Onesiphorus and “Mercy”?

September 26, 2010

Whenever people are mentioned by name in Scripture, I’m always very interested to find all that I can get from the text about them (especially in Paul’s letters). One such person is Onesiphorus, in 2 Timothy 1. The passage where Paul mentions him (2 Tim 1:16-18) has always been interesting to me. He mentions many good things that Onesiphorus has done. He:

– “often refreshed [Paul]” (16)
– “was not ashamed of [Paul’s] chains” (16)
– “searched for [Paul] earnestly” (17)
– and “he rendered [service] at Ephesus” (18)

So with all of those things mentioned, you would think that what Paul would say about him would be good. You know, “Give thanks for Onesiphorus,” or “Remember the household of Onesiphorus for good,” or “May the Lord bless the house of Onesiphorus!” But that’s not what’s said at all. Instead, repeated twice is:

“May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus…” (16)
“May the Lord grand him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!” (18)

That strikes me as somewhat odd at first. Why “mercy“? Mercy is what bad people need – mercy is what Phygelus and Hermogenes need (the guys that turned away from Paul in v. 15). Mercy is what Demas needs (another guy who deserted Paul and “loved the present world” in 4:10). But Onesiphorus – mercy? He’s a good guy. He deserves blessing for his work! He deserves praise and thanksgiving on his behalf! But twice Paul says, mercy. Why? And specifically mercy on “that Day.” Why?

Perhaps it is because my understanding of mercy is flawed. Perhaps it is because I don’t realize how much mercy I need from God. Perhaps it is because “that Day” really is a terrifying day of God’s judgement. Perhaps it is because without God’s mercy we would tremble as well on “that Day.” I’m not totally sure – but this passage makes me realize that I need to rethink my view of mercy and who is in need of it, and who is not. Perhaps we all need more mercy than we can imagine, and Paul actually understands that. 

May the Lord grant that we find mercy from the Lord on that Day. 

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1 Comment

  • Reply Woody March 25, 2019 at 7:56 am

    Man! I know this post is old, but I was stuck by the passage in a similar way. The questions in my margin were almost identical to yours. I kind of wonder if Onesiphorus was possibly am unbeliever. I’ve had unbelieving friends show me goodness, and I’ve sought the Lord’s mercy, not knowing if they would believe. Your reflection is perhaps more accurate as Paul knew his own death was near, and that he would soon stand before God.

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