I’ve got to see this group and I’ve got to see that group, and I’ve got this project one. Where is our heart many times? If we’re honest with ourselves it’s not for the things of God, it’s for these trivial things. But Onesiphorus was different, wasn’t he? I was on his heart, he searched for me diligently and I know he searched for me because he “found me.”
And there’s a fourth reason why Onesiphorus is held out as a positive example, verse 18, “the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day,” notice this little expression, we just gloss right over this many times and don’t fully understand what we’re reading, but notice this expression, either “on that day” or “in that day.” Paul, in 2 Timothy 1:12 says “until that day.” [2 Timothy 1:12, “…for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”] He says in 2 Timothy 4:8, “on that day.”
And if you start tracking down this expression “in that day,” it’s talking about glory with Jesus Christ. It’s used by Paul to speak eschatologically of the glorious future where he will be presented before Jesus Christ. And so when Paul says may the Lord grant mercy to Onesiphorus on that day, he is talking about a future with Christ that is glorious.
But what does he mean here in verse 18 when he says, “The Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day—” Why would a Christian need mercy. I believe that what Paul is speaking of here is the future Judgment Seat of Christ, the doctrine of rewards where the faithful Christian will be rewarded with various crowns based on their willingness to cooperate with, under the power of the Holy Spirit, the divine resources of God in this life. A crown, and I don’t have time to go through all the verses but a crown will be given to the believer that gains mastery over the old man; the “old man” is not your dad, it’s your sin nature. A crown of rejoicing for the soul winner. A crown of life for the believer that endures trials. A crown of glory for the believer that faithfully shepherds God’s people. A crown of righteousness for longing for His appearing.
As you search those Scriptures at the top of the screen what you’ll see developing in the New Testament is a theology that says this: While all those rewarded are believers, not all believers are rewarded. Not all believers are equally rewarded. All believers are in heaven but not all believers are either rewarded or equally rewarded. Once they arrive in heaven on that day at this future judgment seat of Christ, and consequently this is the first introduction in this book of the doctrine of rewards, which Paul uses as an incentive to motivate Timothy. He doesn’t dangle hell over Timothy, as so many preachers do, and say if you don’t have works then you’re not saved. That’s not what Paul does at all. He takes for granted his salvation because his salvation comes from what Christ has done, not from what Timothy has done or is doing.
Rather, he says if you cooperate with the divine resources which are in you and pursue your calling, in this case being the pastor of the church at Ephesus, I can guarantee you this much, Timothy, I cannot a bed of roses but you will be fully rewarded in the next life. And if you shrink back you’ll be in heaven but you may not receive that full reward.
1 Corinthians 3;15 says, “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 2 Peter 1:11 says this: “For in this way entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” Isn’t it interesting that some believers enter and other believers enter abundantly. Some enter and they smell the smoke on their garments because their life in Christ was spent departing from truth.
To the question that I promised that I would answer, well, if we’re saved and we’re going to heaven what does it matter anyway, that question raised in verse 15 and the answer is in verse 18. The choices that we are making right now as Christians do not alter one iota our eternal destiny which is given to us by grace. But don’t think that the choices we make every day don’t have some sort of eternal ramification. There is this reality that all those that are rewarded are Christians but not all Christians are rewarded or even equally rewarded. It has bearing on our standing at the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ. It has bearing, as I’ll be showing you when we get to 2 Timothy, of the authority we will either wield or not wield as God’s vessels in the Millennial kingdom.
2 John 8 says, “Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward.” Revelation 3:11, Jesus says, “I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” Does this sound to you like everybody is guaranteed some sort of reward in the next life? You know, today we don’t want to have winners and losers, we don’t want to have champions so we give everybody a participation reward. And everybody can feel like a champion that way, is that right? Because we’re in a society now that’s moving in a socialistic direction that thumbs down or marginalizes or lowers accomplishment. And a lot of people take this socialistic mindset and they transfer it to heaven where everybody is going to be equally rewarded. Everybody will be there if they’ve trusted in Christ, no doubt because they’re there by God’s grace, but not are all equally rewarded. I can give you many verses that simply do not teach such a doctrine.
And I don’t want to make it sound like this: we earn rewards in this life through human power. That’s not what I’m saying. That’s why Jesus gave the teaching of the vine and the branches; He talked about a vine or a branch being disconnected from a vine, or a branch being in the vine. People say well, that’s the difference between a believer and an unbeliever. Wrong! Jesus taught that doctrine in the Upper Room in John 15 to eleven saved people; the only unbeliever in the crowd left the building in John 13, a man named Judas.
So therefore “in Christ” we have a choice; are we going to be connected to Him every single day, not for salvation, but for fruitfulness and fellowship, or disconnected from Him. Am I going to be pursuing my own things, wandering after the flesh, departing from the things of God? And whether I’m connected to Him and walk by faith as a Christian and draw from that nurturing sap of the vine, then the fruitfulness comes organically and spontaneously.
But how easy it is for us, this is what the folks in Asia were doing, to get out of fellowship with Christ. We don’t lose salvation but we lose fellowship or intimacy and fruitfulness suffers. You see, that’s going to be the issue at the Bema Seat. Do we stay in fellowship with Him? And let me just tell you something, unconfessed sin will destroy your fellowship with God. You’ve got sins in your life, I’ve got them in my life, things that we hide under the bushel that we don’t want anybody to know about and we just go back to those sins over and over again. Every time we do that that takes us out of fellowship with Christ which neutralizes our fellowship with Him, which neutralizes our intimacy with Him. It neutralizes our fruitfulness and it leads to an unfavorable ruling at the Bema Seat Judgment.
And it’s so irritating to listen to these students say well, I can live how I want, I’m saved, it doesn’t matter. It’s almost like we’re not even reading the New Testament any more. All of these concepts that I’m talking about are in your Bible; don’t take my word for it.
So Timothy, I want you to imitate Onesiphorus, because I want you to be fully rewarded at the Bema Seat Judgment. And one more thing he says there at the end of verse 18, you know “and you know very well what services he rendered to me at Ephesus.” Where was Timothy? He was in Ephesus. So Paul reminds him of what Onesiphorus did, most likely for Paul, during that time Ephesus, Timothy being in Ephesus knew a lot about it.
What’s so special about Onesiphorus? His service mindset. In fact, when you look here at the end of verse 18, the word translated “services,” it’s the Greek word diakoneō where we get the noun from that root, διάκονος, which means deacon, or servant. People think being a deacon means you get to lord power over people; that’s not what it means at all; it means you’re a servant. Is that not what Christianity is? Service. Didn’t Jesus say in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to” what? “serve, and give His life as a ransom for many.” How we need in the church today servants.
How we need at Sugar Land Bible Church people that just want to serve God, they don’t come in with their own theology that they want to foist on everybody, they don’t come in with a rubric that they’ve gotten from their other church that they can’t wait to cram down our throats here at Sugar Land Bible Church. They don’t come in with a personal agenda. They come in and they just say Lord, I want to be used, I don’t know how you’re going to use me, I just want to be used in that body. It’s a mindset. And how difficult it is to find people like that. It’s so easy to find people that get upset over the slightest thing that doesn’t go their way and they leave and find a church that will do it like they want it done. My preferences aren’t being honored.
How easy it is to find people with their own view of things that they want to push everyone else into. Those people are a dime a dozen. And how difficult it is to find someone that simply wants to come and say you know, I just want to serve the Lord, here are my gifts but this may not be the opportunity for me to use my gifts in the way I want, I just want to serve the Lord in any capacity. That’s what a deacon is, that’s what a διάκονος is, that’s what Jesus was. And that’s what we need.
Onesiphorus, wow, what an example this guy is. He’s a man of refreshment, he’s a man that is not ashamed of Paul or his doctrine of suffering. He is a man that searched for Paul, sought out the things of God before a personal interest. He’s a man that will be fully rewarded at the Bema Seat Judgment and he is a man that just gave himself away in service, positive and negative examples.
One commentator writes this: “moral behavior is best learned by observing such commitment in others. Children learn this behavior from parents, young Christians learn it from older Christians. Ultimately moral behavior cannot be taught merely by character building courses in the public schools. Christians must see moral commitment as a sterling example in other people. This is a lot more caught than it is taught. And part of the reason we are not seeing the level of service and all of these good qualities that we find in this man, Onesiphorus, is we’re looking for role models and many times we’re not finding them.”
May God help us at Sugar Land Bible Church, not to imitate Phygelus or Hermogenes and those in Asia that deserted Paul. Help us to be like Onesiphorus and imitate his great character.
It’s possible you could be here at Sugar Land Bible Church today and have no awareness of how to enter a relationship with Christ. We like to close all of our services by highlighting the gospel. “Gospel” simply means good news, it’s called good news because Jesus did it all. As came up in our missions report earlier, Jesus did everything, there is nothing more for us to do other than to simply receive what He has done as a gift. We receive what He has done one way, by God, and that’s faith, for the book of Hebrews, chapter 11 and verse 6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve walked an aisle, how many times you’ve joined a church, how much money you’ve given, how much you’ve vowed to work harder and try better or do-gooder, what makes you right with God is trusting… trusting in what He has done for you. You can do that right now if you’ve never done it, in the quietness of your heart as the Holy Spirit places you under conviction. It’s not something you walk an aisle to do, join a church to do, give money to do, it’s a private moment between you and the Lord where you trust, as best you know how, exclusively in His provision. If it’s something that you need more explanation on I’m available after the service to talk, as is our missionary couple. I’m sure they would love to talk to you about that as well. Shall we pray.
Father, we are grateful for examples, positive and negative. Help us to think this week about Onesiphorus and be that type of servant that You’ve called us to be. We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus name, and God’s people said…Amen.