Abandonment. Desertion. Betrayal. Our culture seems to be facing a new pandemic, caused not by an evil virus but rather by selfishness and dysfunctional relationships. Jesus predicted this would happen (Matthew 24:12), but it’s startling nevertheless.
This isn’t just a theoretical prophecy of the last days but something that has impacted me personally. Something in the spiritual atmosphere has been triggering my latent fears and emotional wounds.
Last week a complete stranger prayed for me at a nearby revival meeting:
“I sense that you experienced a broken relationship in the past that is
hindering your relationships in the present.”
I thought I had completely recovered from any past relationships that had been fractured, so I wanted to argue with her on this. But after a few minutes I had to admit that her insight was right on target.
As I spent some time journaling the following day, a long list of people came to mind who had exited my life in recent years. So painful!
Perhaps you’ve had similar experiences. When people abandon you, mixed emotions usually arise. You’re mad. You’re sad. You grieve. You’re bewildered and wonder what you did wrong.
As I pondered the list of people who had left my life or left our church, I happened to remember a fascinating character in the life of the apostle Paul. Demas is only mentioned in three passages, and the first two were very positive:
“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers” (Philemon 1:23-24).
“Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you” (Colossians 4:14).
What an impressive guy Demas was! Paul includes him in the list of his treasured ministry coworkers – even referring to him in the same sentences as Luke and Mark.
But sadly, this is not how the story ends. Paul’s final reference to Demas is this:
“Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10).
What could have gone so terribly wrong? Something caused this trusted ministry coworker to forsake Paul and depart. Paul and his team had been changing the world in amazing ways – yet Demas walked away.
Don’t you wish you knew the backstory? Did Demas feel mistreated or misunderstood by Paul? Reading between the lines, it’s not hard to envision Paul being overbearing in his leadership style at times.
When the apostle wrote these words about the departure of his once-trusted comrade, he was a prisoner in Rome, soon to face a death sentence. This should be a warning for all of us: When the pressure’s on and we’re experiencing our most severe trials, we find out who our true friends are.
Paul’s explanation is brief. He simply says Demas “loved this present world.” Instead of seeking God’s kingdom first (Matthew 6:33), Demas apparently had other ambitions.
In reflecting on the decision of Demas to abandon the apostolic team, Paul may have recalled the sobering question Jesus asked: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). Isn’t this a timely question for our own generation?
Forgiveness and Finishing Well
The story of Demas reminds us that it’s not enough to get off to a good start in the Christian life or in ministry. We also need to finish well.
Just a few verses after Paul’s statement about Demas, he mentions another man who once abandoned his team: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
What a stunning contrast. Paul had been irate when John Mark departed from him and Barnabas during their first missionary journey (Acts 13:13, 15:36-39). But despite this poor beginning, things ended well for John Mark. Paul forgave him, and he once again was useful to the apostolic team. Demas, quite the contrary, started well but ended poorly.
People involved in church splits never blame themselves, so I wonder if Demas would offer a totally different explanation for why he abandoned Paul. It’s a mystery we may never know the answer to.
I also wonder what became of Demas after he apparently chased worldly things and headed to Thessalonica. The Bible never mentions him again, leading me to guess his life was never impactful again.
Can You Relate?
Perhaps you’ve been wounded by people like Demas. Once they were faithful friends and coworkers, on fire for Jesus and eager to expand God’s kingdom. Then suddenly they were gone, pursuing other interests.
Or perhaps you have been wounded by people like Paul – strong, intense leaders who were difficult to follow. You felt like the only way to maintain your sanity was to depart.
It turns out that Demas wasn’t the only one who abandoned Paul in his hour of greatest need:
“At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them” (2 Timothy 4:16).
Can’t you feel Paul’s anguish here? No one standing with him. Forsaken by all. Abandoned by people he had poured his life into.
Yet Paul knew he must forgive the people who had betrayed and abandoned him – just as you and I must do in similar situations.
How was Paul able to navigate these painful times of rejection by trusted friends and ministry partners? He provides this beautiful explanation: “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:17).
What great news for us! Yes, there will be times of disappointment and even betrayal in our human relationships. Yet there’s no better time to remember that we can always count on the One who has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6).
When the woman praying for me at the revival meeting said I was still being affected by a broken relationship from the past, I didn’t want to hear it. I was defensive and argumentative. “No, I’m fine!” I wanted to protest. “I’m over it, and everything is OK!”
However, as the Holy Spirit searched my heart, it turned out I wasn’t OK yet. I needed to take some time to process my hurts, forgive those who had abandoned me, and seek God’s deep healing in my heart.
Friend, whether you’re a Paul, a Demas, or a John Mark, you will inevitably suffer broken relationships and emotional wounds at times. The only question is how you will respond. Will you allow the Lord to pour in His love to heal your wounds, or will you just stomp your feet and walk away?
Tragically, the story of Demas seems to have ended with abandonment, desertion, and betrayal. But that’s not what God intends for you and me. There’s still time for us to end well!