Don't Dare to Be a Demas

by Michael Fischer


There is a Sunday-school curriculum called "Dare to Be a Daniel;" some of you may have heard of it. This message is kind of the opposite; it's called "Don't Dare to Be a Demas."

A who? Demas is one of the "bit players" in the history of the New Testament. He was one of the Apostle Paul's travelling companions. His name appears in three New Testament books, Colossians, Philemon, and II Timothy. One verse in each book, for a total of three verses. In the first two verses, it tells us nothing about him, and in the third, there is only a very short bit of bad news. If we put these three verses together, we can draw some definite conclusions about this man Demas.

Col 4:14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.

Phm 1:23 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; 24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

2Ti 4:9 Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: 10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.

From this very small amount of information, what do we know, and what can we conclude, about this guy named Demas?

We know that Demas is a Greek name, not a Hebrew name, so we know that Demas was of Greek descent. He might have been a Grecian Jew who got saved, like Stephen, Philip, or Timothy. Or he might have been a pagan Greek who got saved, like Aristarchus. Either way, he was not "a Hebrew of the Hebrews" like Paul was; he was a Greek.

I can make a good case that he came from Thessalonica. I can't prove it, but in a few minutes, I'll explain why I think that, and you can decide if I'm making sense or not. It won't make much difference either way; it's just one more detail, one more piece to the puzzle that's Demas' life.

We know that he was saved, or at least we can be pretty sure about it. Paul was very choosy about his travelling partners; when John Mark left him during the first missionary journey, Paul didn't want any more help from him, even after he apparently came back and got right. Paul would not have accepted Demas' help on a long-term basis if he had any doubts about Demas' spiritual condition. And even in the passage where it says Demas left him, Paul did not say or suggest that Demas wasn't saved. So we can be fairly sure that Demas, at some point in his life, asked in faith for Jesus to save him.

We can be fairly sure that Demas joined Paul later in life, most likely during Paul's last journey, or perhaps even while Paul was in Rome. He wasn't mentioned anywhere earlier than that. The two epistles in which Demas sends greetings, Colossians and Philemon, were both written while Paul was in a Roman jail. So Demas wasn't someone who travelled a lot with Paul; he wasn't someone who endured the worst of Paul's sufferings with him. He wasn't there when Paul was chased out of Pisidian Antioch by the devout Jews, like Barnabas was; he wasn't there when Paul was stoned nearly to death in Lystra, like Timothy was; he wasn't there for the beating and jailing in Philippi, like Silas was. He probably didn't have to face that kind of persecution in his walk with Christ.

But that's not to say that he never faced any opposition for his faith. In 2 Timothy 1: 16, Paul wrote,

The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain.
Evidently, some people were ashamed of Paul's chains. Associating with an unpopular jailed criminal could be bad for your career and your social life back then, just as as it can now. But Demas didn't worry about that issue. He was willing to be known as a friend of Paul while Paul was in jail, awaiting a trial that would end in a death sentence. And if he did accompany Paul on that last missionary journey, then he got to experience the storm and the shipwreck and all the other fun stuff that happened to Paul on that trip. So you can't say that Demas had an easy Christian life.

But somehow, somewhere along the line, something went wrong. Demas did a 180. We have no idea what happened; Scripture gives us no clue. Maybe he got envious of his wealthy friends who had plenty of money because they didn't give much to the church. Maybe the long hours sitting in the darkness outside Paul's jail cell got to him. Maybe it was alcohol, or maybe there was a girl — Satan has used those ploys often enough through the centuries. But whatever it was, Demas turned away.

It says in II Timothy that he "loved this present world," and the word "loved" is derived from agape, the kind of all-consuming love that was exemplified by the life and death of Jesus, and which we are supposed to give to God first, and to others through the power He gives. Demas stopped agape-loving Jesus, and started agape-loving this present world instead.

And once he made this choice, what did he do? Did he stick around, and give Paul a chance to talk him out of it? No, people who backslide never do that. They don't come near their old church, they steer clear of their committed Christian friends, they avoid anything that might remind them how good it was when they were walking with the Lord. Anything that would stir their consciences and move them to repent, they shun. Many times, they'll move far away from all those reminders. I've known several men who moved to other states once they fell away from the Lord. And I believe that's what Demas did. Specifically, he did what it says in Proverbs 26:11 —

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.

He went back to the place he got saved out of. He went home, as backsliders often do, far away from Paul. The apostle Peter specifically applied that proverb to backsliders in II Peter 2:20-22 —

For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. 21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. 22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

That passage, of course, would make us wonder, "If it applies to Demas, then was he really saved?" The answer, of course, is, "I don't know." But I do know this: there were a lot of worldly towns where Demas could have gone to get away from memories of Paul. Why would he choose Thessalonica? I believe that was Demas' home town. Like the proverb says, he returned to the source of the dirt in his life. I can't prove it, and I won't stake my reputation on it, but it seems to be a reasonable conclusion.

And what finally became of Demas? We don't know that, either. Maybe he eventually repented; maybe he didn't. If he was saved, then he's in heaven now, although perhaps with a slightly smoky smell about him. As it says in I Corinthians 3:11-15 —

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Demas would have been one of those who was saved out of the fire, but came through with nothing. He left his eternal reward behind when he left Christ behind.

And if he wasn't really saved... then we know where he is now. All the years he spent enjoying himself in Thessalonica couldn't possibly have been worth that price.

So there goes Demas. That's all we know about him, and that's all we can guess. Now, how do we apply the facts of his life to our lives, and learn from him?

First off, be very aware that if you fall away from your close relationship with Jesus, you cause hurt in three ways:

  1. You hurt yourself.
  2. You hurt others around you.
  3. You hurt all Christians.

Let's look at those three ways in detail.

(1) The obvious one: you hurt yourself, by cutting off your relationship with your Maker. What happens when someone falls in love with the world and walks away from God? He stops confessing his sins, he stops casting all his cares on God, he loses the peace that passes all understanding, he stops counting on prayer to get his needs met, he stops discovering wonderful truths in Scripture, he stops receiving the joy of Christian fellowship... I could go on for an hour. Of all those things, which one scares you the most to think about? For me, it would be not confessing my sins any more. Because I know what kind of sinner I am, and if I wasn't getting those sins cleaned up and dealt with on a daily basis, I would soon be a wreck. My conscience wouldn't give me a moment's rest. I would have to become one of those men whose consciences are seared as with a hot iron, like it says in I Timothy 4:2. That's a scary thought, but it's the only way I could sleep at night without staying close to God. I hope that's not what happened to Demas, but it probably did, to some extent. And, of course, the more you do that, the harder it is for you to repent and come back. It becomes a vicous cycle that only the power of the Holy Spirit can break.

(2) You hurt others around you, by disappointing them. Just listen to the words of Paul again — "Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: 10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica;"

Notice that he didn't say Demas has forsaken the Lord, even though he certainly had. He didn't say Demas had forsaken the work, which is what he said when John Mark abandoned him and Barnabas back in Acts chapter 13. He said, "Demas has forsaken me." Paul didn't have many friends at that time in his life. Demas was one of the few he trusted and cared for. That must have meant a lot to a man locked up in prison for years. And Demas dumped him for the world's pleasures. As I read Paul's words, I don't hear anger or condemnation; I hear disappointment, and maybe some heartbreak.

I'd like to see a show of hands: how many of you have known a Christian who you loved and cared about, who walked away from God and, in so doing, walked away from you? How many of you would say it hurt? No one likes it when a friend abandons you. Some might say that a situation like Demas' shouldn't hurt as much as other failed friendships, because he wasn't rejecting Paul, but God. Most Christians would say it will hurt more than other failed friendships, because not only do you lose a friend, you also know that your friend is choosing a bad path that's going to hurt him, and you hate to see a friend do that. You hurt for yourself, and you also hurt for your friend, because it's just a matter of time before he winds up a lot worse off than he used to be. You want God's best for that friend, and you can plainly see that he is not going to find God's best on the road he's on. It hurts.

(3) You hurt all Christians, by giving them a bad name. I've often commented that, if a plumber does a bad job fixing your sink, people will say, "That plumber, what a rotten workman!" If a teacher does a bad job of teaching your children, people will say, "That teacher, what an incompetent!" But if a Christian does a bad job of living the Christian life, do people say, "That Christian, what a hypocrite"? No, they say, "Those Christians, they're all hypocrites!" If you mess up, you're causing problems for everyone who names the name of Christ.

God takes this very seriously. When David sinned with Bathsheba, and then arranged a murder to cover it up, we see how seriously God takes it in II Samuel 12:13-14 —

And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. 14 Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.

God forgives our sins if we ask Him to, but sometimes, the consequences of those sins remain. And if you fall away from God, and give God's enemies ammunition to use against His saints, that's not going to go away the instant you repent. It may never go away. Christians will read about David's sin and the consequences of it for as long as this earth endures. And they'll read about Demas and his abandoning of Paul for as long as the earth endures. Don't let this happen to you.

Something else that may endure is the reputation you get among all Christians for yourself. Some saints, like the apostle Paul, or John Bunyan, or George Whitefield, made good names for themselves that still endure to this day. But then there are others, like Demas. He's been somewhat forgotten nowadays, but in John Bunyan's day, he was quite well-known. And what was his reputation?

Listen to this passage from what I consider the second-greatest book ever written, Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. In this scene, the hero, Christian, and his companion Hopeful have just met a character named Demas, who wants them to leave the straight and narrow way and come look at a silver mine, where anyone who's willing to swing a shovel can get rich in a hurry. He doesn't tell them that most of the silver miners die from cave-ins or get suffocated by bad air at the bottom of the mine. His main intent is just to get Christians to leave that straight and narrow path, like he did.

Then Demas called again, saying, But will you not come over and see?

Then Christian roundly answered, saying, Demas, thou art an enemy to the right ways of the Lord of this way, and hast been already condemned for thine own turning aside, by one of his Majesty’s judges, and why seekest thou to bring us into the same condemnation? Besides, if we at all turn aside, our Lord the King will certainly hear thereof, and will there put us to shame, where we would stand with boldness before him.

Demas cried again, that he also was one of their fraternity; and that if they would tarry a little, he also himself would walk with them.

Then said Christian, What is thy name? Is it not the same by which I have called thee?

Yes, my name is Demas [he said]; I am the son of Abraham.

I know you [said Christian]; Gehazi was your great-grandfather, and Judas your father, and you have trod in their steps; it is but a devilish prank that thou usest: thy father was hanged for a traitor, and thou deservest no better reward. Assure thyself, that when we come to the King, we will tell him of this thy behavior. Thus they went their way.

That's the kind of long-term reputation Demas has earned. Do you want people talking like that about you a thousand years from now? I don't.

Okay, there's the bad example. Now, how do we avoid walking in Demas' footsteps when we don't know exactly what he did wrong?

  1. Don't think you can make it without Christ. This is an obvious one: "Without me, ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).

  2. Don't think the world has anything to offer a child of God. If Jesus has saved you, then He has already begun conforming you into His image. So if you try to go back to the way you used to be, you'll have to be conformed to the world all over again. James 4:4 says,
    Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

    And then, of course, there's I John 2:15-17 —

    Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

    Are you wanting something from the world? Don't you think Almighty God can give you much more than that, and it will be much better, and you won't have any pangs of guilt when you receive it when you know it's God's gift to you? This world has nothing for you, Christian. Anyone who says different is spreading lies of the devil.

  3. Don't quit. There is a verse that tells you to quit, if you aren't familiar with King James English, and I fear that too many Christians have taken it literally: (1Co 16:13) "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong." That's not a proof text for quitting. That means "behave like men." A big part of behaving like men of God is what it says just before the "quit you like men" part, and that's the "stand fast in the faith" part. Going backwards is not a Christian option. We're supposed to "press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14). How do you know when you've done enough, when it's time to quit and kick back and take it easy until the Lord finally takes you home? Here's how you know: if you're still breathing, it's not time yet. As long as you're here, Jesus has work for you, and He has blessings for you if you obey. There is no retirement in the kingdom of God. You know the saying, "Winners never quit, and quitters never win"? Well, let me spiritualize it for you. We're called to be overcomers. Overcomers never quit, and quitters never overcome.

And what if it's too late? What if you, or someone you know and care about, is already loving this present world? Is there any hope?

Of course there is, and the Bible gives us an example. I've already mentioned him once: John Mark. He set out with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, and quit and went back to Jerusalem when they were less than half way done. Later, Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance, and Paul wanted no part of him. He felt so strongly about not entrusting himself to a quitter that he and Barnabas broke up their partnership. If John Mark had turned out like Demas did, that would have been the last we heard of him. But in that passage in II Timothy 4, when we hear about how Demas bailed on Paul, what did Paul say in the very next verse?

11 Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.

John Mark did come back, 100%, and even though Paul resented him before, he now realized that God had done a work in Mark's life. We believe that John Mark is the one who wrote the Gospel of Mark. Is that "profitable enough for the ministry" for you?

What made the difference between Demas and John Mark? There again, we don't know. Maybe there was no difference; maybe Demas eventually repented, and became profitable for the ministry again, just like Mark did. But the real question is, "How do we keep ourselves from becoming another Demas?"

Someone I know once fell into a really bad sin. His wife said to him (this isn't an exact quote, but it's the gist of what she said), "If your love for Jesus was what it should have been, this wouldn't have happened." That's the only way. We have got to stay so close to Christ that there's no room for anything to come between us. That's the only way to Demas-proof our lives. Anything else — any discipline, any code of conduct, any 12-step program — they aren't going to work if the world gets its tendrils into your heart. Demas did not do this. For all things we don't know about Demas, for all the things I have to guess at, I can tell you with 100% assurance that he did not do this. He wound up loving this present world because he didn't love Jesus enough.

And if our relationship with Christ is less than 100% committed, we could find ourselves headed for Thessalonica, too. That's the choice that lies before us. Where are your eyes — on Heaven or on Thessalonica? Where is your love — on Jesus or on this present world? If you're facing the wrong way, you need to get right, like John Mark did. And if you're facing the right way, you need to commit to staying there, come what may. So wherever you're at, you need to make a decision.

As I was finishing writing this message, I glanced back at the three verses that mention Demas, and I noticed something I hadn't seen before. In all three verses, either in that verse or in the one just after, Paul mentions another man. Every time he mentions Demas, he also mentions someone else. Luke. If Demas is our bad example, then Luke, "the beloved physician," is our good example; Luke is the opposite of Demas. Luke, like John Mark, wrote one of the Gospels. But unlike John Mark, and unlike Demas, Luke is a model of faithfulness and constancy.

When Paul wrote that Demas had deserted him, and that his other friends had left to pursue Godly ministries in other cities, he wrote, "Only Luke is with me." As lonely as Paul must have been at that time, how important do you think it was to him that Luke was still there? Luke had proven himself faithful through many of Paul's travels, and he proved it some more in that dark, stinking Roman jail when everybody else who could leave, did leave. We don't read that Luke ever raised anybody from the dead, or healed the sick with a word, or even preached a great sermon. He was just there when the man of God needed him. Luke is a really good example for us to follow. He's the kind of friend every man of God needs. Especially if you know a Christian who's going through hard times; that's when you really need to be a Luke for him.

Don't dare to be a Demas. God provided him as an example of how not to live our lives. This present world wants to seduce us and take our love away from Christ. We have to guard our hearts against that. Demas failed to guard his heart, and he deserted everyone who loved him. Don't be like him.

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