[10] Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him),

Colossians 4:10

We’ve learned much from the falling out of Paul and Barnabas over Mark but there’s one more lesson to look at before we move on. It comes in verse 14 where Paul sends greetings from Demas.

Demas was also with Paul in Rome, faithfully serving the apostle alongside Mark, Luke, Epaphras, and others but not for long.

Over my years in pastoral ministry the one thing I have found most difficult is when those who have been leading churches or have had ministries maybe make a mistake, and consequently are removed from their position, or have to stand down due to circumstances, or have retired, or have turned their back on God or for numerous other reasons end up being abandoned by their so called friends!

One struggles to find adequate words for the distress that is felt when a close, trusted friend and fellow-worker (see Philemon 25) walks away. It is utterly puzzling and yet it exists and continues.

It is important to set the context here. Demas was with Paul in his first Roman imprisonment when conditions were not so strict but things were to change. When Paul wrote again from prison in Rome, his life was hanging in the balance and Demas’ attitude and behaviour changed. Here are Paul’s words to his spiritual son and close friend Timothy: “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:9-10). Now that must have hurt.

Was Demas a fair weather Christian who was happy to follow Jesus and help Paul just as long as things went well and he was having a good time and kept safe? We can’t be sure however, what we can be sure of is that Demas wanted nothing to do with a Paul in prison. The word “deserted” found in 2 Timothy 4:10 is more than Demas just left Paul but implies he had abandoned him, forsaken him, deserted him.

It reminds us of the wisdom of Solomon,

[19] Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips.

Proverbs 25:19

Meaning nothing hurts quite like the disloyalty and betrayal of someone you trusted. It’s like a decaying, rotten tooth and a twisted ankle or broken foot. With one the pain is excruciating, with the other you are barely able to function. What a vivid description. I am sure Demas had his reasons to go but his care of Paul and his friendship with Paul did not figure in the decision to go.

In writing this I can site my own examples. I have Christian friends whom I have known for years who have just lost all contact with so called Christian friends and Co workers. The difficulty with all of this is, if this becomes a pattern of how Christian’s treat each other it only serves to create distrust when friendships are formed, people tend to hold things back, keep people at arms length or are hesitant to trust another.

However Paul did not let the betrayal and abandonment by Demas and others scare him off or sour him to friendship altogether. He didn’t expect Timothy to behave in the same way as Demas, yes he was sad, so very sad, but he didn’t think “all Christian’s are the same.”

What we read is that Demas abandoned Paul in his hour of need because he had fallen “in love with this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10).

It was the pull of the world that was too much, the worlds principles and experiences meant more to him than Jesus. Simple but very profound.

So, what can we learn from these two situations we have looked at over these last few blogs?

When you look at these two men Demas at first appeared to be fearless and faithful, whereas Mark appeared weak and unreliable probably from the outset. As time went on it was Demas that was weak and unreliable and Mark who was fearless and faithful. It was Mark who Paul wanted near him in his final days. If we are not careful we can make quick and hasty judgements on people.

Initially, Paul thought Demas would never leave and Mark would never be of any use. Now, Demas has gone and Mark is back! It’s therefore not how we start the race that is important but rather it’s how we finish the race. It’s been said before and I’ll say it again: the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint! So let’s be careful and discerning with both hesitant and enthusiastic Christian’s.

This gets us into considering the faith of both Demas and Mark. Some say Mark was not a Christian when he abandoned Paul and became a Christian much later on. Some say that Demas was a Christian when he met Paul but lost his salvation when he deserted him for ‘love of the world.’ However, this is based on the assumption that Christian’s are incapable of messing things up. It also assumes that someone who is born again cannot fall into the grip of the world and the flesh. We can’t really prove if Demas was a Christian or not and we don’t really know when Mark became a Christian as the Bible is silent. What we do see is that honesty amongst the body of Christ is so important.

This is what struck me the most! Barnabas received Mark back. Peter received Mark back. Paul received Mark back. The wider Church received Mark back. But what about God? God used him to write the gospel about his Son! This miserable failure who initially proved so unreliable was received and restored by God to fulfil a task of awesome and eternal significance.

So what of your friends? Are you a fair weather friend? Will you be there for your friends in both success and failure? Will you be the kind of friend, despite your very busy life, who ‘sticks closer than a brother?’