Today’s Reading: Colossians 4
Colossians 4 contains only 406 words. And of those 406 words, one in particular is big. It tells a story all by itself. But in order to grasp its importance, we need to call in two Bible verses. The one word is a name, and it’s in verse 14: Demas.
Paul was finishing up an Epistle unlike any other he had written. We call it a polemic letter; it’s a written debate. Maybe a better way to put it is that he issued fighting words. The church in Colossae was under attack, and Paul had to write a fighting letter, not to them but toward those trying to add anything outside to Christianity.
In chapter 1, he challenged them to be grounded in truth, and there is no better truth to be grounded in than the Person of Jesus. In chapter 2, he put on the boxing gloves and challenged those who were trying to get the new Christians to add special days, rituals, and visions to their newly found salvation. Paul told them to have nothing to do with that. In chapter 3, Paul told them what Christianity really is. Paul closed out chapter 4 by mentioning some important people who had been part of spreading the truth of Jesus. He brought up eleven names, and with almost all of them, he included something of their contribution:
There was “Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord,” who would “encourage your hearts” (Colossians 4:7-8). There was “Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who [was] one of your number” (verse 9). Justus, who “proved to be an encouragement to me” (verse 11). “Epaphras, who [was] . . . always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (verse 12). And Nympha, the woman who had church in her house (verse 15). Luke, “the beloved physician” (verse 14). Name after name included with some information. And then there was “also Demas” (verse 14). Demas was surrounded by eleven people who had godly contributions connected to their names, from praying to encouraging to providing their home for church services. He had nothing attached to his name.
Why is this something we must take notice of? Because two years earlier, Paul wrote another letter called Philemon, and mentioned Demas in that letter. And in that letter, Demas got an attachment: “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers” (Philemon 1:23-24). Demas was considered one of Paul’s fellow workers. Two years later in AD 62, when Paul wrote Colossians, “fellow worker” was removed from his name and it was just Demas.
Demas gets one more verse in the New Testament and it comes all the way at the end of Paul’s ministry, in AD 67. In fact, it’s in the last letter he wrote, 2 Timothy. Paul wrote, “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me” (4:10). Five years after the Colossians passage, we learn that Demas deserted Paul. The Message says that Demas “left me here” because he was “chasing fads.” How did one of Paul’s workers go rogue? How did he turn from loving Jesus to loving this present world?
I think the three-verse progression may explain it. In Philemon, Demas was called “my fellow worker,” along with Luke and Mark. Other translations calls them “coworkers” (MSG) and “companions in this ministry” (TPT).
Then something happened two years later, in which “worker” was disconnected from Demas’s name. He was no longer a coworker. He was no longer a companion. He was just a name in the church, but not a contributor anymore. It seems Demas vacated his job of serving.
I think that was the set up. That was the thing that turned his heart. It didn’t take long for Demas to exit when he was no longer invested.
When we get to the end of Paul’s ministry, the Contemporary English Version says that “Demas loves the things of this world so much that he left me.” What happened? What caused this desertion? I think the Colossians verse tells his story—not by words but by the omission of words.
It’s just a name now. Just a body in a pew, with no investment in serving anyone.
I read an amazing study that looked at what differentiated those who rescued Holocaust survivors and those in the same city in the Netherlands who did nothing to help them. Rescuers and non-rescuers alike were people from the same backgrounds, occupations, educations—all who faced the same decision: would they help and hide the Jews?
Samuel and Pearl Oliner, the sociologists who did the research found an interesting bit of information in the Holocaust rescuers: it was in how their parents disciplined them as children. When they were disciplined, their parents placed the emphasis not on their consequences but on what their behavior did to others, how their consequences affected those around them. Instead of parents teaching them what to do and what not to do, the parents taught them values and how to make decisions from values, especially seeing others as part of the consequences to their decisions. It was the emphasis on moral values instead of specific rules that made the difference in who acted as a rescuer versus who didn’t.
To make it simple, we don’t live for ourselves, we live to make a difference in people’s lives. I wish Demas would have learned that lesson. I wonder if Colossians’ Demas would have opened his home to one of the Jews who were being hunted by the Nazis? Would you?