Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:9,10).
Desertion is dangerous. It puts others at risk. If it happens during a battle, the deserter may be shot. Yet, desertions occur not only during military battles. A father may desert his family. A Christian might desert his faith.
The main causes of desertion appear to be fear and love. We quickly think of the Soldier who is afraid of losing his life—so he decides to desert his post. A fellow by the name of Demas is mentioned in the Bible because he deserted out of love—love for this world.
Demas the deserter is not as well-known as Judas the traitor. But the lesson we learn from him is just as important. He was in the company of Saint Luke the two other times the Bible mentions him. More importantly, he was with Saint Paul when the apostle was imprisoned in Rome. Paul was about to be sentenced to death for preaching about Jesus. In this second letter to his former student, he begs Timothy to hurry to his side. As far as we know, Timothy did so and remained with the apostle until his execution. By that time, Demas was long gone.
We might assume he was afraid he would also be arrested since he was associated with Paul. But we are told it wasn’t fear that drove him away. It was love that drew him away. “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me…” We remember the warning Jesus gave as he explained the parable of the Sower and the Seed: “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).
There is much in this sinful world that attracts us. It offers acceptance, applause, excitement, fun, and wealth. It is difficult to not love such things. Demas gave in to that. What the world offered meant more to him than what faithfulness to God offered. After all, who would want to hang out with someone on death row? What could that get him? What fun was that? What would he lose if he left? His place in the brotherhood of believers? His peace with God? His place in heaven? Maybe.
We don’t know what happened to Demas. We hope that, like a Peter, he returned to faithful service in his Savior’s kingdom. We hope that he remembered Jesus was once deserted by his heavenly Father so that a Demas might not be left to a fate worse than death. Demas should have stayed in Rome. He should have followed the motto: “No one left behind.”
He should have stayed in the Band of Believers. As should we.
Along with generations of Christians before us, we say to Jesus:
“Thou hast not left me oft as I left thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.” Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer
WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military