On Monday we looked at the subject of the sinking of faith. What is it like to shipwreck faith? What are personal examples of people whose faith has failed? Why does this happen? And how are people shipwrecked in their faith today? It’s a common question, and we covered it on Monday in APJ 1849. But we didn’t focus much on the fallout.
Spiritual failure at this level—among those who love the world and thus forsake Christ for Him—inflicts tremendous pain on the families, marriages, friendships, local church communities, and ministries these people leave behind. . This pain, this relational pain of ministry, was a theme echoed by Pastor John in a 2012 sermon as he reflected on the harsh realities that Paul faced, as he tells us in 2 Timothy 4:9-18. . Here is Pastor John to explain.
Christian ministry is relational hard. And I think first of Paul and Timothy and the ministers of vocations. But I am also thinking of you, because you are all, if you are Christians, ministers called to love others for their good according to your gifts. That’s what ministry is, and that’s all believers. So I think it’s for you when I say that the Christian ministry – that is, the Christian life – is relational hard. And Paul seems to want Timothy to feel that way because of the amount of shock he gives him. Here are five.
Relationship Difficulties in Ministry
1. Paul writes: “Demas, in love with the present world, forsook me and went to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10). I think Demas was once a faithful partner because in Colossians Paul says, “Luke, the beloved physician, greets you, as does Demas” (Colossians 4:14). And now he’s gone and forsaken Paul. It’s number one.
2. Simply being alone in ministry, not just being abandoned, can be a trial. Paul says, “Crescens went to Galatia” (2 Timothy 4:10). I don’t think that means he abandoned Paul. I just think there were ministry things that Paul wanted him to do. “Crescens went to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:10-11). So once upon a time, there was a whole team here. And now it’s just me and Luke.
3. It gets worse. “Alexander the Boilermaker has done me a lot of harm. . . for he strongly opposed our message” (2 Timothy 4:14, 15). So ministry is relationally difficult, not only because there is loneliness and sometimes abandonment on the inside, but there is verbal opposition on the outside, and no one likes be verbally attacked. It’s hard to be verbally abused, even by people you expect. Every unexpected moment of silence from a friend, and every verbal blow from an enemy, hurts the Christian’s spirit. And it happens a lot. So ministry is relationally difficult.
4. Verse 16 is perhaps the saddest sentence in the paragraph or in the book. “At my first defense, no one came to support me, but all forsook me” (2 Timothy 4:16). Now I’m going to come back to that, but for now feel the power. Luke, where have you been?
5. Next, Paul writes: “Erastus remained in Corinth. And I left Trophime, who was ill, at Miletus. Do your best to come before the winter” (2 Timothy 4:20-21). So sometimes strategic deployments bring friends: “I left Trophimus. Sometimes illness interrupts a planned partnership: “I left him sick. Sometimes seasonal changes make loneliness all the more difficult: “Please try to get here before winter.” Paul mentions these things, surely, to make Timothy feel that the ministry is relationally difficult.
Ministry destroying love
Friends in ministry may let you down and never come back or care for you again. “Demas, in love with this present world, forsook me and went to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10). Now, I confess, I don’t know if he repented. There’s nothing in the Bible that says he did or didn’t. There is no evidence that he did. But all of us, at least those who are older, surely know ministers who have abandoned their partners and left the ministry, abandoned the faith and, to our knowledge, have never returned. We know people like that.
“Ministry friends may let you down and never come back or care for you again.”
I think Paul wants Timothy to not only feel prepared for this grief in ministry—“It happens, Timothy; I’m telling you it happened to me so you’ll be ready when it happens to you. I think he also wants him to hear the case so he can avoid this and never do it himself. In other words, he is never given up in ministry and never gives up because he saw the cause here. “Demas, in love with this current worldhas forsaken me” (2 Timothy 4:10).
There is a love for the world that makes ministry impossible. There is a love for the world that produces either the abandonment of ministry or the making of a ministry so worldly as to be useless. This happens often. Thus, if a minister begins to become worldly, he has two choices: leave the ministry or make the ministry worldly. Then you can survive. Demas could not. Why? Because of Paul. This was not going to happen on Paul’s team.
Caution for Christians
Here, then, is a cautionary tale for young—and I say old, but I mean especially young—evangelical Christians who embrace the culture. You must think long and hard about Demas. In love with this present world, he found the ministry with Paul impossible, and he left him. There is a love for the world, there is a love for this present day – this God-ignoring, God-denying, God-degrading, Christ-distorting culture – that is mutually exclusive with a real and deep love for Jesus. There is a love for this world that is irreconcilable with ministry to the world—the ministry of exposing the world, the ministry of witnessing to the world, the ministry of saving the people of the world. None of this will go over very well if you like it so much that they think you’re one of them. So, young Timothy and young Bethlehem, remember: more people are leaving Christ and more people are leaving the church and more people are leaving the ministry for the sake of the world than anything else.
“There is a love for this world that is irreconcilable with ministry in the world.”
I wondered what was in Thessaloniki? “Demas, in love with this present world, forsook me and went to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10). Was it a woman? Was it at home? Maybe he grew up there, and he was just nostalgic and tired of that missionary life and living with the apostle Paul and just wanted to go home. Was it a commercial offer? “I have gifts, for God’s sake. I can make money. Or was it just a comfortably safe distance from that maniac Paul?
We do not know. Here is what we know: Demas did not leave for love of Jesus, but for love of the world. That’s why everyone leaves. He did not go to follow Jesus. He left Jesus to embrace the world, the pleasures of the world, the entertainments of the world, the backlash of the world, the praise of the world, the friends of the world. Some of your ministry partners will.