Demas was a trusted member of the apostle Paul’s ministry team. Paul said of him, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers” (Philemon 23-24). Demas is even mentioned before Luke, author of Luke and Acts! Paul mentions him again in Col 4:14, also in a positive light.
About five years later (65-66 A.D.), shortly before he was martyred, Paul wrote 2 Timothy. In that letter he had bad news about Demas:
Be diligent to come to me quickly, for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica…
-2 Timothy 4:10
Demas Has Forsaken Me
Demas left Paul in prison in Rome. Clearly he did not leave with Paul’s approval. Paul needed help. He was about to be executed and wanted to make his last days as profitable as possible for the cause of Christ. Demas could have helped him in his ministry. Instead, Demas took off for Thessalonica.
The word Paul chose to describe Demas’s action is very strong. The word forsaken (Gk: enkateleipō) is the same word Jesus used on the cross when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34). It is also the word used in Heb 13:5 where the Lord’s promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” is recalled by the author of Hebrews.
To forsake anyone is a terrible thing. To forsake the apostle Paul when he was in prison and was facing execution for his faith was especially terrible.
What motivated Demas to do this? While Paul doesn’t give us a specific answer, he does tell us the underlying problem. It is one that should challenge each of us deeply.
Having Loved the Present World
At first, this doesn’t sound all that bad. However, when you think about it, you realize that this is a serious indictment. This is something that none of us will want said of us when we are judged by the Lord Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Demas’s defection is in sharp contrast to Paul’s fidelity. Demas loved the present world. Paul loved the world to come. In the three verses which preceded his comments concerning Demas, Paul spoke of his imminent death, of the Judgment Seat of Christ, and of the rewards which he now knew he would receive:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only, but to all who have loved His appearing
-2 Timothy 4:6-8
Against this backdrop the statement that Demas has loved the present world is especially sobering. Paul was living in light of the coming world. Paul loved the future world, the eternal kingdom of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul not only lived for the kingdom, he was about to die for it. He speaks of his approaching death like some might talk about their flight time: “The time of my departure is at hand.” He knew that this life is but a vapor and that dying is but a departure.
What was it that drew Demas away? Was it fear that he too might be martyred if he stayed with Paul? Was it a desire to get away from the conditions in the prison? It could have been as simple as wanting a bed to sleep in and decent food to eat. In any case, Demas was more concerned with this present world than he was with the world to come.
Each day we are faced with many choices which involve deciding whether we love the present world or the world to come. Will you buy a smaller house than you can afford in order to give more to God’s work? Do you care more about what your boss thinks than you do about what the Lord thinks? Would you cheat at work to get ahead? What gets your prime time: TV or prayer and Bible reading?
Someday, probably very soon, the Lord Jesus is coming again. Paul spoke of “that Day” when Jesus, “the righteous Judge,” will judge us and give out rewards. That Day is the Judgment Seat of Christ when every Christian will be evaluated according to the deeds he or she has done as a Christian (Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10).
May we be like the apostle Paul who fought the good fight, who finished the race, and who kept the faith. May we not be like Demas who started well, but who got off track because he loved the present world.