2 Timothy 1:15 You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. 16 May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. 17 On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. 18 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. (NIV)
The Apostle Paul is writing this letter to Timothy, who is currently helping at the church in Ephesus. The church is being changed, by false teachers. Some have turned from Paul’s teachings and are teaching a different gospel, one that would serve their own personal agendas. The situation was much like the situation today in many liberal churches.
In the previous passage, Paul instructed Timothy, and the church, on remaining faithful to the Gospel, specifically Paul’s teachings on such. These are some final instructions to the church at Ephesus. Paul, later in this letter, instructs Timothy to leave the church and return to him. Paul is currently in prison in Rome. Paul needs Timothy by his side, and this passage gives us some insights as to why he so needs Timothy with him at this time.
Paul writes that he has been deserted by all the churches in Asia (v. 15a). This would include the seven churches of Asia Minor listed in Revelation 1-3: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, among others. This desertion was significant, and two-fold. There was a personal desertion, but more importantly there was a desertion of his teachings.
The personal desertion was because of Paul’s imprisonment. Not only were the Asian churches embarrassed for his imprisonment, but they also were concerned that they too would be persecuted if they continued to support Paul. They feared imprisonment. Paul, in the previous passage encouraged Timothy not to fear imprisonment, and it appears that he indeed was imprisoned when he returned to Paul (Hebrews 13:23).
In addition to the desertion of the churches, Paul specifically mentions the desertions of Phygelus and Hermogenes. This specific mention would lead us to conclude that these two had been loyal to Paul previously and that their desertion had been particularly painful, and costly. This is the only mention of these two in the Bible, so we do not have additional details on the nature of their relationship with Paul.
So Paul obviously is feeling alone and frustrated at this time. He believes that Timothy would be more of a help to his ministry by his side than with the churches that had turned against his teachings. I believe that this turn of events also spurred Paul to turn away from the Gentiles, and to his own people, the Hebrews, to whom he wrote his last writing, the Book of Hebrews.
Prison life had its own set of personal challenges. Provision was often self supplied, as the prison itself only offered sparse provisions. Paul’s loyal friend, Onesiphorus, had provided generously for Paul in the past, but it appears that he has now died. Paul prays for mercy for his family (v. 16a) and for mercy for Onesiphorus himself, on the day when the Lord judges his rewards (v. 18a). Some false teachers claim that this verse supports prayer to pray souls of the dead into Heaven. Obviously that is not the case here, and would also not be consistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole.
Onesiphorus “refreshed” (v. 16b) Paul, meaning that he provided both spiritual and physical provision for Paul. He also “was not ashamed” of Paul’s chains (v. 16c). He showed his loyalty to Paul by searching “hard” (v. 17) for Paul, and for being a faithful servant to Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (v. 18b). If indeed Onesiphorus is now dead, Timothy’s presence with Paul would be needed more now than ever before.
This passage is about loyalty to the Gospel and those who minister the Gospel. It tells of those who are disloyal during the hard times. Ministers of the Gospel often must go against the culture, or even churches, when they bow to the culture and violate the teachings of the Bible. The disloyal often would prefer to side with the culture, instead of God. They will turn their backs on Christians who are jailed for remaining loyal to the Gospel, such as Kim Davis. They will turn their backs on the Gospel itself, in order to remain popular in the culture. They are the Phygelus’ and the Hermogenes’ of today’s world.
Then there are the Onesiphorus’ and the Timothys, those who remain loyal to ministers and the Gospel. This loyalty also extends to meeting the personal needs of ministers, just as it did for Paul. This is accomplished though financial support of churches and ministers, like myself. This is the mark of a true Christian. This is the difference between a Christian in name only and one who is sold out to Christ. The eyes of the Lord search the world for those who will remain faithful to Him. As He does, we need to make sure that we are a Onesiphorus or a Timothy. We need to make sure that we remain loyal to His ministers and to His Gospel.
Online Bible Commentary