At the end of Paul’s letters, he sends personal greetings to individual Christians. We know next to nothing about most of the people Paul mentions, but occasionally, we can follow a few extra references and get a behind the scenes look at the early church. One of those believers is a guy named Demas. He is first mentioned in Colossians 4:14. “Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.” Then again in Philemon verse 24. “As do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.”
So what does that tell us about Demas? We know Colossians was written while Paul was in prison in Rome. Demas’s mention indicates he was committed enough to minister to the apostle while he was under house arrest. In Philemon, Paul calls him a fellow laborer.
Most scholars believe those two letters were written within a couple of years of each other, around AD 60-62. However, by the time 2 Timothy was written five or six years later, the relationship had changed. Drastically. Paul says Demas has forsaken him. The Greek word for forsaken carries the idea of leaving someone helpless in the midst of a dire situation. Demas knew Paul was in a Roman dungeon and he utterly abandoned him. The apostle felt hurt and betrayed.
Demas’s reason? Paul says it was because Demas loved this present world. Interestingly, his name means “popular.” When the persecution amped up under Nero, Demas decided the cost was too great. He was not the first.
What can we learn from the brief account of Demas?
We shouldn’t be surprised when people walk away from the faith. Jesus predicted it would happen in Matthew 13:20-21. While we want everybody who hears the name of Jesus to respond with a lifelong commitment, it doesn’t work that way. Even full-time ministers like Demas are not exempt. We need to ensure our relationship with Christ remains vibrant.
Scripture never shies away from portraying our failures and weaknesses. With that kind of honesty, there is no question that the things accomplished were done by the hand of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. We should aim for transparency in our own lives.
Not everything is for public consumption. Did you notice when Paul had good things to say about Demas, he wrote those in general letters intended to be read in public and circulated among neighboring churches? His criticism came in a private letter written to the man he trusted most, Timothy. (Granted, the letter is in the Bible now where everyone can read it, but I think it’s for this lesson.) Take the opportunity to praise people in public, and highlight their work. Any shortcomings should be kept private.
If you want to study more “footnote” folks, try researching Trophimus, Epaphras, or Aristarchus.