As long as I’m not uncomfortable.
As long as I’m not inconvenienced.
As long as I don't have to confront anyone.
As long as I don’t get hurt.
As long as I am not pressured.
As long as things are to my satisfaction.
As long as I’m not asked to give.
“Demas has deserted me.” Among the most haunting words to me are these from the Apostle Paul.
Three times in Paul’s letters he mentions his fellow missionary companion Demas. Two of the three times it is clear that Demas is a committed teammate, taking risks and taking Christ to the Gentile world; establishing churches where the religious are hostile to this new way.
Being a Christian in the first century Roman Empire wasn’t without opposition. Believers in the Jewish Messiah were truly counter-cultural and revolutionary – not in political ways, but in discovering life in Christ often meant a life unknown by the world. The Messiah’s call was to abandon all and to take up a cross; to put your hands to the plow and only look ahead. It was a call to self-denial and servant hood. It meant becoming a citizen of another world while living in this one.
While in his final days in a Roman prison Paul penned those words. “Demas has deserted me”. Can you feel the pain in his heart? When he most needed friends and encouragement – someone to assure him that the missional movement he started would continue – one that he had hoped would stay faithful and loyal had dropped out.
Demas, it seems, couldn’t stand the heat so he got out of the kitchen. As he weighed his options he chose the comfort and convenience of casual Christianity. The idea of perhaps winding up like his mentor was a test he would not pass. Imprisonment and execution by a Roman sword took commitment to a level he was not ready to seek.
So he dropped out. He went “home”. “Sorry Paul, but I can’t deal with this.”
Haunting words, but, to me they're also helpful.
I know that I have never been put to the test like this. Not really. Sure, there have been times when I’ve had to make what seemed at the time to be a hard choice regarding my commitment to Christ. And I like to convince myself that dropping out is not an option. When I look at Demas I have to think, “But for the grace of God, there go I”. Demas is my anti-hero; someone I don’t want to follow.
They're helpful to me also because as a leader in a Christian community I’ve experienced some level – surely not what Paul experienced – of watching the formerly committed and faithful drop out. And I’ve heard all the “reasons”. And I try to remind myself that it’s not me they’re abandoning. It’s Christ. It’s His family (which you cannot separate from Him). It’s their calling that is deserted.
As I read the Bible and “hear” the words of Christ, Peter, Paul, James and John I know that this journey of faith has potholes and places where there are no shoulders along the road. It can be both treacherous and at the same time daring. Most of all it is a life that doesn’t allow a neutral gear. You’re either growing into His image or you are falling away; with Him or against Him. And we don’t like that.
I’m sure Paul made some effort to convince Demas not to quit. My feeling is that Paul pulled no punches with peers like Demas. He may have felt a twinge of failure as Demas shook his head and walked away. But if it happened to Paul it can, will and does happen to all in the Lord’s service. That gives me some consolation.
But it doesn’t erase completely the pain and puzzlement.