‘There are friends who stay and friends who stray’ is a modern cliche to describe true friends and fair weather friends. In one of Apostle Paul’s DUNGEON DISCOURSES, we find the honourable Apostle face to face with the sad reality that some friends desert you when you need them most. These friends did not only desert him but they also disowned him. This scenario is heartbreaking to anyone who takes seriously the importance relating as children of God. The dilemma is that Christian friendships are based on TRUST hence vulnerability when there is betrayal of that TRUST.
The setting of this dungeon discourse is in Rome where Paul was in prison awaiting trial. At this juncture, he was no longer under house arrest as had been the case in other trials. Being under house arrest was an option given for lesser criminal charges whereby you could pay rentals for that particular house but be kept under guard until your trial date. This time around Paul was thrown into a dungeon which was a prison reserved for the worst enemies of the State especially revolt leaders. Dungeons were underground prisons which were originally used as religious cult centres to connect with the underworld. Such prisoners were symbolically made to disappear from the real world where they had no right to live and be confined into the underworld. Even our Lord Jesus Christ spent a night in Caiphas’ dungeon awaiting trial which led to his crucifixion. The death sentence was the natural culmination of those facing treason charges. Your life may have been condemned into the underworld conditions. The good news is that God has a rescue plan for you.
Paul writes this Epistle to Timothy from a Roman dungeon. His life is between a rock and a hard place. He had to rely on friends to get decent meals and warm clothes but they were not forthcoming. Paul highlights in black and white that everyone in the Roman province of Asia deserted him including Phygelus and Hermogenes. But Paul singles out one person Onesiphorus as someone who refreshed him on several occasions. This man was not ashamed to be associated with a disenfranchised prisoner charged with high treason. He searched and reached out for Paul at his own risk. He gave material support as well as moral and spiritual support. He spoke words of encouragement and affirmation. Over and above this he offered PRESENCE THERAPY in that dark and filthy dungeon.
Truth be told, from a biblical point of view, fair weather friends who desert you and disown you when you need them are not friends by any level of definition or imagination. God created us with the need to share our lives with others. True friendship is composed of common values and interest as well as commitment and loyalty. A true friend is one who loves without limits as denoted by the PHILEO type of love from the Greek word PHILOS meaning friend. In Greek culture and philosophy, a true friend was one who was prepared to lay his life for his friend just like Onesiphorus who was there in Paul’s life and death situations. Secondly a true friend was one who spoke to you frankly, openly, honestly and truthfully withholding nothing. Our Lord Jesus Christ lay down his life for us his friends and he also fully disclosed to us openly and frankly all the hidden mysteries taught by his father. Friends who are frank, open, honest and truthful have become a rare commodity these days. Anybody who prefers to gossip about you rather than being frank and open is not a true friend at all.
Could it be that the greatest pain in Christian friendships is caused by those you assumed were dear to you and purportedly pretended to be close to you? The trauma of betrayal and backstabbing could have had devastating effects on the ageing Apostle but thank God for raising Onesiphorus to refresh the man of God when an entire province of Asia deserted him and worse still disowned him. May God raise a few more Onesophoruses in our generation i.e. the kind of friends who stick closer than a brother, friends who stay when others stray, friends with a covenant relationship like that of Jonathan and David. May Christian friendships surpass worldly friendships in testimony and quality of commitment. To those who give high value to friendship and take the MINISTRY OF REFRESHMENT seriously, I have good news for you. He who refreshes others shall also be refreshed. I declare double refreshment in your life in Jesus’ name. I rest my case.