Summary: Obviously the qualities which make a good start possible are not identical with the qualities which see life through to the end.
The Power to See it Through
2 Tim. 4:10
For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
CONCERNING one character in the New Testament, mentioned only three times, one suspects that many Christians have not even heard — Demas. He illustrates one of the most familiar tragedies in human life — a fine beginning and a poor ending. He lacked the power to see it through.
First, in Paul’s letter to Philemon, we read, “Demas, Luke, my fellow-workers.” So Demas, along with Luke, and named first at that, was standing by Paul in his Roman imprisonment, a devoted and promising disciple.
Second, in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we read, “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas.” Reading that, one wonders why Demas and Luke, who were praised together at the first, were separated in this passage as though Luke indeed retained Paul’s confidence as “the beloved physician” but Demas had become merely “Demas.”
Third, in the second letter to Timothy, incorporating, we suppose, one of the last messages Paul ever wrote, we read, “Demas forsook me, having loved this present age.” Three points on a curve, that enable us to plot its graph! For here is the story of a man who made an excellent beginning and a wretched ending: Demas, my fellow-worker; Demas; Demas forsook me.
Intimate companions of Paul in the Roman circle, Luke and Demas must have known each other very well.
Now, Luke is the only narrator of Jesus’ life whose Gospel records the parable about the man who started to build a tower and was not able to finish. Matthew did not refer to that, nor Mark, nor John — only Luke. One wonders if he remembered it because of Demas. Demas was slipping, let us say.
Through Paul’s little group in Rome anxious apprehension ran that Demas was not holding out, and one imagines Luke pleading with his friend. The Master himself, he might have said, warned his first disciples about the peril which is besetting you. For once he said, “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” So one thinks of Luke pleading with his friend.
At least Luke, alone among the evangelists, put the parable into his Gospel. He had seen its truth too vividly illustrated ever to forget it: Demas, my fellow-worker; Demas; Demas forsook me.
Obviously the qualities which make a good start possible are not identical with the qualities which see life through to the end. In no realm are starting power and staying power the same thing. A ship can make a grand getaway at the launching only to make a poor stand later against the fury of the waves and winds when the northeasters are unleashed. So one sees in Demas a character — how familiar! — capable of fine impulses, generous responses, idealistic loyalties, and eager loves; only he lacked staying power.
But for all that, some of us are Demas and all of us know we could have been. Over what thin ice have we skated! How easily we could have broken through! How many of us here have already fallen far from a faith that once was strong and a character that once was clean! We know Demas. The mirror shows him to us. Introspection reveals the process of his downfall. Nearly two thousand years ago he lived and died, his very name barely preserved, as though by accident, and yet how vivid he is in our imaginations! Demas, my fellow-worker; Demas; Demas forsook me, having loved this present age.
However beautiful one’s beginning, nothing matters much in human life without a good end. One does not mean that we may demand an outwardly successful and fortunate conclusion, as in old sentimental novels where everything had to come out happily. But without a good end, without morale and staying power and steady character to see a man through to a worthy conclusion, what else in life can be much worth while? Jesus could have spoiled everything in the Garden of Gethsemane and, had he done that, all for nothing would have gone his unremembered Sermon on the Mount and his unselfish months of ministry. The career of Jesus was like splitting a log. Every previous blow of the ax is indispensable but it is the last blow that splits it. So we know there was a Christ, and the rich meanings of his ministry have come to us because he had staying power to go through to the end, where he could say, “It is finished.”