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The Warning of Demas

By Michael Roop

Recently, a friend passed along a short podcast that was responding to the recent, very public fall of the famous leader of a Christian ministry. In it, John Piper cautioned the listener with the warning of Demas.

Yep, Demas. Remember him? Neither did I. He’s one of those obscure names that pops up in the last verses of a few of Paul’s letters, the ones we skip over in our reading plans. Demas first shows up in the companion letters of Colssians and Philemon: “Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas” (Colossians 4:14); “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers (Philemon 23-24).

Apparently, in the early 60s, Demas was a faithful co-laborer in the gospel. But a few short years later, all that changed. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, which was probably the last letter he ever wrote, he said, “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10). What happened? How did Demas go from fellow worker to desserter?

Turns out, as Paul tells Timothy, Demas was in love with the world all along. To use Piper’s words, Demas was more interested in the life he could get through ministry, not in the ministry itself. Either Demas had never embarked on the Romans 8:13 command to mortify the desires of the flesh by the Spirit, or he quit trying somewhere along the way.

Maybe Paul experienced this kind of thing multiple times. Listen to his hard won wisdom to Timothy: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands (ordaining for pastoral ministry), nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure…The sins of some people are [obvious], going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.” (1 Timothy 5:22, 24).

Paul Tripp, in his book Dangerous Calling, warns us not to confuse the ministry success of individuals, celebrity pastors, or international ministry leaders - shoot, even your own pastors here at Creekside! - with God’s endorsement of their lifestyle. “The success of a ministry is always more a picture of who God is than a statement about who the people are that He is using for His purpose...God has the authority and power to use whatever instruments He chooses in whatever way He chooses to use them.”

If you see a ministry succeeding, a church growing, or a sermon series connecting, it may (or may not) be that you’re seeing a godly shepherd. But it is certain that you are seeing a shepherding God. A God so glorious to use broken sinners for the work of the gospel.