Issue #229 -------
January 8, 2006
God will not have His work
made manifest by cowards.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Among the very last words ever penned by the apostle Paul, or at least the last words that are known to us, were the following: "Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me" (2 Tim. 4:9-11a). Paul wrote this emotional plea from a prison cell in Rome just a few weeks or months prior to his execution. He sent it to his younger child in the faith Timothy, who was serving the Lord in the city of Ephesus. The time would have been late fall, perhaps around November of the year 66 A.D., as Paul, according to extra-biblical tradition, was beheaded early in 67 A.D.
To fully appreciate the attitude and actions of Demas, we must first go back a few years to Paul's first imprisonment in the city of Rome, which would have been from around 61-63 A.D. During this time we are presented with a much more positive view of Demas. Near the end of the brief epistle to Philemon we find the following greetings being sent: "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers" (vs. 23-24). He is clearly seen in this passage as one who stood beside Paul, even during Paul's house arrest in the city of Rome (Acts 28:30). He is also apparently well-known to Christians in other locations, as his name appears among other noted disciples who send greetings abroad to their fellow Christians. Just imagine being in the company of such notables as Paul, Luke, Mark, and even Aristarchus and Epaphras!! Demas enjoyed such a privilege. He is also characterized by Paul as "my fellow worker," which is the Greek word: sunergoi = "one who works, labors, toils together with another." Demas was not just along for the ride; not just a curious by-stander. He was involved in the ministry of the Lord, which, specifically, would have been largely evangelistic in nature.
In Col. 4:10-14 this same group of men again send their greetings, along with a man named Justus. Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus "are the only fellow workers from the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision" (vs. 11). From this we know that Epaphras, Luke and Demas were Gentiles. In vs. 14 Paul writes, "Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas." Nothing more is known of Demas (aside from the remark made by Paul to Timothy, which we shall examine momentarily). Some feel Demas may have been a resident of Thessalonica, which was the home of Aristarchus (Acts 20:4), and to which Paul declares he eventually returned (2 Tim. 4:10). The name Demas is "perhaps a short form of Demetrius, as Silas was of Silvanus" (Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 1, p. 286). There are only two men by the name of Demetrius mentioned in all the New Covenant writings: (1) A silversmith in Ephesus -- Acts 19:23f, and (2) the faithful brother who may have been the bearer of John's third epistle -- 3 John 12. Although attempts have been made by a few scholars to link Demas to both of these men (some even suggesting all three may have been the same person), such is rejected by most biblical scholars.
Paul's life of active service to the Lord and His cause was nearing its earthly completion. "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:6-7). As the moment of that dramatic departure drew near, many of his companions withdrew. Some seemed to have departed with his blessing. "Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus" (vs. 12). Paul, then, obviously had a specific purpose for sending this disciple away. Others are mentioned as leaving as well, but no negative connotation is attached to their withdrawal. "Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia" (vs. 10). Only Luke remains with Paul (vs. 11). Perhaps he feared a repeat of the abandonment experienced during his earlier defense -- "At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me" (vs. 16-17). Paul also mentions a man who had done much to harm him -- "Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching" (vs. 14-15).
Perhaps Paul's greatest personal sadness and disappointment, however, is detected in his words about Demas. How it must have pained him in his soul to write, "Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica" (vs. 10, NASB). "Paul speaks volumes in the few words applied to Demas" (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 2, p. 92). Paul speaks of a desertion and of a love for this present world/age. These certainly seem to be negatives, but there are some scholars who "have tried to put a good construction on the reference to Demas in 2 Timothy, suggesting that he had gone on a missionary errand to Thessalonica" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 414). Others suggest that Demas simply desired to "leave the ministry" and return to his home in Thessalonica. After all, evangelism was proving to be a deadly profession. Thus, he simply chose secular work over the ministry. Others suggest he remained in the ministry, but simply didn't want to face the possibility of his own execution at this time.
Paul's terminology, however, seems to preclude any positive perception of the departure of Demas. He said that Demas had "deserted" him. Other translations have "forsaken" and "abandoned." The Greek word employed here is egkataleipo, which means "to leave behind; to forsake, abandon" (The Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 113). Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest writes that this word means "to abandon, desert, leave in straits, leave helpless, leave in the lurch, let one down" (Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 2, p. 164). Dr. Wuest goes on to say, "This tells us that Demas had not only left Paul so far as fellowship was concerned, but he had left him in the lurch also, so far as the work of the gospel was concerned" (ibid). This is a very strong word in Greek, much stronger than our English rendition may denote. "It is made up of three words: 'to leave' (leipo), 'down' (kata), and 'in' (en); that is, to forsake one who is in a set of circumstances that are against him. It was a cruel blow to Paul. One whom he had trusted, had let him down" (ibid).
There is considerable speculation as to exactly what may have motivated Demas to have "gone to Thessalonica" at this very critical time when he was so desperately needed by the apostle Paul in Rome. Some biblical scholars suggest he simply feared for his own personal safety; that he was afraid to make the ultimate sacrifice for his faith, as Paul was clearly prepared to do. "Terrified by the greater severity and the threatened fatal ending of the second imprisonment of Paul, Demas had forsaken his old master" (Dr. Charles Ellicott, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 241). "It would appear that Demas had not the faith or the courage to run the risk of sharing St. Paul's imminent martyrdom at Rome, but left him, while he was free to do so, under pretence of an urgent call to Thessalonica, just as Mark left Paul and Barnabas -- Acts 13:13" (Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21). In Acts 15:38 Paul insists that they should "not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work." John Mark had obviously experienced a dramatic change of heart over the years, however, for in 2 Tim. 4:11, after mentioning the desertion of Demas, Paul tells Timothy, "Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service." How encouraging it is to hear these words about this cousin of Barnabas!! Yes, people can change!
Other scholars disagree with the view that Demas was a coward and fled to preserve his life. They see his departure as being motivated more by lust for material gain; a quest for the secular, rather than the spiritual. "Not lack of courage, but a lust for materialism seemed to be his downfall" (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 2, p. 92). This certainly seems to be corroborated by the insight provided by Paul -- "Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica" (2 Tim. 4:10). Many Bible scholars feel that "this phrase suggests that the prospect of worldly advantage was the motive which determined Demas. No doubt the busy commercial center of Thessalonica offered many opportunities for success in business, and love of money may have been the besetting sin of this professing Christian" (Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 1, p. 287). Demas had "now yielded to fickleness. The love for this present world, its advantages and lusts, took hold of his heart" (Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 2, p. 416).
Still other scholars feel it is unfair to suggest Demas was merely seeking material gain. Adam Clarke, for example, wrote, "It could not have been the love of secular gain which had induced Demas to abandon St. Paul; he must have counted this cost before he became a Christian" (Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 638). Clarke even laments, "Demas has received little justice from interpreters and preachers in general. It is even fashionable to hunt him down" (ibid). When Paul says, "Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica," Adam Clarke, and a few other scholars as well, see this in a more positive light. They suggest the phrase "having loved this present world" simply means Demas had a love for the souls of the lost, specifically those of the Jews. Thus, he went to Thessalonica to preach to the Jews, which he considered of far greater importance than staying to comfort Paul. Some even see Paul as being somewhat selfish for wanting to keep people with him when there was work to be done elsewhere!
Clarke writes, "It is not intimated that he had denied the faith, but simply that he had left the apostle and gone into Thessalonica; for which this reason is given, that he loved the present world. Now, if agapesas, 'having loved,' can be applied to a desire to save the souls of the Jews, and that he went into Thessalonica, where they abounded, for this very purpose, then we shall find all three -- Demas, Crescens, and Titus ... one at Thessalonica, another at Galatia, and the third at Dalmatia -- doing the work of evangelists, visiting churches, and converting both Jews and Gentiles. This interpretation I leave to the charitable reader, and must own that, with all the presumptive evidences against it, it has some fair show of probability" (Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 638).
Although the above efforts to perceive the actions of Demas in a more positive light are somewhat admirable (after all, we should always try, if possible, to give someone the benefit of the doubt), nevertheless I personally feel they are misguided. I would agree with the following statement by R.C.H. Lenski, "Some suppose that the ingressive aorist -- 'having come to love the present eon or world' (see: 1 Tim. 6:17) -- means only that he went into business and thus left for Thessalonica, his former home. While we are ready to think as well of Demas as we possibly can, this falling in love with the world admits of no such mitigation. For the participle is here evidently the opposite of loving the Lord's epiphany which is mentioned in verse 8. We are compelled to believe that Demas gave up the love of that coming epiphany for the love of this present world's course. This is what cut into Paul's heart most deeply" (Interpretation of Second Timothy, p. 867-868). Jesus said, in His Sermon on the Mount, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:21). The heart of Demas was focused on the things of this present eon. This is the Greek word aion, which "simply characterizes the present time" in which one lives, in contrast to the "age to come" (Exegetical Dictionary of the NT, vol. 1, p. 46). In other words, the focus of Demas was on the "here and now," rather than on the "things which are above" (or which pertain to the hereafter). His interests were more temporal than eternal. Thus, Paul rightly regarded his departure as a desertion. "The spirit of the age had gotten hold of him. What a warning example this should be to those of us who are teachers and preachers of the Word of God. How careful we should be to obey the exhortation of Paul, 'Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth' - Col. 3:2" (Dr. Kenneth Wuest, Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 2, p. 165).
The ultimate fate of Demas, either in this life or the next, is unknown to us. William Barclay, the noted Scottish scholar and commentator, firmly believed (by linking Demas to the Demetrius of 3 John 12) that this former faithful co-worker with Paul eventually found his way back to a right relationship with the Lord. There is simply no way to verify this, however. We would certainly hope he turned his life around, but whether he did or not is sheer speculation. According to tradition, "he became a priest in a heathen temple in Thessalonica" (Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 2, p. 416). "The tradition, however, which relates that he became in after days an idol priest at Thessalonica is baseless" (Dr. Charles J. Ellicott, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 241). Epiphanius (c. 310-403 A.D.), in his writings on the various heresies of the early church, lists Demas as being among the noted "apostates from the faith."
The account of Demas is a very sobering one, and it ought to serve as a strong warning to us all. Paul wrote, "I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Cor. 9:27). Demas had been a faithful servant of the Lord, and a trusted companion of the apostle Paul. He served the greatest cause, and he served alongside some of the Lord's most devoted disciples. Such distinction, however, was not sufficient to preserve him from the wiles of Satan, the lure of the world, and the lusts of the fleshly nature. We must ever be on guard lest we too lose sight of the prize and turn our gaze to that which is only destined to perish with the using. James warned: "Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world just makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). Demas, the once devoted disciple and enthusiastic evangelist, "having loved this present world," abandoned Paul in the hour of his greatest need, and return to the pursuits of this present age. May our God preserve us from following the same perilous path!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, My wife got me your book Down, But Not Out for my birthday back in October. She bought it from Amazon.com. I read it and loved it! I had already read Olan Hicks' book, as well as a couple of others. I particularly liked the way that you covered the entire Bible where it touched on MDR. Over Christmas I gave my copy to my brother-in-law. He grew up in a very legalistic Church of Christ, and has always been taught the traditional views on MDR. He is in a marriage that is just horrible, and has written us several emails in which he hints at not wanting to live anymore. Some of the phrases he is using scare me! I talked to him, told him to stay calm, pray a lot, study his Bible, and read your book. I told him that he needs to know the Truth on this subject, and that he should read your book and compare it with the Bible, and then decide for himself where he stands. Anyway ... I don't mean to burden you. I obviously wanted to replace my copy of your book and wondered if there was any way I could get a signed copy? If so, just let me know.
From a Minister in Oklahoma:
Al, You have again smote the flat end of the nail. Great article on "silence." A big Thank You for your study on elders. These articles of yours were all included in a packet that was prepared and given to those men that were being considered. It helped us to go from 0 to 5 elders. Question: Can I buy your Reflections CD's and your book Down, But Not Out from you as a package, or should I purchase the CD's from you and the book through a bookstore? I would prefer a signed copy, 'cause I think that would carry more weight in the final judgment!!!
From a Reader in Michigan:
Al, I just finished reading your most recent Reflections -- "The Silence Syndrome." I had been reading some of your earlier pieces on the same subject, and it occurred to me that the CENI tradition is simply that -- a tradition. It is a product of the early restoration movement in this country and, as such, is as man-made as my new tennis shoes. We are like Jacob Marley in my favorite holiday story, Dickens' Christmas Carol. In our outlook on Scripture, we are shackled with the chain we have forged ourselves -- "link by link and yard by yard." We boast that we are "free indeed," and yet we have bound ourselves to man-made ideas and actions and traditions (our creed) as surely as old Jacob bound himself by his greed. The more of your Reflections I read, the more I realize how very blinded we are by what we've been told the Bible says, rather than being enlightened by what is actually there right under our noses. My brother-in-law, who is a preacher, led me to your web site and to your book -- Down, But Not Out. Connecting me to your web site was one of the very best pieces of advice I've gotten in a long time!!
From a Minister in Texas:
Brother Al, I have been up since 3 a.m. doing some studying, praying and research for my Bible class Sunday. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!! I have now thoroughly repented for all my years of foolish, though sincere, error. Thank You, my beloved brother! I was knee deep in that "law of silence" briar patch for years, but I will never bleed over that one again. I will be ordering your CD special come payday! Where else, and about what else, have we so carelessly and blindly been untruthful and careless in our hermeneutic? Have we been just as careless on the subjects of instrumental music and fellowship, just to name two? I hope you don't mind me pestering you for some guidance! I worked at Sunset School of Preaching (Lubbock, TX) for 15 years before my retirement. I only wish I could have sat at your feet long before now!! Brother, you rang my bell this morning with your article "The Silence Syndrome," and you have awakened me to the very real fact that I've been "snake bit" and didn't even know it. Again, Thank You!!
From a Reader in Alabama:
Dear Al, As a faithful subscriber to your Reflections, I have come to appreciate the studies you have conducted from God's Word immensely. I have not yet gone through all of your Reflections, but hope to soon! I have also been looking through some of your debates on your web site, and today I took the opportunity to read through your Study of "TULIP" Theology. This is of particular interest to me because of a gentleman I work with. To be honest, in my 42 years on this earth, being brought up in the Churches of Christ, I have never met a Calvinist. I knew a little about the "predestination" theology, but that was about it. Thanks to your study, I have learned much more about it. This man keeps engaging me in conversation about his beliefs and I have felt ill-prepared to answer him. I will tell him about your study, and about your web site, and hope your logic will appeal to his intellect. He used to be a very high-ranking member in the Presbyterian Church, but has now become disillusioned with organized religion and no longer worships with any church.
From a New Reader in (Unknown):
Dear Al, I've been introduced to your web site, and to your Reflections, by a couple of friends, and the holidays have finally given me some time to read through your writings. I can't say what a thrill it is to find a kindred spirit! You are doing a great work! It is obvious that many thousands are being blessed by your writings. It is interesting that you've recently written articles on Galatians (Issue #202) and the meaning of "another gospel" (Issue #215). I will be speaking at the ACU Lectureship in February on this very topic. Your thoughts parallel mine, and it will be much easier addressing this topic in such a public forum knowing that someone else in the Churches of Christ agrees with me! I'm delighted to see at least one other person teaching this desperately needed truth! I'm an elder, and this means that my opinions affect the spiritual lives of lots of people. Thus, it is useful to me to hear the objective views of open-minded, godly men on these subjects.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Another fantastic article, brother! I've heard so many sermons on the "law of silence" in my life! I have even (ashamedly) used many of those arguments in lessons and sermons and discussions of my own. Thank you for this insightful article! I'm sending it to family and friends (which I'm sure they won't appreciate!).
From a Reader in Alabama:
I have never seen a preacher ride a dead horse as long as you are riding this one. You are not converting anyone with your holier than thou teaching. Who out there really believes that you are the apostle of perfect interpretation?
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Al, I have a simple illustration for you and those who agree with you. Place your fingers on the "keys" of a piano and read all the NT Scriptures about singing. Now the questions: Did you play the piano? Did you play the piano and sing? Or, did you just sing? Very simple isn't it?!! Even a 12-year-old piano student could understand it!
From a Reader in Ohio:
Al, I have a question for you about the "silence" argument. If God told man to use the fruit of the vine in the Lord's Supper, can we use coke, beer, or whatever else we please?
From a Reader in Florida:
Al, I eagerly look forward to reading your articles each week; I also enjoy your readers' comments. I especially appreciated the reader who told us about Bro. Jack Holt, the Non-Institutional preacher who resigned because his congregation was being pressured from the outside to fire him. I went to his web page -- www.nicocstudy.net -- and found his writings very thought-provoking. I am praying for Bro. Holt. May God forgive us for all the times we show lack of mercy and love for one another!
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, I just finished reading "The Silence Syndrome." The hour is late, but I just had to make a comment or two. You were firm, if not forceful ... I liked that. Talk about getting out of the gate in a fast run the first of the year ... Wow!!!! Your e-mail inbox will be overflowing with responses to this one. Garland Elkins and Wayne Jackson now have an opportunity to set things right. They are, after all, men who have influence within their circle, and they are now being given the opportunity, by your invitation, to be men who can lead toward the unity of brethren we all desire. The challenge has been issued like the sound of rolling thunder, and I eagerly await their answer.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Al, It is late, but I just had to write before retiring for the night. You mentioned that PowerPoint is not mentioned in the Bible, and that God is just as silent on it as He is other things that some reject because of the "law of silence." I have actually heard and read after brethren who have condemned PowerPoint because it is "equal to" mechanical instruments of music in worship. It is interesting how some will lump things together like this just to show how "liberal" some preacher or church has become in their estimation. Recently, I read where a brother said a "liberal" was someone who changed the "order of worship." In other words, if a congregation has had two songs and a prayer for fifty years, and a preacher or song leader decides to change that to one song and a prayer, the guilty one is "a change agent!" May God deliver us from such madness!! What has happened to our thinking?!
From a Reader in Barbados, Caribbean Islands:
Dear Bro. Al, I want to wish you and your family the very best -- God's best -- for 2006. I continue to be enthralled by your weekly presentations, and while we do not agree on every aspect of each and every one of your Reflections, I continue to have this spiritual connection that bears witness to your genuineness and purposeful search to know more about Christ, and to make Him known. I pray you will continue to be blessed amidst the daily challenges. By the way, I liked your presentation on the matter of Christmas and the Christian. As usual, you gave good balance, as well as sound reasoning, why one should not pass judgment on another because he or she does not agree with one's "peripheral" ideologies. Great work! I am satisfied that your endeavor to demonstrate Christ to the world provides much light and comfort for people who are in desperate need of the Savior.
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Dear Al, I have been reading your Reflections for several years now, and how richly you have rewarded me! I refer to them often for advice. Frankly, I don't know how you do it, writing with such a scholarly approach week after week. How do you manage to cover so much material in so little time?!
From a Minister in California:
Brother Al, A couple of brief observations on a couple of recent topics: During my years in the "Discipling Movement" I frequently expressed amazement at Kip McKean's oft-expressed statement that "Disciple = Christian = Saved." He insisted that one is not a disciple unless he is saved. But the Bible clearly gives instructions to make disciples, baptizing them. If a disciple is by definition a saved person, then the Lord gave instructions to baptize saved persons! What nonsense! Another item: I also receive Garland Elkins' paper: Yokefellow (Garland and I were classmates at Freed-Hardeman). Just today I got the latest issue and guessed that he is indeed referring to you in that article. These ultra-conservatives can be so selective in what they consider to be "silence," and what they choose to take liberties with. For example, congregational singing is never mentioned in the NT -- only solos, but they never argue that the command to sing solo excludes singing congregationally. Nor do they hesitate to call singing "worship," even though the Scriptures never call it "worship." What do you suppose Garland would say if one of his brethren stood up in church, looked at a brother next to him, and started to sing a solo to him? How I would love to be present and see what the response would be to such an event!
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