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A Portrait of Selfless Commitment to Christ: Onesiphorus

By Matthew Black, Pastor

Text: 2 Timothy 1:16-18

Date: Sunday, February 1, 2009, 11am

Serve the Lord Sunday


Tabernacle Baptist Church

7020 Barrington Road

Hanover Park, Illinois 60133

Website: www.GodCentered.info

Introduction: Open your Bibles to 2 Timothy 1:16-18.  Have you noticed the amazing lack of commitment in our society?  Meaningful commitment always begins with commitment to Jesus Christ. 

The Decline of Commitment in our Culture

As our culture has become more pagan, our commitment has slid downward. 

  • Look at the workforce.  No commitment to Christ equals a declining work ethic.  Employees are constantly late, and the work ethic in our country is rapidly disappearing.   Productivity is falling, and laziness and carelessness is rising.
  • We see it in the marriages.  No commitment to Christ equals a rise in marital unfaithfulness  Before marriage people set up what they call a prenuptial agreement.  Do you know what a prenuptial agreement is?  It is agreeing to get divorced before you get married!  Some people have changed the marriage vow to “as long as you both shall love” in place of “as long as you both shall live”. I read about a sign in a New York city Jeweler’s window which said, “Wedding rings for rent”. 
  • We see a lack of commitment in the church too. 
    • Pastors stay at churches two to three years.  In the old days they would be there twenty, thirty years, even a lifetime.  
    • Christian colleges once committed to training men for ministry are now turning out hundreds of other vocations, but hardly an preachers. 
    • Churches that used to be committed to teaching God’s Word now look more like houses of entertainment. 

Because of a lack of Christian commitment, America has been a sending nation, but is soon becoming a mission field.  What’s the answer?  Selfless commitment to serve Christ.  It is not enough to be forgiven as a Christian.  If that’s all there was to the Christian life, God would have taken you home at the moment of salvation.  Christ wants us to serve Him by serving others.

The Definition of Commitment

We don’t even know what commitment is in our day.  Commitment has been defined as "the quality of pursuing tenaciously to the very end, with heart and soul, what we have pledged to pursue".[1]  For a Christian, that means pursuing what honors Christ—pursuing it tenaciously to the very end.  Our commitment to Christ out to be evident in our work life, home life, and church life. 

A Demonstration of Commitment

We find an example of radical commitment to Christ in a very surprising person.  This person is not famous.  He’s not an apostle or a prophet.  In fact you’ve probably never heard of him before.  His name is Onesiphorus.  Now this man is not to be confused with another man with a great name, Onesimus, the runaway servant of Philemon.  Onesiphorus was simply a friend of the Apostle Paul. 

So the title of the message this morning is “A Portrait of Selfless Commitment to Christ: Onesiphorus”.[2]  Selfless commitment to Christ comes not by doing the extraordinary things that we often think of, but rather selflessly serving others in the littlest things in life.

Reading of the Text

This morning we turn to 2 Timothy chapter 1, the last book the Apostle Paul ever wrote.  Let’s stand together as we read.  2 Timothy 1:16-18, “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: 17  But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. 18  The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.”

[Prayer for Guidance]

Where do you think this church will be a year from now?  What about 5 years or 10 years?  Will we be a more committed, more dependable people?  Will our fellowship be known for our service for Christ?  I suppose it all depends if you are truly committed to Christ.  What does commitment look like?  You say you are committed to the Lord.  Many people say they are.  But are you really?  The only way to find out is to measure yourself by the Bible.  Are you committed?  Well, let’s look at 2 Timothy 1:16 and see.

I.          First, Commitment demands our Consistency.  True commitment demands consistency.  To be consistent means that we are dependable regardless of the difficulties.  Verse 16, “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me”.  I do not know what Paul was refreshed by, but I do know that whatever it was, Onesiphorus did it often.  Consistency is simply dependability amidst difficulties.  Somebody said, “It doesn’t take such a great man to be a Christian; it just takes all there is of him.” 

Onesiphorus was consistent—not only in Rome, but back in Ephesus, where he lived.  Paul said in verse 17, “in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.”

A.   Onesiphorus was consistent regardless of the difficulties.  In today’s times, we are prone to make excuses.  We don’t want to be committed.  That is why Onesiphorus’s commitment to the Lord stands out.  He served the Lord in difficult circumstances.  Consider the difficulties Onesiphorus had.

1.      Paul was difficult to find.  Paul says, Onesiphorus arrived “in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me”.  We see from verse 17, Onesiphorus lived in Ephesus, so it is very likely that he got to hear the original letter to the Ephesians read.  But it was a long way from Ephesus to Rome, and there were no cars, planes, or trains—only boats and probably walking.  Very few had the privilege of using a chariot. 

Once he got there, he could have turned right around out of discouragement.  Apparently, the Mamertine prison was difficult to find.  The Mamertine prison cell was just an opening covered by bars.  It was just a hole in the ground.  This is why Onesiphorus had trouble finding it.  It used to be a small gravel quarry, and the only entrance is a small hole in the ground. “…without any staircase….The upper prison [cell where Paul was] is twenty-seven feet long, by twenty wide”.[3]   

a. Onesiphorus was on his own in seeking to find Paul.  Paul had no way to help Onesiphorus find the way.  Paul says in verse 16, Onesiphorus “was not ashamed of my chain”.  Paul was chained to the wall.  That didn’t stop Onesiphorus.  Paul says in verse 17, “when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me”.  There were no phones back then.   There were no Google maps.  In Paul’s day, there were between 4 and 5 million people in the city of Rome.[4]  But Paul’s chains and the huge population of Rome did not stop Onesiphorus. 

b. It wasn’t like there were a lot of people who were visiting Paul.  Paul’s first imprisonment was in his own rental house.  He was able to receive visitors, and he was guarded by just a single soldier.[5]  Now Paul was all alone, except for Luke.  Every one had forsaken him.  He couldn’t even stick his head near the bars.  He was chained to the wall. 

B.   Onesiphorus was consistent because he was dependable.  Paul said of Onesiphorus, “he oft refreshed me” (verse 16).  Commitment wasn’t a once-in-a-while thing, it was an all-the-time kind of thing.  Day in, day out, in season and out of season, revived or weary, encouraged or discouraged, Onesiphorus was dependable.  Weather didn’t stop Onesiphorus.  In the sunshine and rain, Onesiphorus would come.  As Onesiphorus came day after day, we can imagine that Paul would be looking forward to it.  It obviously had an impression on the apostle since he writes about it specifically. 

1.      Onesiphorus was dependable, even though the job was unrewarding.  He got no human rewards for serving Paul.  Onesiphorus didn’t need human motivation or accountability to get the job done.  You can have all kinds of accountability and rewards for behavior, but God judges the heart, and the only accountability you can have for your heart is a love and a fear for God.  It’s good to have human accountability for checks and balances, but our ultimate accountability is the realization that we are going to stand before Christ face to face very soon.

2.      Onesiphorus was dependable even though the job was difficult.  There was sweat and weariness involved. Yet he “oft refreshed” Paul.  He would have had to come to this hole in the ground and delivered food and water.  You know the Roman prison system wasn’t like our prison system.  They didn’t spend $28,000 a year on each prisoner like we do here in Illinois.  Surely he read the Scriptures to Paul.  We don’t know all that Onesiphorus did for Paul, but we do know one thing: he did it all the time.  Paul could count on him!

So we can say it this way: committed people are dependable regardless of the difficulties.  You expect to see them at the normal activities that go on in the church.  It takes a massive storm or tragic event to keep them away. Are you one of those people?  Are you dependable regardless of the difficulties?  Does weather, discouragement, or simply a lack of motivation keep you from being active in the Lord’s church?  Is there a lack of consistency in your service for Christ?  There is a solution.  We see it in our next point. 

II.       Secondly, Commitment demands our own Initiative.  Paul says in verse 17, that when Onesiphorus arrived “in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me”. The solution for a lack of commitment is a denial of self.  Onesiphorus searched and searched for Paul, and he didn’t give up until he found him.  From what we understand, no one told him to go.  He didn’t need anyone calling him and reminding him.  He was committed to Christ regardless of what he felt like. 

A.   Initiative starts with the attitude of the subject, not the object.  If the cause or the person is worthy, it will still be worthy regardless of whether we are committed to it.  The Lord’s Church, the Gospel, the Scriptures—all these things are infinitely worthy of our commitment whether we are committed to them or not.  Onesiphorus saw that the Gospel was worthy and he didn’t wait to seek Paul out.  He knew that Christ is worthy.

Application: People are committed to many things that serve themselves.  They are committed to sports teams and entertainment for the relaxation and fun it gives them.  People are committed to their work because they get a paycheck.  We will commit to friends, to family.  But this morning I to consider selfless commitment to Christ.  We need to serve Christ because He is worthy—serving Him when there’s nothing in it for me.  He’ll be worthy whether you serve Him or not.  Onesiphorus lived in the love and loyalty of Christ, so he took the initiative to serve Paul.

B.   Onesiphorus didn’t wait for the right opportunity, he created one!  He didn’t wait for someone to call him.  Others were probably more fitted, more wealthy, more gifted, more able, etc.  Onesiphorus knew that you don’t have to be rich or gifted to be used of God.  You simply have to be willing. 

Application:  Those who are waiting for opportunities to serve are missing the point.  You make opportunities!  You take the initiative.  You show up and say, I’m ready to serve!  How about you?  Do you wait for people to tell you what to do, or do you get up and start serving?  We need a church full of Onesiphoruses. 

C.   Many could have served Paul in his hour of need, but didn’t   Paul writes sadly later on in 2 Timothy 4:9-10, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. 11  Only Luke is with me.”  What was the difference with Onesiphorus?  He saw that Christ was worthy and gave Himself to His service.  He took the initiative. No matter the difficulty, he was dependable because Christ is worthy!

Application:  For those who are not committed, any excuse is a good excuse.  Are you committed in your service to Christ, or are you hit and miss? You might say:

§         “I would serve more faithfully, but I don’t like so and so”

§         “I might serve in this area, but it’s just not my ministry”

§         “I’ll serve when I have more time”

Brothers and sisters, our time is short.  We are told to bear fruit.  If you wait till July to plant the harvest, you’re not going to harvest in October.  We don’t have one moment to waste.

III.     Finally, commitment demands Determination.  Paul says in verse 17, that when Onesiphorus arrived “in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me”. You must stick it out until the end.  Onesiphorus sought Paul out VERY DILIGENTLY and… FOUND HIM! 

A.   Determined people never let excuses derail them.  It would have been easy for Onesiphorus to return to Ephesus and report that although he had made every effort  to find Paul and refresh him, he was unsuccessful.  Many excuses would have worked.  It was so far.  There were 4 to 5 million people.  There were hundreds of prisons in Rome.  All these things were true, but Onesiphorus had grit and determination to find him no matter what. 

Isaiah 50:7 says, “For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.” That is determination.   Commitment demands determination to stay committed regardless of the circumstances. 

B.   Your determination to stay committed is a measure of your spiritual maturity.  There are those people in the church that are consumers.  They go from place to place to get their ears tickled or their egos stroked.  But where are those that will serve in the shadows for no reward but the Lord’s “Well done”?  There are many consumers who show up and take. They can come in late because nothing depends on them.  God’s goal for every believer is to be a producer, not a consumer.  Babies consume. Adults provide. It is fine for new believers to be consumers.  We want that.  It’s a real joy to feed babies.  But it is no fun to feed adults.  There’s something terribly wrong if you are feeding an adult. 

Conclusion: Onesiphorus was interested in only one thing: “pursuing tenaciously to the very end, with heart and soul, what we have pledged to pursue”.  He was committed.  The test or your character, the test of your spiritual maturity and the measure of your commitment to Christ is what it takes to stop you.  What does it take to stop you?  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.”  Onesiphorus pursued his goal tenaciously until he completed it.  He had consistency, initiative, and determination.  These three areas were the measure of his commitment to Christ.  How do you measure up?  It is God’s will that all who are in Christ be selflessly, radically committed to Him who died for us.

Baptisms: At this time, Veronica Anaya, Josefina Magallanes, and my daughter Katie are going to come to receive the ordinance of believer’s baptism.  While they get ready to come, let us sing ___________.

Close by singing: 109 Great is Thy Faithfulness.


[1] Woodrow Kroll. The Vanishing Ministry in the 21st Century (Grand Rapids: Kregal, 2002), 64.

[2] The general homiletical outline is borrowed from Woodrow Kroll’s message to the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Eastern Pennsylvania for their 50th anniversary on November 1, 2008.

[3]Albert Barnes. Barnes NT Commentary (2 Ti 2:9).

[4] Keith Hopkins. Conquerers and Slaves (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 69.

[5]Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (2 Ti 1:1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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