So often we can read the letters that make up much of the New Testament Scriptures and forget how deeply personal they are. Consider 2 Timothy. The apostle Paul had been arrested and spent a few years awaiting a trial in Rome. He was eventually released and it is quite likely that he made it to Spain. In his letter to the Christians in Rome he made it clear that he hoped he would simply pass through Rome on his way to Spain (Romans 15:23–24). Many scholars believed he was released and then made his way there. At some point he returned to Rome and was arrested again. During this second time of imprisonment he wrote his second letter to Timothy. In the first chapter of this letter we read this:
You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. 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 rendered at Ephesus.2 Timothy 1:15–18 ESV
Imagine being in a massive city you’ve only visited once before. In the first century Rome’s population was a million people! Paul is in prison, and he fully expects that one day soon he will be executed. Since he is a citizen of Rome, he will not be crucified. Citizens had rights, and one of those rights was he could not be executed in this way; a citizen would be executed by beheading. He has a measure of freedom, at least the freedom to receive visitors. In 2 Corinthians he wrote that in addition to all the physical suffering he experienced, the beatings and the shipwrecks and the hunger and the cold and the exposure and the constant threat of those who hated him, he experienced another weight, another heaviness.
And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.2 Corinthians 11:28 ESV
In the midst of all his personal struggles was his great concern for the churches! Even as he was in prison for preaching the gospel of Jesus Paul’s concern was focused on others, yet hear the pain in his words to Timothy. We don’t know for sure who Phygelus and Hermogenes were, but we know this: they turned away from Paul. They abandoned him. It is likely this means they abandoned the faith altogether, but even if it doesn’t, they left Paul in his time of need. He even says that “all who are in Asia” turned away from him. Yet there was one.
Paul prays that the Lord would grant mercy to Onesiphorus and his household. When Onesiphorous arrived in the city of Rome, he searched all over the city for Paul. Think of that undertaking! In a city of a million people this man searched for Paul! He couldn’t reach out to his Twitter followers for help. There was no Instagram post with a picture and caption saying, “Do you know this man?” There was no 800-number to call for information regarding the location of prisoner number whatever. He searched for Paul until he found him. Paul says that once he had found him, Onesiphorous “refreshed” him and was not ashamed to be associated with a man in prison. Then he expresses his urgent prayer again: “may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day!”
Onesiphorous was clearly a follower of Jesus. Why would Paul pray that God would grant him mercy on that day (that is, the day of Jesus)? Surely there had been a point in time that Paul thought Phygelus and Hermogenes were faithful and true brothers in Christ. Imagine the pain of this abandonment, of seeing people walk away from the faith! Paul had been encouraged and strengthened by the service and faithfulness of Onesiphorous. For this reason he diligently prayed for his perseverance in the faith. Paul’s prayer that God would grant him mercy on that day was a prayer for God to sustain Onesiphorus’ faith! One one level this was a personal need for Paul. He couldn’t handle another one abandoning him in his time of need, yet as he expressed in 2 Corinthians, his anxiety was for all the churches, and therefore for all the believers, that they would endure to the end.
Church, we must be diligent to pray for one another. Following Jesus means taking up our own crosses. Crosses are not meant to be jewelry; they are instruments of our own deaths. We must die daily to ourselves and follow Christ, and this is not an easy calling. We have not been called to a life of ease, nor have we been called to a solitary life, but a life that is to be lived in community. We must, therefore, pray for one another. As life hits us hard, we must pray for one another to receive God’s strength that only he can provide, that God would bring about our endurance through it all. Let’s let the apostle Peter’s words be our prayer for one another.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.1 Peter 1:3–5
God is the one who has caused us to be born again, and it is his power that guards us through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In Paul’s words, let us pray for one another that the Lord may grant us mercy on that day.