Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Need for Service

Leslie Basham: Think of how many times you hear the word service in a day.

“We offer service with a smile.”

 “This set provides a service for eight.” 

“We’re calling them out to active military service.”

“The service starts at 11:00 AM.”

“Prepare yourself for the service economy.”

“The service station is right around the corner.”

Leslie: We have a lot of service, but does anybody really know what it means to be a true servant?

This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, June 25.

Service is more than a business buzzword. It’s a way to bring glory to God. This week Nancy will show you what it truly means to be a servant in a series called Developing a Servant’s Heart.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: The Lord is so good to know what we need to encourage our hearts, and when we need it and to bring it into our lives. I’m sure you’ve experienced that as I have.

I had a neat experience with that not too long ago. I was just feeling stretched and needy of some encouragement, and in the mail that day came a letter. Actually, the letter had been sent to my office in Michigan, and then it had been sent to me in Little Rock; so it had taken several days to catch up to me. But it was a letter from a national Christian leader. I know him and his wife not real well, but slightly.

This letter came, as far as I knew, totally out of the blue. I opened it up and it said,

Dear Nancy,

My wife and I rejoice at God’s favor upon you and the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. It is a needed ministry for today, and we are grateful to hear how He is using you!

From experience, I know that "the honeymoon" of the launch of Revive Our Hearts has turned into "the hard work" of producing a quality message and program—not to mention issues like handling the mail, being misunderstood. [That would never happen!]

Nancy, God is using you in a very important work—keep building the wall and don’t quit! My wife and I appreciate you.

Handwritten note. To this day I don’t know what particularly prompted him to write that note. But by the time I got to the end of it, I had tears in my eyes. I was so encouraged, so grateful. And the Lord knew the timing, the day that I needed to get that letter.

When I got that letter, I was studying and preparing for this series that we’re starting today on my new best friend in the Bible. Whoever I’m teaching on at that time becomes my best friend. And I have a new friend. It’s probably going to take a few days for you to even pronounce or spell his name.

His name is Onesiphorus. I have to confess that I’ve never taught or really studied or thought a lot about Onesiphorus, a minor character as far as how much space is given to him in the New Testament. If you have your Bible, let me encourage you to turn to 2 Timothy chapter 1. 

While you’re turning there, the person who sent that letter at that moment was being an Onesiphorus in my life. I thank the Lord for people like that person, others that are much closer friends, who have provided that kind of ministry in my life. It’s a call and a challenge to me to become an Onesiphorus in other people’s lives.

So for the next several days we’re going to look at this New Testament character, Onesiphorus, and what his contribution was and how we can influence other’s lives the way that he did to the apostle Paul.

Second Timothy was written by the apostle Paul to his child in the faith, his son in the faith, Timothy, who is the pastor at this time of the church in Ephesus. So Timothy is in Ephesus. The apostle Paul is in Rome. He’s been imprisoned for the second time for his faith. The first time he was under house arrest, and he had some freedom to visit with friends. This time he’s in a much tighter security situation. It’s actually the last time he will be imprisoned because he’s on death row. He’s going to go to his death.

But Paul is not afraid. He knows that he has lived a faithful life. He knows that his reward is soon to come. He’s writing to Timothy who at the time was fearful of what it was costing to be a Christian. This was during the persecution in the days of Nero, who was sending Christians to the lions. And Timothy was scared.

So Paul was writing to encourage him. In that letter, Paul references people who have been a blessing to him and people who have not been a blessing to him. So let’s pick up with that context in verse 15 of 2 Timothy chapter 1.

Paul says, “You are aware that all who are in Asia.” Ephesus was the major city in Asia; so that’s the region where Timothy was living. “All who were in Asia turned away from me among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.”

Now we don’t know anything else about those two men except this—not a very great bio sketch! All we know about them is that they defected from Paul at his time of need.

And then he says, by contrast, in verse 16,

May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me—may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!—and you well know all the service he [Onesiphorus] rendered at Ephesus.” (2 Tim. 1:16–18)

Now the only other reference to Onesiphorus in the New Testament is in chapter 4 of 2 Timothy as Paul is closing his letter. Verse 19, he says, “Greet the household of Onesiphorus.”

So Onesiphorus apparently lived in Ephesus, which is where Timothy was the pastor of the church. Paul is expressing gratitude for the ministry that this otherwise unknown, obscure man had had in his life.

You read about this in the book of Acts, about how Paul had ministered in Ephesus for about three years. He had many dear friends there. Among those friends was this man named Onesiphorus. The name Onesiphorus means “bringing profit” or “profit bearer; one who brings profit.” This man was definitely profitable to Paul. He lived up to his name.

Now, he stood out in contrast to others who did not bring profit. He stood out from the crowd. He stood alone. He was unusual in his day in the way that he had ministered to Paul. Because in a time when everyone else had deserted Paul and had failed to be there for him, here’s a man who was there. Onesiphorus had ministered to Paul. He was different than the others.

Now you say, “Why would others have defected from Paul? Why would people desert him? What was the big deal?” Well, Paul’s imprisonment was a great stigma. Most of the people that he knew, most of the people he had ministered to and most of the people he had ministered with were ashamed of him because of his imprisonment. They were ashamed of his gospel.

That word “to be ashamed” doesn’t mean ashamed as we would use the word—you’re shamed because you’ve done something wrong. It means in the New Testament context “to be afraid of what others would think about you.” If you understood what was going on in the Roman era, the Roman government at that time with Nero’s persecution of Christians, you can understand that people were scared to death.

“If they know I know Paul; if they know I’m his friend, my head may come off. I may get thrown to the lions. I may end up in prison with him.” So there was a lot of pressure on. People were afraid, and in their fear they were embarrassed. They turned away. They didn’t want to be identified with Paul or with his gospel.

Now all those in Asia, Paul says, had turned away from him. And that included those two men he had named who apparently Timothy knew, Phygelus and Hermogenes. They had defected. I don’t think as I’ve read the commentaries on this that it means literally everyone that Paul had ever ministered to in Asia had turned away from him.

I think it’s suggesting that, generally speaking, people had not stepped up to the plate to provide support and to meet Paul’s needs when he was in his time of distress. And for various reasons, not just those in Asia but other people had left him as well. And Paul was keenly feeling the loss of the people he had looked to for friendship and comfort.

If you go to chapter 4, just over a few pages, you can see this very personal glimpse into Paul’s life—what he was experiencing, what he was feeling, the loss he was feeling. Look at verse 9 of chapter 4.

He says to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me soon.” I miss you. Please come see me. I need the company. Then he tells why. Verse 10: “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.”

So those he knew and trusted for various reasons, some because they had backslidden spiritually, and maybe some for legitimate reasons, they all had to leave him.

Then he says, verse 11, “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark . . .” Remember, John Mark was the one who had caused some heartburn to the apostle Paul on their first missionary journey and was not a faithful laborer. But at this time, by this point, John Mark has proven himself, and Paul says, “I’d love to have him around.”

“Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus” (2 Tim. 4:11–12). So Paul is very relational. He saying, “We need each other. And the people that I most look to for camaraderie, for comfort, for companionship; they aren’t here.”

Then he says, verse 13, “I have some practical needs.” “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.”

Then he says, verse 14, “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds.” Look at verse 16: “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.”

So you see this picture of a man who’s feeling very alone.

  • He’s in this Roman prison cell, which was no Hilton hotel, no palace, nothing comfortable there. 
  • He’s separated from other believers. 
  • He’s suffering for his faith. 
  • He’s facing death. 

Put yourself in Paul’s shoes. He’s lonely. He needs somebody to help strengthen his faith.

I mean, he knows the Lord; he trusts in the Lord. But Paul was not a loner. And God did not make us to be loners. He made us to need the community of faith.

Now if you are alone in a prison cell, so to speak, and that’s all there is, God will be sufficient to meet your needs. And Paul talks about how the "Lord stood with me and the Lord strengthened me." But God is also gracious to bring other people into our lives who are His hands and feet and arms and who can give a hug, can give a word of encouragement. And that’s what Onesiphorus had been to Paul.

Paul says to Timothy, “When everyone else had deserted me,” back in chapter 1 here, “there was one person who stood out, one person who was different, one person who went against the flow. He swam upstream to minister to me. It wasn’t easy; it took effort, but he did it. And that was Onesiphorus.” (See 2 Tim. 1:15–18).

And in this condition of imprisonment, Paul had personal needs; he had relational needs; he had emotional needs; he had practical personal needs. And it meant the world to him, as it does to us at times, to know that someone cared enough to minister to those needs.

So Paul says, “This Onesiphorus, he often refreshed me and he was not ashamed of my chains. Everyone else was. Everyone else went off; everyone else deserted me. People were scared to come and be associated with me. But not Onesiphorus. He often refreshed me. He was not ashamed of my chains.”

He was free from the fear of man. He wasn’t looking for the approval of others. He wasn’t overly concerned about what other people would think. In spite of the danger, he reached out to the apostle Paul. In spite of what it might cost him personally or cost his family, he reached out to the apostle Paul in his distress.

Paul says, “He often refreshed me” (2 Tim. 1:16). I like that word refreshed. It just sounds refreshing doesn’t it? It’s a word that means “to make cool; to refrigerate or refresh something with cool air, as if when the body is overheated.” You get a real big drink of cold water; it refreshes you. It means figuratively “to relieve when under distress; to refresh someone.”

Paul is saying, "Onesiphorus is to me like a huge glass of cold water on a hot muggy day." It’s like walking into an air conditioned room when you’ve been working outside on a steamy summer day. He was a breath of fresh air. That’s what Onesiphorus was. You can just feel how his presence cheered and gladdened and strengthened the apostle Paul in his distress.

Now we’re not told specifically how Onesiphorus did that, and maybe it’s good that we’re not because it lets us imagine different ways that he might have been an encouragement to Paul, or different ways that we can refresh others in their need. It may have been just the fact that Onesiphorus was there, his presence.

There are some times when just to know there’s somebody there with you—maybe you’re going through a hospital experience or you’re going through the loss of a loved one. I can look back over some of those really distressful situations in my life and know there were certain people who were just there. They were just there and that refreshed me, the fact that they came. They were there when I had a need.

We don’t know what Onesiphorus did. We know he was there. That can be huge when you’re in a time of distress. Now there may have been more than that. He may have brought gifts for Paul. He may have ministered to practical needs. He may have prayed with Paul, prayed for him, spoken encouraging words. I assume if they were together he said something. Whatever it was that he said Paul found refreshing.

You know you get around some people even in your time of distress, and if they’re there they’re not necessarily refreshing. I mean some people when they’re there you wish they would go away, you know? They’re not real encouraging. They can be kind of a downer.

Whatever Onesiphorus said or did when he left, Paul said, “I feel so much better. I’m refreshed. I’m encouraged. I’m glad he was here.” It’s likely that Onesiphorus had extended hospitality to Paul when Paul had lived in Ephesus. And Paul recalls the fact that Onesiphorus rendered much service to him at Ephesus.

So he had ministered to Paul years earlier in Ephesus, but then also more recently in Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.

As I was studying this passage, I read a quote from Chrysostom, who was a fourth century bishop and preacher in Syria and Constantinople, one of the old church fathers, early writers in the early church.

And he said, “Such ought the faithful to be. Neither fear, nor threats, nor disgrace, should deter them from assisting one another, standing by them and succoring them.”

By the way, that was one of the marks of the early church—in spite of what it cost to be a Christian, in spite of what it cost to associate with God’s people, God’s people looked out for each other. They helped each other. They ministered to each other in prison and in times of distress.

I can’t count the number of times God has used different people in my life over the years to be an Onesiphorus to me, to bring refreshing by their presence, by their words, by a note of encouragement. That Christian leader who wrote that note out of the blue; obviously the Lord put it on his heart. But he took the time to sit down and handwrite a note to say, “I’m grateful for what you do.”

And that line: “Keep building the wall and don’t quit.” He didn’t know how badly I needed to hear that line to be encouraged in the work God has called me to this day and the day I got that letter. It was a huge refreshing. It was a breath of fresh air. It was a big, huge glass of cool water that ministered to my spirit.

But I’ve had people do it with soup. I’ve had people do it with notes. I’ve had people do it with flowers. You can think about some of the “Onesiphoruses” in your life and think how they have refreshed you sometimes by being quiet, sometimes by talking, sometimes by praying when you didn’t have the strength to pray. And they came alongside, and they just said, “Let me pray for you. Let me pray with you.”

Paul says, “He often refreshed me.” This wasn’t just one time. Onesiphorus was plugged into the apostle Paul’s life over the long haul. Sometimes God brings people into our life, and it’s just a moment; it’s a one-time encounter. That can be a huge blessing.

But I’m thankful for the people who have been in my life over the long haul. Not a whole lot, but just a few. I don’t even necessarily have a lot of contact with these people. I have one friend, we talk on the phone probably every two or three weeks. But when we do, I’m always refreshed. I’m always encouraged. We’ve known each other for decades, and we stay in touch, and we just pick up where we left off. Sometimes even if many weeks go by and we’re not able to talk, we just connect so quickly.

Even if this friend doesn’t know what’s going on in my life, she will say something that will encourage me; it will refresh me. It will strengthen me. I’ve had the privilege of doing that for her many times as well. It’s mutual. She has often refreshed me. And by God’s grace, I think that I have often been able to refresh and encourage her heart on many occasions.

Now let me just make a couple of observations, and then we’ll pick up with the life of Onesiphorus again in our next session. As I was meditating on this passage, it occurred to me that some of the people you might least think need to be refreshed may actually need and appreciate it the most.

Would you have guessed that the apostle Paul would have such a need for someone like that in his life? You would think the apostle Paul is doing that for other people. You would think, “He’s so spiritual. He’s so godly. He’s so great. Why would he need that?” Sometimes we expect that mature people, godly people, people that we respect, surely don’t need an Onesiphorus in their life.

Don’t assume that somebody else does not need an Onesiphorus. You may think they have all sorts of sources of encouragement. But you don’t know what they’re going through. You don’t know what season of life your pastor may be going through or your pastor’s wife. They may need just someone to come alongside. Everyone that has been a part of their life for some reason may be removed for a period of time.

You come along and think, “Everyone is doing this for them.” Don’t assume that. Assume that they need a word of encouragement. Don’t assume that someone else is meeting that need. Ask God who are the people He wants you to minister to, to encourage, to strengthen—even if they are a Christian leader and you think they don’t need it. You may be surprised to find out how much they do need and appreciate that or how timely a note or a word of encouragement can be.

If you have an Onesiphorus in your life, and I hope you do—I can’t imagine life without those people. We don’t have them necessarily every moment. Onesiphorus didn’t move into prison with Paul. There were times when Paul had to make it without Onesiphorus. But he always had those times to look forward to. He had those times to look back on with great encouragement.

If you have someone like that in your life, thank God for them. Let them know that you appreciate their ministry to you. They may wonder, “Does it make any difference?”

I sat down and wrote a note to that Christian leader and his wife. By the way, I got a note from his wife the next week, and I don’t even know if they knew the other was doing it. She sent me a CD of some music she knew I’d enjoy, and she was right.

I sat down and said to both of them; I hardly ever see them but I said to them, “I don’t know how you knew, but God knew what a blessing your notes would be to this servant of the Lord. Thank you for being sensitive to the Lord. It makes me want to be that way, to be sensitive to the Lord.”

But remember as Paul did to thank the Lord and to acknowledge and express gratitude if God has brought that kind of person into your life.

Leslie: Perhaps the teaching of Nancy Leigh DeMoss has brought to your mind someone who needs to be encouraged. I hope you take action and show them you care. Nancy will be right back to pray.

We’re so thankful for those who write to encourage us like the woman with four young children at home finding it hard to connect with God like she used to. After discovering Revive Our Hearts audio and transcripts, she emailed and said, “I just recently started listening and reading these messages. They were referred by a friend. I find them very encouraging and uplifting.” She concludes, “I’m so filled with inspiration right now, it is hard to contain.”

Thank you so much for that email. Connections with listeners like her are possible because of those who believe in the mission of Revive Our Hearts. They pray that we’ll connect with women who need to hear God’s Word, and they donate to help make it happen.

Maybe you’ve listened to Revive Our Hearts for a while and are ready to partner with us in ministry. Would you join the Ministry Partner team? We ask that you pray, tell other people about Revive Our Hearts, and donate monthly. When you sign up, we’ll send you a copy of one of Nancy’s book. You’ll also receive a registration to a Revive Our Hearts conference per year, and we’ll send you a new resource every month.  

You can get more details about serving in this way that’s important to us and beneficial to you. Visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can call us at 1-800-569-5959.

Imagine you’re in a big city trying to track down a friend who’s in prison. You don’t know where he is among the many prisons in town. It took an incredible servant’s heart. You can hear part of the story tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts. Now let’s pray with Nancy.

Nancy: Lord, I pray that through this series You would help us know how to strengthen each other, how to minister grace to each other. Thank You, Lord, for those dear precious friends that You have put into my life who have refreshed me often. I pray that You would grant grace to them and mercy to them, that You would bless them this day.

And then, Lord, help us to be that kind of person. Would You even during this series put someone or ones on our hearts that we might reach out and be an encouragement to? I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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