It is not easy to see your friends desert you when you need them most. Paul realised that some of his close associates had run away from him when he was charged with treason and locked up in prison, awaiting a trial that would inevitably end in a death sentence. They were “ashamed” of Paul and also afraid of getting into trouble. Like Peter, who denied having anything to do with Jesus when the Lord was arrested (Luke 22:54–62), they distanced themselves from Paul.
Paul had taught in Ephesus for around two years, and “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). All Asia had heard the gospel and many believed. Now, however, all Asia had deserted Paul. He shared, “everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me” (v.15).
Two men received special mention: Phygelus and Hermogenes (v.15). The reason is that these two were least expected to turn tail and run away. As American New Testament scholar Robert Mounce puts it, “It was as if Paul is saying, ‘Even these two faithful brethren have deserted me in my hour of need’.” They had lost their courage, which comes from the Holy Spirit.
Thankfully, Paul was not totally abandoned. He is full of praise for Onesiphorus (vv.16–18), who was neither ashamed of Paul’s chains nor afraid to be associated with Paul. He was one of Paul’s associates (having helped Paul in Ephesus, v.18) who had travelled to Rome to find his friend.
In those days, prisoners had to find their own food and supplies to survive. Onesiphorus probably brought with him some much needed supplies for Paul. He must have faced considerable difficulty searching throughout the unfamiliar city for Paul (v.17). What a joy it must have been for Paul to see him. He was “like a breath of fresh air” (v.16, TLB). He must have visited Paul often, and probably died (or was killed because of his close association with Paul, the political prisoner) during this time. Here was a faithful friend who stuck till the end, who literally gave his life for his friend (cf. John 15:13).
Imagine how Paul felt when he heard that many of his close friends had abandoned or disowned him, proving themselves to be fairweather friends. If you were in Paul’s place, how would you respond or pray for such people?
How do you think Onesiphorus “refreshed” (v.16) Paul in prison? Can you think of anyone who needs to be refreshed in this way—in a prison, hospital, nursing home, and so on? What can you do to help?