Tuesday, October 04, 2016

"The Original Chain Gang"

2nd Timothy 1.16-18 NIV

“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.”

Onesiphorus… an obscure biblical character to whom are devoted three whole verses of Scripture appearing only in Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy (1.16-18; 4.19). All we know about Onesiphorus is what we can reconstruct from Paul’s short description and our knowledge of the times in which he lived.
  • Onesiphorus was an active member and major contributor of the church Paul founded in Ephesus (modern day Turkey) where Paul appointed Timothy as pastor.

  • Onesiphorus means ‘bringing profit’. The man lived up to his name both by assisting Paul in the early years of his work in the church at Ephesus and later by often visiting Paul in his Roman prison cell just prior to the apostle’s execution.
Paul was “in custody of a soldier, to whose arm his own was chained”.[1] Who was the real captive? The apostle or his military audience of one? Can you imagine the conversations between Paul and the guard to whom he was chained? Paul and Onesiphorus may have planned their visitation schedule around a strategic plan for the evangelization of the soldiers who pulled ‘chain duty’ with Paul.

Paul called himself “an ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6.20). From Paul’s perspective, chains represented one more opportunity for the advancement of the gospel in Rome…

“…it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and
to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains,
most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak
the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”
Philippians 1.13-14 NIV

Paul’s perspective was similar to Joseph’s in the book of Genesis. Joseph interpreted his imprisonment as a benefit of others, as he later explained to his brothers who sold him into slavery...

“…it was not you who sent me here, but God;”
“…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good
in order to… preserve many people alive.”
Genesis 45.8; 50.20 NASU

How do you interpret the chains that restrict your movement toward personal advancement? What’s your perspective on forced limitations imposed by unwanted situations or difficult people? Consider this: God is developing in you the spirit of Paul or Joseph or Onesiphorus. He has customized your circumstances to “preserve many people alive” in Christ who would otherwise never know.

[1] “Onesiphorus”, McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia, John McClintock and James Strong, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1867-1887.

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