Summary: Everyone needs encouragement—even the seemingly strong and mature—but especially those who suffer.
Today, in honor of International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, we will stand and kneel with our brothers and sisters in Christ who share our faith but not our freedom.
Second Timothy is the Apostle Paul’s final written communication before his death. He was chained to a soldier in a prison cell in Rome. Although he is writing to encourage his spiritual son, Timothy, Paul reveals a great need of encouragement, himself. The long, lonely hours and his facing almost certain death made his isolation very difficult for him. His message shows that:
Everyone needs encouragement—even the seemingly strong and mature—but especially those who suffer.
Paul shares here the combination of pathos and joy. On the one hand, he recalls so vividly how everyone from the province of Asia in the western part of Asia Minor (Ephesus was its capital) deserted him. His experience was very much like Jesus’ whose friends also forsook him and fled.
And probably for the same reason - fear! His was a political charge and it was fear for their own safety which caused believers to abandon him. He mentions two men by name (probably well known to Timothy) who especially disappointed him in their desertion.
But on the other hand, one man was loyal to the end. His name was Onesiphorus, which means “profitable” or “help-bringer.” He was obviously one of Paul’s key co-workers during the three-year period Paul spent in Ephesus, longer than anywhere else (Acts 20:31). Paul indicates that Timothy was well aware of this. From there (Ephesus), the preaching of the Gospel reached every part of the province (Acts 19:10). Onesiphorus was the instrument of encouragement to the Apostle Paul during his very trying time in the Roman prison.
Three Ways the Persecuted Need Encouragement
In his helping Paul while in prison, Onesiphorus demonstrated three specific ways to encourage those who are suffering:
1. Refresh Them (verse 16)
Paul was appreciative that Onesiphorus “often refreshed me.” Once he found Paul’s cell, he no doubt made every effort to supply Paul’s physical and spiritual needs – as well as his social needs by just being there. This Paul could only define as “refreshing.”
Those who are persecuted are most encouraged when they learn of brothers and sisters praying for them. Just the knowledge of this is refreshing for their spirits. But what solidifies the reality of prayer is when they – especially those in prison – receive cards and letters from around the world. Some prisoners have literally received thousands of these letters and cards. Colonel David De Vinatea was in prison in Peru unjustly on a fabricated charge of narco-trafficking. His son Daniel informed us how encouraged his father was by the hundreds of letters he has received inside the prison. These messages confirm to the prisoner how many prayers are daily offered up on their behalf. What encouragement to the lonely and isolated!