Covidian Refreshment

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June 26 2020
Author: Pastor Bill Henderson

What does it take to refresh you? The other day, paying for my gas in the local convenience store, I couldn’t help but marvel at the assortment of Energy Drinks and Energy Bars aimed to do the trick. Today, any number of pick me ups are touted as the way to go. Some reboot their energy by going for a brisk walk to breathe in some fresh air. Some crank up the tunes. Ironically, some opt for a power nap. Lately I’ve been reaching for a Honey Crisp apple. But for most of us there’s nothing like a splash of refreshment from a dyed-in-the-wool, loyal friend – someone Eugene Peterson calls “a true friend [who] sticks by you like family” (Proverbs 18:24b). The Apostle Paul had such a friend. To us, this friend was rather obscure. He didn’t have a household name. And for us, it isn’t a snappy, easy-to-pronounce name. Paul’s dear friend was Onesiphorus (on-uh-SIF-uh-ruhs). He only appears twice in the Bible, both times in 2 Timothy, but Paul pauses to pour out blessing upon him:

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:15-18).

I can just imagine Paul’s exhilaration. It is cold and dark down inside Rome’s dungeon. A dim ray of light filters in through the manhole plate up above. Inside sits this grizzled, wiry little Jewish man chained to a Roman soldier – Paul of Tarsus awaits execution. The end is near and so many of those whom he loved and taught had abandoned him like sailors jumping off a sinking ship.

Suddenly, there’s a noise above as the guard opens the hatch to his cell. Squinting into the light the old man can’t see who it is climbing down the ladder to visit him. But he recognizes the friendly voice: “Paul, Paul, I’ve found you at last!”

"Onesiphorus! Is that you my good friend?” The two men embrace with big smiles, in spite of the prisoner’s musty, squalid cell. Then Onesiphorus lives up to his five-syllable name, which means “bringing help or profit,” by opening up his bag to pull out fresh bread, fruit, cheese, and wine. He stays a long time and comes back often, bringing good news of the progress of the gospel across the Roman Empire. Each time he comes, Paul is refreshed in body and spirit. Onesiphorus reminds us of something Jesus promised:

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward (Matthew 10:42).

How can this fleeting New Testament appearance of Onesiphorus point us to our own ministry of refreshment? Here are three ways:

1) A Refresher Risks Seeking Others Out. “Onesiphorus,” Paul said, “searched hard for me until he found me” and “he was not ashamed of my chains.” Paul was an inmate but he also had this stigma of “political danger” written across his forehead. He’d been arrested for stirring up sedition. So, visiting Paul would be something like visiting a terrorist suspect in Guantanamo Bay’s detention camp. Let’s just say, it could be a challenge to track him down; and doing so would easily attract negative attention. And perhaps there are occasions for us when to a lesser degree we might risk ourselves: our convenience, our insular living, our sacrifice of time, our emotional energy, our fear of awkwardness, or being misunderstood. As a result, we miss the opportunity to seek someone out to refresh them with help and profit in their time of need.

2) A Refresher Shows Up! Scripture doesn’t actually record what he said but Onesiphorus spoke volumes just through his physical presence. He was there for Paul, in contrast to others who had abandoned him like Phygelus and Hermogenes. In the life of the church we can never undervalue the power of personal presence. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing Life Together in an underground Seminary, who taught that the visible, physical presence of other Christians is like a sacrament insofar as it is a source of incomparable joy and strength fortifying the believer. It was when the Lord sat in table fellowship with his disciples that “their eyes were opened and they knew him” (Luke 24:30-31). When believers live life together under the Word, who is Christ, there are invisible, spiritual, and interpersonal means of grace channeled from him into our souls that nurture and refresh us. These are what Bonhoeffer called the “roses and lilies of the Christian life.” And perhaps for us, during these covidian days, we can better appreciate their fragrance. In someone’s time of need just being with them can say, “I care about you, I’m here to stand with you.” Like Onesiphorus, a refresher is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.

3) A Refresher is Self-Giving. Onesiphorus “often refreshed” Paul and “in many ways he helped” Paul. This seemed to be his lifestyle and the only explanation for it was his focus on the Lord and others, not on himself. If we go around pining that our own needs aren’t being met, we will never be refreshers of others like our Lord. Isn’t it fascinating that when you selflessly say, “Lord, use me to refresh that person,” and you overcome your quick alibis taking the risk of spending yourself, more than not you end up feeling the joy and satisfaction of the Lord? I think of the tired disciples who first served the loaves and fishes to the hungry crowd and then they discovered that they each got a full basket of leftovers.

Would you like to be known as a refreshing person? What a Christ-like compliment that would be. Perhaps you used to be? Perhaps you know someone like this – someone who refreshes you from time to time. They are like a breath of fresh air. Being in their presence revives your soul; you always feel better after having spent time with them. Maybe it’s time for us to put the old proverb to the test: “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25).

HT: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper Collins, 1954).

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