“Demas has fallen in love with the present world and has deserted me
and has gone to Thessalonica.”
2 Timothy 4:10 (Common English Bible)
Harry Emerson Fosdick provides uncommon insight upon this singular verse of scripture written by the Apostle Paul: “One of the most familiar tragedies in human life (is) a fine beginning and a poor ending.”[i] Demas, a colleague with Paul in ministry, lacked the power to see it through. First, Paul writes in his letter to Philemon, that Demas and Luke are coworkers in the cause of Christ Jesus. Paul wrote that letter from a Roman prison. Therefore, Demas, along with Luke, was standing by Paul in his imprisonment – a devoted and promising disciple. Second, Paul mentions Demas in his letter to the Colossians in a rather unusual fashion: “Luke, the dearly loved physician, and Demas say hello.” (Verse 4:14). It doesn’t escape the careful reader of this letter that affection is attributed to Luke but not Demas. Luke is “dearly loved.” Demas has become merely “Demas.” Now, in Paul’s second letter to Timothy we understand what is going on: Demas has abandoned Paul and the Christian ministry. Demas began well enough. But he didn’t follow through.
Fosdick reminds us that when Luke wrote his account of the ministry of Jesus Christ, Luke alone among the four gospels shares the teaching about considering the cost before beginning anything: “If one of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the cost, to determine whether you have enough money to complete it?” (Verse 14:28). The one who laid the foundation of the tower was unable to finish it. Luke now warns that people will notice that the builder didn’t finish what was started and will receive the ridicule of others. Fosdick imagines that Luke is here pleading with his friend, Demas; pleading with Demas not to leave unfinished the work of ministry he had started so well. Essentially, Luke is saying to his friend, “Don’t let it be said by Paul that you abandoned him in the work of Jesus Christ.”
Has this become our story? Perhaps we have not abandoned faith in Jesus Christ. But how strongly do we feel about a daily investment in building a relationship with Jesus? Recently a member of this congregation spoke to me following worship and remarked that my suggestion that members spend five minutes each day with a daily devotional was a “big ask.” I do hope he was kidding, and perhaps he was. Yet, I wonder how many people actually believe that – that five minutes a day is a “big ask?” It is no secret that all of us find the time for what really matters. The question for each Christian to answer at the beginning of a new year is, “Does my relationship with Jesus really matter?”
However beautiful the beginning of our Christian journey may have been, none of it really matters much without a good end. This is not to suggest that we must demand outwardly successful – and measurable – goals or achievements. Building a deeply meaningful relationship with Jesus is not a contest. It is about minding the heart, of seeking positive spiritual change or transformation that is accomplished by God as we intentionally nurture our faith. That is done as we spend time with God reading the Bible, delving into good devotional material, and prayer. At the conclusion of this New Year it is my hope that it will not be uttered by the angels of us, “Demas, my Demas. Demas has abandoned me.”
[i] Harry Emerson Fosdick, “The Power to See It Through.” The Power to See It Through: Sermons on Christianity Today (New York and London: Harper & brothers, 1935), 1.