Demas isn’t a major figure in the New Testament, he’s just mentioned three times and even then, only briefly. He was one of Paul’s companions who sent greetings at the end of his letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. He was listed with Luke and Mark, both Gospel writers, and with Aristarchus, Paul’s faithful traveling companion and a man who was singled out in the riot in Ephesus as a Christian. Paul called them his fellow workers and anyone who has read the epistles or Acts will know that amounts to a person with a fierce commitment to Christ. All of this makes the last mention of Demas in Paul’s last letter, written just before his death, more troubling. It reads;
‘Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica’ (2 Timothy 4:10-11)
How could someone like that fall away? I’m thinking of Demas today because though he may have been an early example of a Christian falling away, he certainly was not the last. I read with sadness the news this week that Marty Sampson, the Hillsong songwriter and worship leader has publicly stated ‘I’m genuinely losing my faith.’ Apparently, the post on Instagram has since been taken down and another post encouraging his followers to check out several Christian apologists.
Like many, I am deeply disappointed, Marty’s songs have truly blessed me over the years. Of course, it’s a disappointment I have known before, when others, some famous and some that I have known personally, have seemingly walked away. How should we respond?
Firstly, fix our eyes on Jesus. We are all flawed people, famous Christians, church leaders, preachers, worship leaders and anyone else. We let each other down, usually without intending to cause any hurt or offence. As the Psalmist writes: ‘Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.’ (Psalm 146:3). After stating that Demas had deserted him, a few verses later, Paul recalls a time when after his arrest in Jerusalem he was deserted (the same Greek word) by everyone but adds; ‘the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.’ There has only ever been one perfect person and his name is Jesus.
Secondly, do not be surprised. Jesus said that many would fall away, Judas betrayed Christ, Demas deserted Paul and the list goes on. It’s no good criticising one branch of the bible believing church, Judas and Demas must have received some excellent teaching.
Thirdly, pray. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to ‘strive for full restoration’. That doesn’t mean watering down biblical standards but it does mean praying earnestly for those going astray and where possible, having an honest conversation.
Finally, the story hasn’t finished. We don’t know what happened to Demas, did he repent or just continue into a spiritual wilderness? I’m afraid the trail goes cold. There is however another ‘deserter’ mentioned after Demas in Paul’s last few recorded paragraphs. Mark was with Paul and Barnabas right at the beginning on the first missionary journey but he left when things became tough. When they were planning a follow up, Barnabas, who was a relative of Mark, wanted to take him again but Paul was adamant they should not and the reason? ‘because he had deserted them’ (Acts 15:38). The disagreement was so intense Paul and Barnabas, who it seems were great friends, split up and went in different directions. Mark’s story though continued, he wrote the Gospel that bears his name and Paul’s final reference to him is I think both poignant and encouraging; ‘Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.’ (2 Timothy 4:11). Mark’s story was not over when he messed up, the same can be said of Moses, David, Jonah, Peter and many others in the Bible. And if its true for them, then it is for me, for Marty and for you.
“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ (Luke 15:20-24 The Message)