“Be diligent to come to me quickly,” wrote Paul in his second letter to Timothy, “for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica…” (2 Timothy 4:10. Much to Paul’s dismay, Demas had fallen away. What does this look like? How does it happen? And most importantly, how can we safeguard against it?
Before we come back to Demas, let’s start with a familiar parable. In Matthew 13, Jesus told the story of a farmer who had varying degrees of success with the seeds he’d sown. Take a moment and read Matthew 13:1-9.
Why did Jesus tell a story about seeds? Well, it says something about God’s expectation of us as Christians; namely, that we’re called to be fruitful, to deliver a yield for him.
A tricky commission
We all know the Great Commission, which we often read as “go tell everyone about Jesus”. But that’s not what Jesus said. In his article 10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About The Great Commission, blogger Jeffrey Kranz writes,
When we read the great commission in English, the first word we see is “Go.” That sets the tone for the rest of the passage.
In the original Greek, the main action in Jesus’ command – mathēteúō – is translated “make disciples.” The word for “go” does mean “to move from one place to another.” However, it’s not the main directive in this sentence.
He goes on:
The word for “make disciples” isn’t just a matter of gathering people who want to hear about Jesus. It’s not just about winning an audience of curious students. When Christ talks about disciples, think apprentices.
A great many people “give their heart to Jesus” with no real understanding of the life they’ve been called to. If you consider yourself a Christian, you’ve been called to a life of fruitfulness. Time permits from looking at Jesus’s exhaustive teaching on this, though John 15 is a good place to start. Here you’ll find Jesus teach his disciples that they are to be like branches bearing fruit.
When we think of people “falling away”, we ought to be clear on what they are falling away from. Take a moment to read Luke 14:25-34. Being a Christian is costly. No one falls away from something that requires little effort. How many people sign up for a gym membership in January and soon fall away from their early discipline? Getting in shape takes dedication and commitment and many “fall away” because it’s hard work!
Jesus makes it clear that following him should be carefully thought through. The consequences otherwise are explained in the parable of the sower. Go back to Matthew 13 and pick up verse 18-23. Jesus explains that the seeds on good soil gave a return – some hundred, some sixty and some thirty. No matter; the issue is that they produced some fruit.
As Christians, we should expect to change, to grow, to develop and to increase our usefulness to God. We’re not to sit quietly and wait for glory.
Apostasy in the end times
In 1 Timothy 4, Paul speaks of apostasy in the last days: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith…”. Even in the first century, the end times had begun. Paul himself identified those who had fallen away, those who found the cost of discipleship too high.
In his first letter to Timothy, he warns of pursuing riches: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Tim. 6:10)
In 2 Timothy 1, he mentions “all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes”. (2 Tim. 1:15)
In chapter 2, he references “Hymenaeus and Philetus…who have strayed concerning the truth and overthrown the faith of some”. (2 Tim 2:17-18)
It’s clear that the early church experienced many adherents from whom, it could well be argued, the seed of the gospel had fallen on stony, rocky or thorn-ridden soil.
Before we come to Demas, let’s consider Paul’s instructions to Timothy throughout this second letter. There are no less than twenty-two instructions that Paul gives to his young charge. These form a useful checklist for all of us.
- Stir up the gift of God which is in you (1:6)
- Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner (1:8)
- Share with me in the sufferings (1:8)
- Hold fast the pattern of sound words (1:13)
- Be strong in the grace (2:1)
- Commit my teachings to faithful men (2:2)
- Endure hardship (2:3)
- Don’t entangle yourself in the affairs of this world (2:4)
- Compete according to the rules (2:5)
- Labour hard if you want to reap (2:6)
- Present yourself approved (2:15)
- Shun unbiblical chatter (2:16)
- Flee youthful lusts (2:22)
- Pursue righteousness (2:22)
- Avoid pointless disputes (2:23)
- Stay away from apostate believers (3:5)
- Continue in the things you have learned (3:14)
- Preach the word (4:2)
- Be watchful (4:5)
- Endure afflictions (4:5)
- Do the work of an evangelist (4:5)
- Fulfil your ministry (4:5)
Safeguarding your faith
It’s as if Paul has set the scene for Timothy, carefully detailing what manner of life he should live in order to safeguard against apostasy. Life as a Christian isn’t easy, he’s saying. Not if you do it right.
In chapter 4 then, Paul then draws attention to “Demas [who] has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica”. Could it be said that Demas received seed among the thorns? The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choked that word and he became unfruitful. To what extent are the cares of this world threating to choke your faith?
What can we learn from these thoughts? Here are five key lessons.
- Everyone should know what they are being called to as Christians – a life of fruitfulness.
- This is a great responsibility for us as we share God’s word.
- Ask God daily “How can I bear good fruit for you today?”
- Be prepared for pruning!
- Don’t confuse “fruitfulness” with “doing church work”.
- We serve God, not men
- We can end up “doing” rather than “being”
- We need to know what God would have us do, not what others expect
- Encourage others in their walk with God
- Join a home group, even if you can’t come every week
- Use the prayer diary and commit one another to the Lord
- Take every opportunity to speak words of encouragement, just as Paul did to Timothy
- Take heed of your attitude to the world
- How attached are you to things?
- What are you striving for most in life?
- Do you have the right balance of time for God, time for people and time for work?
Of course, we don’t know of Demas’s eternal fate but ask yourself this question: Do you want to be a Demas or a Timothy?
Jez Fernandez is an elder and teacher at Wantage Baptist Church. This article is adapted from his sermon on 15th January 2017.