9 Make every effort to come to me soon;
10 for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.
11 Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.
12 But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.
13 When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments. 2 Timothy 4:9-13 (NAS)
I have been here before. Working with an “all in” person when I wasn’t all in. If I didn’t have the same struggles I would write off Demas as many do. He’s likely been the target of many a critical sermon, of how not to finish strong. We wag our heads at him. We cluck our tongues at him. How dare he leave behind the battered and beleaguered Paul in the dungeons of Nero!
But Demas wasn’t Paul. Did he abandon the faith? No. He abandoned Paul. I would think Paul would have said he was an apostate if he was. Demas served Paul with Luke and Mark and Aristarchus in prior campaigns, and could be considered to be on Paul’s “A” team. Further, Paul’s reaction to his desertion and the falling dominoes thereafter indicate he was quite useful to the apostle in the work. You’d think Paul would have sensed something was up! But driven “Type A’s” aren’t normally gifted with the sensitivity and awareness to assess the individual mindsets of the team. They’re just driven.
The one thing that bothers me, though, is Paul says that he “loved this present world.” You can’t put him in the homesick category as was Mark (also known as John Mark) at one time. And certainly Crescens and Titus weren’t guilty as well. Both seemed to have advanced to the stage that they had their own ministry visions in Galatia and Dalmatia, respectively.
No, Demas’ reason for leaving seemed to be the culmination of a preoccupation with what it’d be like to escape the drama who was Paul to live a more normal, comfortable, perhaps safe life. It’s likely that Thessalonica was Demas’ hometown. It was a big cosmopolitan city, capital of Macedonia, on the Via Egnatia, and he’d be free from the constant beck and call of one who some might call “a controlling individual.” It’d be like early retirement.
I’ve lived long enough to know you’ve got to be wary of the color of the grass on the other side, as they say. Yes, the “worldly life” is powerfully alluring, but could he not tough it out just a little bit longer with the world’s greatest missionary? But he had reached his breaking point, and it appeared that he completely “zoned out” the counsel of the Holy Spirit.
There are some lessons to learn from this incident.
- Think long and hard before you abandon a ministry, or perhaps a church. Instead of letting emotions and resentment get the upper hand, deal with it. It’s between God and you, and you may need to address an issue man to man. It’s much better to reach a mutually acceptable decision than to abruptly leave everything and everyone in the lurch. Pride is the biggest obstacle to getting real with your emotions and others.
- If you are a minister of God, and we all are to be in some form or fashion, you’ll always need to have something viable to go on to, another objective on your list. Both Crescens and Titus left Paul too, but they were setting out to continue to fulfill there own callings. Outside of Timothy, and certainly Luke, there was no one closer and more trusted by Paul than Titus. It stung for sure to see him go on his way, but Paul could understand his decision, since he himself left the Ephesian elders on the beach weeping.
- God always takes care of his people and his ministries. He’s ultimately responsible. There’s a saying that “the cemetery is full of indispensable people.” In Paul’s life, none of these men were that, but perhaps Luke, and he faithfully stayed on through thick and thin. Don’t think for a moment that all will be lost to the ministry or man you leave behind. God will restock what’s been expended. In other words, even you are expendable.
- I hope Demas just needed some fresh air, and that he found his spiritual legs ultimately. It’s a dangerous thing to separate from a godly work with only the world to sustain you. A writer said this about the world, that it’s “the moral or immoral atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again inevitably to exhale, [that] subtle informing spirit of the world of men who are living alienated and apart from God.” Up to that time, Demas was living and breathing God’s word and will with Paul. Now he’d be exposed.
- I know that Mark did not wander off when he “deserted” Paul in Pamphylia. The word for “desert” in Acts 15:38 meant to “depart,” not the same word that meant to “abandon” someone or thing as Demas did Paul. The record shows Mark was always productive, that he attached himself to another giant of the faith (Peter), was greatly encouraged by and ministered with Barnabas, reclaimed himself in Paul’s eyes eventually, and was actively involved in his own ministries and pursuits in various places, including the penning of a gospel. I really admire his tenacity to get back on the field. One last point, he was again willing to depart on a missionary tour with Paul (Acts 15:37-39). Inwardly, it might have been quite disheartening to not be wanted by Paul, but he’d grown to the point that he could deal with it, and Barnabas was no slouch himself. So, the lesson here is leaving something for something else, even with strong personalities involved, may be God’s will for you and me.
- There are men out there who have been called to greatness. They need people to help then get where they want to be, and, as such, are quite demanding. You know this when you sign on. Even in prison awaiting death, Paul issues forth a request for Timothy to reorder his life and ministry to help his mentor. From the beginning Timothy followed orders, even to endure a painful circumcision later in life (Acts 16:3), and to take wine for his stomach when he was convicted not to (1 Timothy 5:23). I read about the cloak Paul wanted Timothy to retrieve from Carpus at Troas and bring with him. This cloak was made out of wool woven so thickly that the garment stood in a corner on its own. Then there were the unwieldy and valuable books and parchments the Apostle wanted. Maybe I’m just like this but I immediately would’ve envisioned the extra mileage I’d have to put on to gather all these items, much less carry them to Rome, not to mention the details necessary to rendezvous with Mark. Mark too would have to drop what he was doing. But Paul had it all worked out. Tychicus would take Timothy’s place in Ephesus. And when you work for a guy like Paul, you know full well what “make every effort to come soon” means! But there will be a time when you can’t or won’t want to do someone else’s bidding.
- A man’s dying request trumps everything, most of the time. Yes, you’ll want to have with you your most trusted and beloved people in the end, perhaps for one last commencement address. But in Paul’s case, he had to prematurely say his final goodbyes to Crescens and Titus, and to Tychicus, who delivered Paul’s mail to Ephesus and Colosse, and perhaps to Titus, and who was thought of by the Apostle as a faithful and fellow bond-servant.
So, I truly believe that Demas let things get out of hand, probably was burned out, and was at his wits’ end. If he deserted anything, it was going to quickly turn out to be his “peace of mind.” Cognitive dissonance awaited him at his very first turn. If we learn from Paul’s other partners in the ministry, we can avoid the same fate by steering clear of any dark road in our minds. If you are a Paul, check the temperature of your troops once in a while. But of all people to cut some slack, it’d be to the irrepressible, indomitable Apostle, and I do.