What Really Matters
How to Deal with Heartbreak
II Timothy 4:9-13
I’ve been a dedicated believer in Christ now for the last 44 or 45 years, more than 26 as a pastor. One of the things I’ve learned in that time is that a key to persevering in Christian life, and in particular in ministry, is learning how to deal with disappointment, even unsettling, heart-breaking disappointments and losses. For especially in ministry they are inevitably and often regularly a part of a Christian’s experience.
I was painfully reminded of this fact myself this week when I received news, now for a second time, of a former elder of this church who has now completely fallen away from following Christ and has confessed that he has lost his faith entirely. And this was a devoted believer whom at one time I would have counted as my closest friend and confidant, a wise man who was devoted to the Word and prayer in great ways. Now, he shall remain nameless for the time being, as the person who confirmed what I had only previously suspected asked that the details of the situation be kept confidential. But this was a shocking and heart-breaking revelation, though it’s only one in a series of such revelations about this individual which has occurred over the course of several years.
And so the question which I faced this week once again, and the question which so many of will face at one point or another in our Christian lives is, what do we do when we receive heart-breaking news like this—when people, perhaps even our own children, or for that matter, our parents, or close friends, or fellow believers, deeply disappoint and hurt us, when beloved friends abandon us in times of our greatest need, when someone like my friend even apparently abandons not only his walk with Christ, but his faith altogether. How can we keep from being terribly discouraged, disillusioned ourselves to the point of perhaps even wandering away from following Jesus ourselves?
This morning we come to a place in Scripture which addresses just exactly those kinds of circumstances in II Timothy 4:9-13. It so happens that it’s none other than the venerable Apostle Paul’s who has experienced the hurt and the heartbreak of a close friend, a ministry associate who has abandoned him and the Lord in his time of deepest need. Paul’s experience at this point in his life serves as a reality check for us. Here we have this man, perhaps the greatest Christian of all time among mere mortals. He is at the end of his life and he is imprisoned, lonely, experiencing abandonment from many believers in a time of great persecution, and now the apparent apostasy of one of the members of his own missionary team at the time of his greatest need, when he is in prison about to be executed for his faith. Paul, though clearly wounded by these experiences, is stalwart in his faith, fully assured that no matter what happens, Christ is with Him and will see Him into His heavenly kingdom, and here provides the example of how to deal with great and heart-breaking disappointments. What his words and his example provide for us this morning is this:
When unfaithfulness & heartbreak come, remember and seek out the faithful, especially your gracious God and His Word.
As we come to verses 9 through the end of II Timothy we find Paul’s letter filled with a list of personal concerns and details about his ministry and the ministry of his missionary team, which at this time may number as many as 10 of the people mentioned in these concluding verses. Each of the people he mentioned here is a story in and of himself. Some of the stories we know more about than others, and such is the case with Demas, who had clearly been a part of Paul’s team of missionaries for a number of years.
We know that Demas, for instance, was part of Paul’s missionary team during his first Roman imprisonment, for he is mentioned in two other places in the New Testament. He’s mentioned alongside Luke in Colossians 4:14 as Paul wrote that letter from Rome. And in Philemon 24 he is mentioned as one of Paul’s own fellow workers, obviously a member of Paul’s missionary team, a man who clearly at some point had so gained Paul’s respect and trust that he had qualified for inclusion on this missions team. Demas had been a man who had elder qualifications and I’m sure had passed the test regarding those qualifications for such ministry as Paul had recorded them for us in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
Now Paul’s first Romans imprisonment had occurred between 59 and 61 or 62 A.D and the book of Colossians and Philemon are thought to have been written in 60 A.D., so by the time of the writing of II Timothy, Demas had been a member of Paul’s missionary team for at least five or six years. So what Paul writes about Demas at this point is shocking. He urges Timothy to come quickly to him in Rome, because of what, in part, Demas has done. Chapter 4, verse 9: “Make every effort to come to me soon, for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” Paul then mentions several others who are also absent, but who are apparently dutifully following through with their ministries in other places: “Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia (which is modern-day Yugoslavia), and in verse 11 he confesses, “Only Luke is with me.”
So Paul is lonely. He’s longing for the personal fellowship of his most faithful disciple, Timothy, at least one more time before his execution. And his loneliness has been compounded by the actions of one faithless member of his ministry team, Demas. This is evident from the fact that of all the people Paul might have mentioned who were associated with him on his ministry team that it is Demas whom he first mentions. Why Demas first, in this setting? Because Demas has caused him great pain. Demas’ unfaithfulness, Demas’ abandonment of Paul and the cause of Christ at this critical juncture in Paul’s life, is most painful, and therefore, all the more the cause of his desire to see Timothy one last time before he departs for heaven.
And so it’s obvious here that Paul is experiencing great pain and heartache, that he is heartbroken over this loss of not merely Demas’ fellowship, but Demas’ devotion to Christ and His purposes. The word used in verse 10 for deserted has the sense of complete and utter abandonment, of leaving someone in the lurch, someone who has every right to count on you to be there for him, especially under these circumstances. So Paul is hurting, and he desires to be comforted by Timothy, his dear child in the faith.
And we see here Paul’s vulnerability an example for us when we find ourselves in a similar place, lonely, hurt, heart-broken, disappointed, perhaps even disillusioned by the actions of others—we find an example for one of the first thing we should do. Seek comfort from godly and faithful friends. And Timothy was certainly qualified for that role in Paul’s life.
Now let me ask you, if the great Apostle Paul needed this in these circumstances, don’t you think that this is the very thing you might need under similar circumstances! Yes! We all need fellowship from other close and devoted believers. The last thing any of us should do in times of need like this is to isolate ourselves. It’s been said idleness is the devil’s workshop. If that’s true, isolation is located right next door. Whatever you do when you’re heart-broken, disappointed, disillusioned or abandoned, don’t isolate; don’t complicate your situation. I’ve seen too many believers who become absolutely paralyzed by their depression and then their fears which have resulted from isolation, and they as well as others suffer all the more because of it.
Remember the words of the wise man Solomon found in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”
Hey, you need help. Go for it! Two are better than one; and three better than two.
More than that Hebrews 10:24-25 specifically warns against the temptation to isolate ourselves from the fellowship and encouragement of other believers: “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Are you lonely today? Are you discouraged? You’ve come to church. Good idea. Whatever you do, don’t isolate, but congregate so that you warm up and begin to percolate again!
So what had really happened with Demas? How could he have abandoned Paul at such an awful moment in his life? This was certainly out of character for him, wasn’t it? Well, the truth of the matter which had sadly come to pass—it was not out of character for him anymore. Because he had become double-minded. He had not guarded his affections. People change, and Demas had allowed himself to change for the worst. Oh, yes, he had loved the Lord, and he had loved Paul. But his affections had become divided, according to Paul’s testimony here in verse 10: “For Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me.”
The picture concerning what had happened now becomes much clearer. The Apostle Paul is on trial for his life in a time of great persecution under the Emperor Nero. Even those who associated with Paul were in danger because of Paul’s Christianity. Many believers around the Empire were refusing to associate with Paul. But what was so unusual about Demas is that Demas was not just any believer. He was clearly a part of Paul’s ministry team, a close associate. Why had he abandoned Paul in these most desperate of circumstances? Because he loved this present world, and was no longer willing to risk his present life for Christ, or for Paul, or for anyone else. Somewhere along the line, that single-eyed devotion to Christ had been compromised. Demas had begun to love the things of this world and his love for the things of this world had rivaled his love for Christ. And the two are antithetical. They cannot co-exist in the same person for long. As the Apostle John wrote in I John 2:15: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” And as Jesus said in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.”
And so it was that as Demas compromised his affections, eventually a day of reckoning inevitably arrived in which his love for the things of this world caused him to despise his love for the Lord and for Paul.
If we would deal wisely with disappointment and heart-break, we would do everything we could to prevent the heart-break from even taking place in the first place. And what that means is that we would beware of double-mindedness—both for ourselves and for others. Our second point this morning. Beware of double-mindedness—both for yourself and for others. If you would beware of double-mindedness, you would save yourself and others many a pang. As my mother often said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” And as the Apostle Paul had encouraged Timothy in I Timothy 4:16: “6 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”
Guard your affections for from them flow the issues of life, said Solomon in Proverbs 4:23. Guard your affections; beware of double-mindedness both for yourself and others, if you would deal most wisely with the issue of potential disappointments and heartache.
Meanwhile, Paul moves on in his letter from his heart-breaking experience with Demas and mentions many other faithful believers. We’ve mentioned Crescens whom we know nothing else, about, and Titus, to whom an entire New Testament letter is devoted. These are faithful men, absent from Paul because of the call of ministry in distant places. And then there is faithful Luke, the Gentile, “the beloved physician” as Paul calls him in Colossians 4:14, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. Luke alone is with Paul, caring for him in every way he can. He is faithful to Paul, was faithful to Paul in both his first Roman imprisonment and in this one years later, and would be responsible for much of the writing of the New Testament himself. And at least 13 faithful believers are mentioned in these final thirteen verses. And Paul’s mention of all these faithful believers provides us with yet another clue as to how to deal with heart-break and disappointment. Remember the faithful when someone is unfaithful. Focus on the faithful also.
How true it is of the human psyche: It’s only human for us to focus on the negative. Why? Because it hurts. What pains us is what gets our attention and comes to mind first. So it’s going to happen in these circumstances. It did for the Apostle Paul. But at those very moments it’s the very time when we have got to determine to focus on the faithful—the faithful majority who have not abandoned Christ, nor have they abandoned you. And that’s exactly what Paul goes on to do, and what we must do if we would follow his advice given in the book of Philippians , chapter 4, verses 7 and 8: 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is [a]lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, [b]dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
After all, are you going to allow the outcome of your life to be determined by actions of an unfaithful Judas, or a faithful Jesus? I don’t know about you, but I’m sticking with Jesus. His life had a much better outcome! Right!
And now we come to a ray of hope even for those who have disappointed us, those who have been unfaithful. It comes in the person of Mark, another person upon whose name appears one of the Gospels. For this Mark was indeed the writer of the Gospel of Mark. But not before he experienced a number of fits and starts in his own Christian life and ministry.
Mark was a very young man when he was an eyewitness of the sufferings of Jesus Christ as a resident of Jerusalem. In fact many believe the young man portrayed in the Gospel of Mark who was covered only in linen when Jesus was betrayed, and had that cloth taken from him and ran off naked was none other than Mark himself. But this wasn’t the only embarrassing set of circumstances which Mark had experienced in his young life. For Mark had also “pulled a Demas” in his ministry. He had also abandoned Paul some 20 years earlier. In fact he had abandoned both Paul and his uncle Barnabas on Paul’s very first missionary journey. And his actions had been extremely destructive, not only with regard to his relationship to the Apostle Paul, but also with regard to Paul’s relationship with Barnabas, Paul’s spiritual mentor and first missionary partner. For when Paul suggested that he and Barnabas go off on a second missionary journey three or four years later, Barnabas wanted to take Mark along again. But Paul refused, saying that they should not take along someone who had abandoned them on their first missionary journey. And there arose such a sharp disagreement between the two of them that they split up and Barnabas took Mark off to Cyprus and Paul chose Silas and headed off to Asia Minor. So Mark, by his desertion of Paul years earlier, had created all sorts of problems and repercussions in Paul’s life.
So, in verse 11, we find a surprising statement made to Timothy. Oh, Timothy, when you come, by the way, "pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful for me for service.”
Well, obviously, there had been a change in the weather sometime over the preceding 16 years—a change in Paul’s attitude toward Mark, and I would suggest, although I can’t prove it, a change in Mark’s attitude toward what had happened 20 years later. Obviously, there had been a reconciliation, and as I say I suspect, a repentance on Mark’s part for his previous unfaithfulness. The result was that by the time Paul’s life comes to an end, Paul and Mark had been reconciled and were again working in ministry together, respecting each other. In fact Paul respected so much so that he makes a point of saying to Timothy, “for he (Mark) is useful to me for service,” meaning useful in ministry, whereas he had said the opposite only 15 or 16 years earlier.
Now this is not always going to take place. But reconciliation is what God is all about, forgiveness is what God is all about, and it ought to be what we’re all about when we follow Christ. God is the God of second chances, and third chances. And so our fourth point this morning. Give the unfaithful a second chance, if there’s repentance, and a third and, well what did Jesus say to Peter when he wondered how many times we needed to forgive somebody when they repented for an offense? Even 7 times? No, according to Matthew 18:21-23, we’re to forgive those who have wronged us, who have hurt us, who have disappointed and discouraged us up to 70x7—in other words, forgiveness and reconciliation and even complete restoration to ministry leadership ought to be our goal, our prayer, our hope for those who have failed once or even a number of times. Give the unfaithful a second chance, or a third, or, well, however many they need to get it right.
And some of you here are among those who have let others down. Maybe it’s your parents, maybe it’s your kids, maybe it’s other people here. I want you to know that the grace of God and Christ is greater than all your sin. When you repent, Jesus forgives and so do we!
Finally, Paul makes one more request of Timothy as he will hopefully be on his way. Before he comes, he needs to fetch some things for Paul. Verse 13 tells us what those things are: “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.” Paul’s preparing for a long cold winter in his dank Roman dungeon, and he’s going to need his cloak which was probably a heavy piece of wool or something similar, like a poncho with a hole in the middle for the head. Such a cloak was suitable to keep someone protected and warm in inclement weather and could also be used for a blanket.
But then he asked for something else. “And the books, especially the parchments.” The books were actually scrolls, written most likely on papyrus. And the parchments are literally the skins, the skins of animals prepared for writing that were often quite expensive and were used for literary works of great value. What Paul is asking for here, most likely, especially when he speaks of the parchments, are the Scriptures. Paul didn’t have the convenient Bibles which we do today. The inspired Scriptures were written on papyrus, and especially on parchments, difficult to carry around every place he went. And here Paul is interested in the Word of God despite the fact he knows that he will never preach another sermon again in his life; he will likely never lead another public Bible study. And what we see here is a man of God devoted to the Word of God regardless of whether he will be using it in ministry. Paul’s interest in the Bible isn’t simply utilitarian—thinking it was useful for ministry. But he loved the word of God and found great comfort in the Word for Himself, apart from ministry, and all the more wanted all of it he could get even in his last days. For as David the Psalmist said, The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.” (Psalm 19:7b).
Fifth principle for what to do when disappointed, disillusioned, hurt or heart-broken; last but not least—never give up on God’s encouraging Word. The ultimate means by which we can be encouraged when discouraged, healed when heartbroken, restored when disillusioned is by the Word of God and God’s promises themselves. God is faithful. Let God be true, though every man be false!
Don’t abandon the Word of God when you’ve been abandoned, heart-broken, disillusioned, for the Lord will not abandon you. He uses His Word to restore your soul.
So what do you when you’ve been heart-broken, disillusioned, terribly disappointed? The Apostle Paul in his parting words is an example of five things you can do to stand strong when heart-break comes your way. Seek comfort from faithful godly friends. Beware of double-mindedness, both for yourself and others. Remember the faithful when someone is unfaithful. Give the unfaithful a second chance when you can. And never give up on God’s encouraging Word.
Have you been hurt? Been discouraged, heart-broken disillusion. Are you lonely today? When you encounter unfaithfulness, remember and seek out the faithful, especially the gracious and faithful God who has saved you!