Failure Doesn’t Have to Be the Last Word
Demas and Mark are contrasts in failure. One provides us a word of warning, the other a word of hope. And as people who stumble in many ways (James 3:2), we need both.
What happened to Demas? We don’t know. All we know is that some of the last words the Apostle Paul wrote before his Roman execution expressed a heartbreak:
Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. (2 Timothy 4:10)
Maybe Demas feared being executed with Paul and fled to safety. Maybe he escaped to a place where he could let himself succumb to the siren song of immoral seduction. Or maybe he simply caved in to the allure of a comfortable, prosperous life in the urbane, cosmopolitan, pluralistic, wealthy, culturally interesting city of Thessalonica.
Whatever it was, Paul saw it as a love affair with the world.
But just a few sentences later in this letter to Timothy, Paul says something very hope-giving:
Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11)
Remember Mark? He had been the first to desert Paul. Back in the early days, on the very first missionary trip, Mark left Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia and returned home to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Again, we don’t know why. But Paul didn’t approve. In fact, when Barnabas wanted to bring Mark back on the team after the Jerusalem Council, Paul said no way (Acts 15:37–40).
But now here’s Mark, at the end of Paul’s life, fully trusted by Paul and “very useful” in the gospel ministry.
A Word of Warning
So Demas is a warning to us. He began well. Four or five years earlier, during another imprisonment, Paul calls Demas a “fellow worker” in the gospel (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24). There was a time when Demas apparently chose, like Moses, “to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25).
But he doesn’t appear to have ended well. Having once fought kingdom battles alongside Paul, he deserted to the enemy’s side.
Here’s our warning:
Be soberminded; be watchful. Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith. (1 Peter 5:8–9a)
Our enemy is very real and very crafty. He threatens and seduces. And even those who start strong and are leaders, like Demas, can fall to his deception. We must “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:11–12) and do all we can do to stand firm (Ephesians 6:13).
A Word of Hope
Mark, on the other hand, gives us a lot of hope. He had a weak start. He didn’t appear to have the right stuff. He disappointed his leaders and friends by leaving them to bear the heat of battle while he went home.
But Mark ended well. At some point he rejoined the battle and proved a faithful, trusted, useful warrior. And, if tradition is correct, the Lord even granted him the privilege of contributing to the New Testament canon, planting a church in Alexandria, and being martyred for the sake of Jesus.
Here’s our hope:
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31)
Be Restored and Reenlist!
All of us fail. And yes, some failures wreak horrible destruction. But if we turn from our sinful failures to Christ, there is no failure that can’t be redeemed by the cross. And if we will wait for the Lord, there is no failure that Christ can’t restore to useful service. Jesus chooses and uses failures. Paul knew this from personal experience:
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy… (1 Timothy 1:12–13)
We don’t know the last word on Demas. I hope that he repented in the end. But because of Mark, we know that failure doesn’t have to be the last word for us.
Whatever failure may have happened in your distant or recent past, bring it to the cross and leave it. Desert it! Come, be restored by Jesus. If you’ve been AWOL in the fight of faith, come reenlist in the battle. It’s not too late.
Forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13). Resolve to pursue Jesus as your treasure from today on. And watch him redeem even your worst failures and make you very useful for ministry.
This meditation is included in the book Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith.
Trusting Jesus is hard. It requires following the unseen into an unknown, and believing Jesus’s words over and against the threats we see or the fears we feel. Through the imaginative retelling of 35 Bible stories, Not by Sight gives us glimpses of what it means to walk by faith, counsel for how to trust God’s promises more than our perceptions, and the way to find rest in the faithfulness of God.