From Things Not Seen, by Jon Bloom, pages 77-80, 2005.
“FAILURE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THE LAST WORD: DEMAS, MARK, AND FAILURE”
Demas and Mark are contrasts in failure. One provides us a word of warning, the other a word of hope. And as people who stumble in many ways (James 3:2), we need both.
What happened to Demas? We don’t know, but we find a clue in a few heartbreaking words from Paul, some of the last he wrote before his Roman execution: “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10).
Maybe Demas feared being executed with Paul and fled to safety. Maybe he escaped to a place where he could let himself succumb to the siren song of immoral seduction. Or maybe he simply caved in to the allure of life in the urbane, cosmopolitan, pluralistic, wealthy, culturally interesting city of Thessalonica. Whatever lured Demas away, Paul saw it as a love affair with the world.
But in this same letter to Timothy, Paul says something very hope-giving: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
Remember Mark? He was the first to desert Paul. Back in the early days, on the very first missionary trip, Mark left Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia and returned home to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Again, we don’t know why. But Paul didn’t approve. In fact, when Barnabas wanted to bring Mark back on the team after the Jerusalem Council, Paul said no way (15:37-40).
But now, at the end of Paul’s life, Paul fully trusted Mark and called him “very useful” in the gospel ministry.
A WORD OF WARNING
Demas is a warning to us. He began well. Four or five years earlier, during another imprisonment, Paul called Demas a “fellow worker” in the gospel (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24). There was a time when Demas apparently chose, like Moses, “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25).
But Demas doesn’t appear to have ended well. Having once fought kingdom battles alongside Paul, he deserted to the enemy’s side.
Here’s our warning: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devout. Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9).
Our enemy is very real and very crafty. He threatens and seduces. And even leaders who start strong, like Demas, can fall to his deception. We must “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) and do all we can do to stand firm (Ephesians 6:13).
A WORD OF HOPE
Mark, on the other hand, is an encouragement to us. He had a weak start. He didn’t appear to have the right stuff. He disappointed his leaders and friends by leaving them to bear the heat of battle while he went home.
But Mark ended well. At some point he rejoined the battle and proved a faithful, trusted, useful warrior. And, if tradition is correct, the Lord even granted him the privileges of contributing to the New Testament canon, planting a church in Alexandria, and being martyred for the sake of Jesus.
BE RESTORED AND RE-ENLIST
All of us fail. And yes, some failures wreak horrible destruction. But if we turn from our sinful failures to Christ, there is no failure that can’t be redeemed by the cross. And if we will wait for the Lord, there is no failure that Christ can’t restore to useful service. Jesus chooses and uses failures. Paul knew this from personal experience: “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy . . .” (1 Timothy 1:12-13).
We don’t know the last word on Demas. I hope that he repented in the end. But, as Mark shows us, we know that failure doesn’t have to be the last word for us.
Whatever past or present failure confronts you, bring it to the cross and leave it. Desert it! Come, be restored by Jesus. If you’ve been AWOL in the fight of faith, come reenlist in the battle. It’s not too late.
Forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13). Resolve again to pursue Jesus as your treasure. And watch him redeem even your worst failures and make you able to finish well.
II Timothy 4:9-11 — Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.
Ecclesiastes 7:8 — The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.
Philippians 3:12b-14 — I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
You alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners:
Grant Your people grace to love what You command and desire what You promise;
that, among the swift and varied changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer