By Gordon Franz
Our society tends to blame adverse behavior on our environment, or on circumstances and events around us, but we seldom, if ever, take personal responsibility for our own actions. One of the most haunting passages of Scripture in Paul’s epistles, and one that probably caused him to weep over as he wrote, is found in II Tim. 4:10: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica.”
The apostle Paul was a “people person.” He ministered to people, he trained people, he prayed for people. When one of those people, whom he had poured his life into, deserted him, he must have felt devastated and alone. This seems to be reflected in the next verse when he wrote, “Only Luke is with me” (4:11). Let us examine the life of Demas and see what lessons we can learn from his failure.
The Scriptures do not explicitly state where Demas was from. Some have inferred from the desertion passage that his departure to Thessalonica implies that he was returning to his hometown. If that is the case, he was originally from Thessalonica.
In the excavations at Thessaloniki, inscriptions were discovered with the names of the politarchs of the city on them (the “rulers of the city” in Acts 17:6, 8). Two different inscriptions had the name Demetrius on them. W. F. Boyd tries to make an association with Demas and one of the two politarchs named Demetrius found on inscriptions. He admits it is not a certainty, but he thinks it is a possibility (1916: 1: 286, 287).
If Demas is from Thessaloniki, it would be interesting to compare his life with that of Aristarchus. Both of these men were from Thessaloniki, both may have been from the aristocracy and probably had some wealth, both were trained by the Apostle Paul, yet both men went in different spiritual directions. Why? It is not because of environment, circumstances, or even teaching: it’s because the individual chose to go in the spiritual direction that he wanted and would bear the consequence of his decision.
His Spiritual Activities
Demas first appears in the Bible when he was in Rome during the Apostle Paul’s first imprisonment (AD 60-62). Paul is under house arrest in his rented house and is allowed visitors (Acts 28:30, 31). In the last chapter of the Book of Colossians there are at least eight believers with Paul at this time who are known by the saints in the Lycus Valley where Colossae is located. Six of them send their greetings to the churches in the valley (Col. 4:10-14), five of them will send their personal greetings to Philemon at Colossae as well (Philemon 23, 24). Justus, apparently was not known by Philemon. Two other brothers, Tychicus and Onesimus, will take the letters back to the valley (Col. 4:7-9).
The two lists of greetings provide small details about Demas. In Colossians, he is listed with Dr. Luke and Epaphras (4:12-14), where they are set in contrast with the three Jewish believers, Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus – called Justus, mentioned previously (4:10, 11). This passage seems to indicate that Demas was a Gentile.
In the greetings to Philemon, Demas is included in the statement that he is a fellow laborer with Paul (Philemon 24). The word “fellow-laborer” (sunergos) has the idea of a co-worker. W. D. Thomas pointed out that the “word implies that two people are working closely together as partners, sharing work and responsibility. There is even the suggestion of equality in the word co-worker.” He goes on to say that Demas was a “close confidant of Paul, sharing the Apostle’s vision of winning the world for God” (1983-84: 179). Apparently Demas was a visiting missionary to the Lycus Valley at one time because they knew him, thus his greetings to them. He was not a local brother like Epaphras (4:12). As for the timing of his visit to the Lycus Valley, the Scriptures are silent.
His Forsaking of Paul
The Apostle Paul wrote that Demas “forsook him.” (II Tim. 4:10). The Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest states: “The Greek word ‘forsaken’ (egkataleipo) means ‘to abandon, desert, leave in straits, leave helpless, leave in the lurch, let one down’” (1966:2: 164).
One noted preacher suggests that Demas “may not have been a true believer at all” (MacAuthur 1995:206). A word of caution is in order at this point. Demas was a fellow laborer with Paul and at a point in time, he forsook Paul. We have no Scriptural record of what happened to Demas after he got to Thessalonica. Perhaps he abandoned his love for this present world and started to love the appearing of Christ and began to set his affection on things above.
Even if, in addition to forsaking Paul, he forsook the Lord, the Lord would remain faithful to him because He can not deny Himself because the promise of eternal life is for eternity and the Father and the Son held on to Demas (II Tim. 2:11-13; John 6:35-40, 47; 10:25-30).
His Love for this Present World
Paul does not tell us what aspect of the present world system Demas loved. He does not say if it is fame, fortune, or the gratification of the flesh. I believe the reason that the Apostle Paul does not tell us any details as to what Demas did “loving this present world” was two-fold. First, he did not want to embarrass his fellow laborer any further, saying that he forsook Paul was bad enough. But second, Demas’ life could be instructive to other believers and also serve as a warning to potential wayward believers. When a Bible teacher expounds on the life of Demas, broad applications could be made to his love for this present world system, and not limit it to a single example, or sin.
The Apostle John wrote to believers in Asia Minor: “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:15-17).
John uses the same word for “love” (agape) that Paul uses in II Tim. 4:10. However, he uses a different Greek word for world. In the epistle to Timothy, Paul uses “aiona” (the concept of “eons of time” comes from this word), while John uses “kosmos.” Richard Trench, in his book Synonyms of the New Testament sees a subtle difference between these two words. “Kosmos” is the “world contemplated under aspects of space” while “aiona” is the “same contemplated under aspects of time” (1973: 214). The questions that should be raised from this distinction are: “Are believers in the Lord Jesus living for time, or eternity?” And, “are Christians living for this world, or Thy Kingdom to come?”
The Christian should view the “world” as often used in the New Testament, as a moral and spiritual system, in both time and space, which is designed to draw the believer in the Lord Jesus away from his or her love for the Lord and any service that might be rendered to Him (Gal 1:4; I Tim. 6:17; Tit. 2:12).
This world system has only three allurements to draw the believer away from his or her love for the Lord. First, there is the lust of the flesh, second, the lust of the eyes, and finally, the pride of life. The first, the lust of the flesh, has to do with the gratification of the flesh (what makes me feel good physically). Included within this allurement would be sexual sins, gluttony, drug use and drunkenness. If it’s gluttony, perhaps he did not like the cheese-less pizza in Rome and wanted to devour the chicken gyros in Thessalonica! The second category is the lust of the eyes (what possessions I want to make me happy). These sins would be what we see and desire to have, but the object we want is not ours to have because it belongs to someone else. This is known as covetousness. The final category is pride of life (what I want to be). This is the arrogance that one has when they boast about themselves, their accomplishments, or their possessions. Whatever Demas’ love for the world was, it fell into at least one of these three categories.
Interestingly, Adam and Eve were tempted to disobey the Lord God in the Garden of Eden by these same three tactics. In the most perfect conditions humans ever lived, Satan came to Eve, disguised as a serpent, and cast doubt on the Word of God (Gen. 3:1), and then he blatantly challenged the Word of God (3:4, 5). So when Eve “saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh), that it was pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes), and a tree desirable to make one wise (pride of life), she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6).
On the other hand, the Lord Jesus, after He was baptized, was tested by the Devil in the most imperfect conditions for forty days (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). In the Gospel of Luke, the Lord Jesus is presented as the Perfect Man, thus the Last Adam (I Cor. 15:45). Luke records the genealogy of Mary where her line is traced all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:38).
The first testing by Satan was to challenge the Lord Jesus to turn the stone into bread (Luke 4:2-4). Here was the lust of the flesh, the desire to have physical food while He was fasting. But, Jesus answered Satan from the Word of God saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” He was quoting Deut. 8:3.
In the second testing, Satan takes the Lord Jesus to a high mountain and shows Him all the kingdom of the world and says they could all be the Lord’s if only He would bow down and worship Satan (Luke 4:5-8). Satan tested Him with the lust of the eyes because there was the desire to see and covet that which was not His. This world system was under the dominion of Satan (John 12:31; 14:30; II Cor. 4:4). Yet again, Jesus quotes from the Word of God: “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Deut. 6:13; 10:20).
The final testing, Satan takes the Lord Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and says: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here” and then he proceeds to misquote Psalm 91:11, 12. Here was an attack on the deity of the Lord Jesus. He was the Son of God. Yet Satan was attacking with the “pride of life.”
Interestingly, Jesus passed the same three tests, in the most imperfect conditions, that Adam and Eve failed, in the most perfect conditions in the Garden of Eden. What was the secret of His victory? First, Luke tells us that the Lord Jesus was filled with the Spirit (4:1, 14; see also Eph. 5:18). Second, He knew and used the word of God against Satan each time He was tested (4:4, 8, 12; see also Eph. 6:17). This should be an encouragement for every believer to be filled with the Spirit and to put on the whole armor of God, which includes the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 5:18-6:20).
His Departure to Thessalonica
Why Demas went to Thessalonica, and what he did there is not revealed in the Scriptures. Hanson gives a tantalizing note in his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. He said: “A copyist in a manuscript preserved in the Medici Library in Florence adds in the margin the information that Demas became a priest of a pagan temple at Thessalonica. On what authority he says this we do not know” (1966: 100). If this footnote is true, the allurement that Demas fell for was the pride of life.
“Golden-mouth” John Chrysostom, the eloquent preacher who lived about AD 400 suggests that “having loved his own ease and security from danger, he has chosen rather to live luxuriously at home, than to suffer hardships” apparently with Paul (quoted in Oden 1989:176). If this is the case, the allurement that Demas fell for was the lust of the flesh because he wanted the easy life.
W. F. Boyd conjectures: “In this case the prospect of civil honors may have been the reason which led him to abandon the hardships and dangers of the Apostle’s life and return to Thessalonica, where his family may have help positions of influence” (1916: 287). If this is the case, the allurement that enticed Demas was again the pride of life.
Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, in the first half of the 2nd century AD, wrote an epistle to the church at Philippi. In the ninth chapter of his epistle, he listed some of the martyrs of the early church: Ignatius, Zosimus, Rufus, Paul and other apostles, and said that all these had not “run in vain” because they did not “love this present world” (Polycarp to the Philippians 9:1, 2; LCL I: 295). Polycarp hints at the fact that he is referring to Demas when he lists the martyrs and said they did not love this present world. The implication was that Demas did not want to be a martyr so he abandoned Paul in Rome just before he was executed. If this is the case, the allurement that enticed Demas was the pride of life. He valued his earthy life more than receiving the crown of life (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10).
What Would Jesus Say about Demas?
Jesus gives a series of parables during the fall of AD 28 from a boat in a cove of the Sea of Galilee. While speaking to the multitude that is seated in the natural amphitheater to the west of Capernaum, He spots a farmer sowing seeds on the hillside. He says, “Let me tell you about the four different types of soil that the seed is falling onto. The first soil was actually the road that runs along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Here, the birds of the air ate the seeds. The second soil was the stony ground. The seeds spouted for a short while until the heat of the sun scorched the plant and it withered away. The third soil that the seeds fell on was the thorny ground. Here the thorns eventually choked the plants. The final soil that the seeds fell on was good soil and the plants produced 30, 60 and 100 fold” (Matt. 13:3-9; Mark 4:1-8; Luke 8:4-8). Later, when Jesus interpreted this parable to His disciples, He said of the second soil, that when tribulation and persecution came, the believer would stumble. Of the third soil, He said that because of the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, the word of God is choked in the life of the believer and he becomes unfruitful (Matt. 13:18-23; Mark 4:13-20; Luke 8:11-15; for a full discussion of the Parable of the Four Soils, see Quick 1977). Demas “loving this present world” would fall in either the second or third soils. This was not the normal Christian life, but rather, the sub-normal Christian Life. The fourth soil was the normal Christian life, producing fruit in the life of the believer.
His Place at the Judgment Seat of Christ
All believers in the Lord Jesus and only believers in the Lord Jesus will be at the Judgment Seat of Christ (II Cor. 5:10). The unbeliever will appear at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). These two judgments are separated by 1,007 years. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, the believers works are made manifest (I Cor. 3:12-15). Sin is not the question at this judgment because the Lord Jesus paid for all our sins on Calvary’s cross.
In the context of Paul’s statement of Demas abandoning him, Paul declares his impending martyrdom (II Tim. 4:6-8). Paul contrasts his, and others, who love the appearing of the Lord Jesus and will eventually receive the crown of righteousness, with Demas who was living for this present world and not looking for the appearing of the Lord Jesus. Demas will be at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but when his works are manifested, they will be like wood, hay and straw and will be burned up and he suffers loss, yet Paul says he will be saved, yet through the fire (I Cor. 3:12, 15). The Apostle John would describe him as being ashamed at the coming of the Lord Jesus (I John 2:28). Earlier in Paul’s epistle to Timothy he says of those believers who deny the Lord, that they will be denied the privilege of reigning with Christ for 1,000 years (II Tim. 2:11-13, for a full discussion of this passage, see McCoy 1988).
Demas was with Paul when he wrote the epistle to the church at Colossae (Col. 4:14). He should have recalled the words that Paul penned when he wrote: “If (or, since) then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4). The promise and hope of the Lord’s return should be a purifying hope (cf. I John 3:3). In fact, Paul goes on to say, “Therefore, put to death your members” (Col. 3:4) and then lists various sins that would fit into the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” categories.
Believers in the Lord Jesus should not emulate the life of Demas. Yet there are at least three things we can learn from the life of this wayward believer.
First, we should have an eternal perspective on life and not love this present world system that is out to trip us up and draw us away from our love for the Lord and His Word. This world system is passing away, so this should encourage us to live for the Kingdom to come and eternal rewards.
The second thing we can learn from Demas is that no Christian is immune from loving this present world and leaving the Lord’s work and the Lord’s people. Paul wrote and admonished the Corinthian believers: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12). The allurement of this world falls into three categories: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. The Lord Jesus was tested the same way, yet He passed the tests with flying colors because He was filled with the Spirit and used the Word of God when Satan attacked. Paul went on to tell the Corinthian believers: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way to escape, that you may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13). We should be looking for that escape hatch when temptation comes. Believers should also realize that the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lust, and that we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world (Tit. 2:12).
The third lesson we can learn from the life of Demas is that the hope of the Lord’s return should change the way we live now. If Demas continued in his love for the world, he would eventually be ashamed at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ because he would stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ and his works would be made manifest. At this point, he would have his new, sin-free body, and would say to himself: “Why did I waste my life? I was living for time, but not eternity, living for this world and not the Kingdom to come!” On the other hand, if Demas had lived in light of the return of Christ, this would have provided a purifying hope for him because he knew that one day he would be just like the Lord Jesus. He would begin to live now in light of eternity, and for rewards in the Kingdom to come (I John 2:28-3:3). As the little ditty goes: “Only one life, so soon shall past, only what’s done for Christ shall last.” We are to live in light of the Judgment Seat of Christ and let this sobering truth change the way we live today.
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