Paul’s second letter to Timothy was probably written no more than a couple of years after his first. While Timothy was still laboring away at Ephesus, Paul’s circumstances had changed quite dramatically. He was no longer in Macedonia, but in prison at Rome for a second time. And unlike his house-arrest at the end of Acts, where he was in a rented quarters receiving visits from everyone, this incarceration was much more severe and ominous. He was squirreled away in a remote location and only Onesiphorus had been successful in finding him (1:17). Of him, Paul says, “he was not ashamed of my chains” (v. 16).
All of this tells us that Rome (Nero) now regarded Paul as dangerous and was doing everything it could to limit his influence and cut off his communication with others. He had been through a preliminary hearing (4:16) and was now awaiting trial. His words make it clear he didn’t expect it to turn out well (4:6ff).
With this as a backdrop, Paul writes 2 Timothy. He isn’t very far along before he speaks of Onesiphorus. In the midst of the suffering he is experiencing, he nonetheless wanted to tell Timothy about someone they both knew (Onesiphorus was from Ephesus – 4:19), who had served him above and beyond the call of duty. It takes a person of great grace to be sensitive to something like this under the circumstances Paul was, and Paul is up to it.
He speaks of how he was often refreshed by Onesiphorus. To be refreshed can be a contextual sort of thing. If we’ve been through a long spell of dry, hot weather, then we’re refreshed by rain. If we’ve been drenched for a week, we’re refreshed by sunshine. If we’ve worked hard, we’re refreshed by time off, and if we’ve had too much time off, work is refreshing. For Paul to have been refreshed often by Onesiphorus might mean that he was one of those attentive, intuitive people who knew what someone needed and acted on it. If this was the case, he would have been as some would say, a breath of fresh air.
But there are other ways we can be refreshed. If we’ve reached the point of weariness in something and someone arrives as a reinforcement—that can certainly be refreshing. Or it can be as simple as someone doing something special for you (Philemon 20).
Whatever the case, God bless the refreshers! We’ve known people like Onesiphorus and have been richly blessed by them, haven’t we? Maybe they can read us like a book. They know what we need more than we do—and they can provide it. Or maybe they reinvigorate us by providing new passion and energy—or they just do something thoughtful. Whatever it was specifically—what a gift it was for Paul in such dire straits to have someone minister to him in this manner.
Blessed are the refreshers!