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Onesiphorus was Paul’s loyal friend. Some of the last recorded words of the apostle Paul contain a greeting to the household of Onesiphorus, the faithful friend who sought him out in Rome.
Onesiphorus is mentioned only in Paul’s second letter to his disciple Timothy, pastor of the church in Ephesus. It was to be Paul’s final letter, written sometime around AD 66 or 67. Rome had burned in a great fire just a few years before, and its deranged emperor, Nero, blamed the Christians in order to avoid Rome’s suspicious glare at himself. As a result, believers in Rome were subjected to horrific persecution. Some were torn apart by wild animals, while others were burned alive.
Paul, who had appealed his case to Caesar sometime before the great fire of Rome, was now imprisoned, in all likelihood nearing the end of his life. He had never felt more isolated—the apostle confided in Timothy that
“everyone in the province of Asia [present-day western Turkey] has deserted me” (2 Timothy 1:15).
It was no small injury. Paul had invested much of his ministry— indeed much of himself—into that part of the world. Ephesus had been his home for more than two years. He had spent more time there than in any other city to which his missionary journeys had taken him. Paul had made disciples there, lectured in the public hall, cast out demons, and cured illnesses. Yet now, all that seemed forgotten—more to the point, he seemed forgotten as he languished in a Roman prison.
But Onesiphorus had not forgotten Paul. He made the eight-hundred-mile journey from Ephesus to Rome and searched hard until he found the imprisoned apostle. Such a journey was not without risk; Nero’s persecution of the church at Rome had yet to subside. But that would not deter Onesiphorus. He did not mind being associated with a condemned man in chains. Onesiphorus had been Paul’s faithful friend in Ephesus—now he was his loyal companion in Rome. Having been comforted, Paul asked God’s blessing on Onesiphorus.
Onesiphorus lived up to his name, which means “bringing profit.”
While others sought to profit only themselves, Onesiphorus traveled far to bring profit to another.