God through the Bible provides us with the figure of John Mark, a worker in the Lord that deserted the work of the Lord for possibly more than once. However, despite this, God has been so gracious as to give him the opportunities to return to His work. This deserter received the privilege to serve with influential figures in the Bible, like Peter and Paul. He even received the honour of writing the second Gospel that we have in our Bibles today. Knowing about Mark gives us a sense of hope, that we or other people who we know have fallen away from the faith can repent and be restored to the good work of the Lord. While we are still alive, we are reminded that God is lovingly giving us yet another day to repent and work for Him. But while the Bible does give us a picture of this in the figure of Mark, God also gives us Demas.
Demas is a person who appears in only 3 verses of the Bible. He appears in Colossians 4:14: “Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.” He was mentioned in the same breath as Mark in Philemon 24: “and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” Similar to the restored Mark, he appears in these verses as Paul’s ‘fellow worker’. Demas and several other people accompanied Paul in his long labour evangelising and starting churches in different places. However, the last time the Holy Spirit spoke about Demas through the writing of the Bible is in 2 Timothy 4:10a: “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”
Demas, in love with the present world, deserted Paul and went to Thessalonica. Being ‘in love with the world’ that is spoken of here is not the same as John the apostle’s famed quote “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Nor is it the same as loving our neighbours or enemies like we are commanded to (Mark 12:31; Matthew 5:44). ‘The world’ is spoken about here in the same vein as it is spoken about in 1 John 2:17a: “And the world is passing away along with its desires”. It talks about the present world and the sinful desires associated with it. It is the image of sinful humanity as a force opposing God. According to this understanding, we are asked to “not be conformed to the world” (Romans 12:2). We are told that “the wisdom of the world is folly” (1 Corinthians 3:19). Believers in Christ used to be dead in our trespasses, walking in the course of the world (Ephesians 2:2). We are to deny worldly lusts, to remain unspotted by the world (Titus 2:12; James 1:27). Identification with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). Loving the world means that the love of the Father is not with us (1 John 2:15). Demas was in love of the world and its sinfulness. Christ loved us to the point of death while we were still sinners, that is true (Romans 5:8). But God neither loves our sins or ever tells us to stay in them (Psalm 5:4; John 5:14). As Tim Keller says, “God invites us to to come as we are, not to stay as we are.”
What is interesting from these verses is that they are from the exact letters of Paul that also mention Mark. It is as if God is saying, “see the grace I have bestowed upon My restored servant Mark. There is hope for restoration. But you have been in the work for a long time, do not be conceited either! Lest you be ensnared by love for the world like Demas and leave My work in the end.” We do not know whether or not Demas repented by the end of his life. But what the Bible is trying to give us is a stern warning for every Christian.
How horrible will the day be when key people who seemed faithful to the Lord suddenly leave and pursue the world! How grievous it is to see fellow workers around us suddenly leave the Lord and His field! How awful if someday we ourselves leave all these things!
What happened to Demas also shows that outward phenomenon—no matter how genuine they are—cannot in themselves win someone’s heart. Demas was a fellow worker of Paul, the great servant of God that He used so greatly. Paul has shown the glory and greatness of the Lord through all his strivings and sufferings. Demas was clearly a witness to all these wondrous things. But in the end, he chose the world over God and His works.
If Mark was like his spiritual father Peter, we can say that Demas is like Judas. Judas lived 3 years of his life living with God Himself and witnessed all His great works with his eyes. They are very much alike in this sense. As a matter of fact, we might even say that anyone who deserts the work of the Lord despite witnessing and experiencing God’s guidance are Judas’ spiritual children. And just as Judas and the Jews who opposed Jesus acted like their father, the Devil, we are also acting like we are the children of the Devil when we do such a thing.
Let us take heed seriously to this stern warning. While it was clear that Judas loved money, Paul did not specify what Demas particularly loved in the world. Maybe Demas could not stand living a life that is full of suffering and poverty as Paul. It might have pushed him to pursue comfort and money. Maybe he fell in love with an unbelieving woman that pulled him to a life of immorality. Maybe he received the opportunity to sit on a high societal position in Thessalonica. Or maybe it is as simple as wanting to live a ‘normal life’, one far from danger, stable, where everything runs smoothly, not even one that necessarily entails highly indecent acts—but not one for God. A ‘normal life’, just like what ‘normal people’ are living. The point is that Demas did not give his whole heart to the Lord. At the deepest parts of his heart, he left places for the world to stay. And in the end, he succumbed to his desires for the world.
How about us? Do we still leave some parts of our hearts for the world? I do not mean that there will be no more temptation when we give it all to God. As a matter of fact, it is likely that when we grow and are used by God, Satan will be more diligent in his work of destroying us. But the question is, when those temptations come, do we mortify them or give ourselves up, even just a little, to it? Small sins lead to bigger ones, as King David found out (2 Samuel 11).
As mentioned earlier, the world along with its desires are passing away. The verse continues though: “but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:17b). What Demas and so many people are receiving in this world are nothing compared to the sadness of eternal death. They are nothing compared to the unblushing promises of joy God gives us. These things that we think will satisfy us will in the final analysis disappoint us, just like broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:13). They are nothing compared to how beautiful it is to work for and be used by God. Realise all these things and the fact that we have been united with Christ and died to sin (Galatians 2:20). Continue to receive strength from Him by being rooted in Him through prayer and His word, that we may not let sin reign (Colossians 2:7; Romans 6:14). Remember that apart from Him, we can do absolutely nothing (John 15:5).
Other than that, let us remember to do this together. Let us not leave fellowships of believers. Take heed to what the writer of Hebrews says: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13). Lone Christians are dying Christians. We need one another. Apostle John mentions in his letter that he tells us all these truths that we “may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3. While it is a fellowship that is centered on the Father and the Son, it is not a fellowship apart from one another. We are members of His body (1 Corinthians 12:12). No part of a body can say that it doesn’t need the other parts (1 Corinthians 12:21).
In the end, let me reiterate that we do not know what happened to Demas. Maybe he perished in his sins. Maybe he didn’t. But may we who have knowledge of these things not take them lightly. Above all, let us focus on the One who is able to keep us from falling, the One who can preserve us to be present in His glorious joy, the One who loved us unto death, our Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 24; Galatians 2:20). (JFA)