I know that to some of you what I have been saying lately is nothing new. To others some of these thoughts may be very novel. To yet others the ideas I have been laying out seem heretical and dangerous. Frankly, I personally don’t care where you stand I still love you where you are through Christ. With the groundwork I have laid I would like to move on to some of the really bizarre ideas in my head. (Boy are you in for a treat!)
I have been to churches all across the United States, and many Latin American countries. In most of them I have seen two common elements. I have seen groups of believers who are on fire and feverishly working for the cause of Christ. Unfortunately, I have also seen in the same churches those who come, socialize and go home with no thought of the world around them and no care for the souls of men, or the cause of Christ.
How does such a disparate, polar opposite and completely incompatible set of people come together to “worship and serve” the same God? Many have tried to come up with explanations as to the whys and hows of this reality. The explanations matter little to me unless they can also bring into their scope the solution to the problem. But what if the whys and hows are part of the solution? What if by realizing the cause of the problem we also come into possession of the solution? This was what I came across as I tried to comprehend the problem so as to understand the solution and how to implement it.
The first thing I ran across is that involvement in one group or the other is not permanent. In other words being a part of one group or the other does not exclude the possibility of an individual switching back and forth. This immediately sparked a question in my mind. That question was, “Why?” Is it a matter of fickleness? Lack of commitment? This got me looking at some of the passages where Paul talks about those who have been faithful and those who have deserted him.
In Colossains 4:14, and Philemon 24 Paul refers to Demas as his fellow labourer. A little while later he tells us that Demas has forsaken him. We know that Paul was not dumb. We can probably safely assume that he was not just walking down the street when he sees Demas and just garbs him to serve with. So if he was a carefully chosen companion (and we have no indication either way, but we will assume that there was a reason), what happened?
In the case of Demas we are given the answer, he “loved this present world.” (2 Timothy 4:10) I believe this phrase gives us the answer we need. It is not just about loving the world, it is about loving “this present world.” We know that Paul was focused on the coming reward, and the hope of heaven. This was his hope, driving force, and focus. For Demas this was not the case. Heaven was not the reality to him that it should have been. Nor was the fact that this world will end and our reward is not found in it. He failed because his focus was in the wrong place.
On the flip side we see that Paul tells Timothy in the same passage to pick up John Mark “for he is useful to me for service.” (2 Tim 4:11) This is the same Mark who had left them at Pamphylia, who had in fact forsaken them (Paul and Barnabas). Yet now Paul tells Timothy to bring him. What changed? The honest answer is that we do not know. What we do know is that something did change, and that because of it Mark is now of use again. I have often wondered if Paul was not reminded at this time, when Demas has left him and he calls for Mark, about the time when Mark fled.
To me the ultimate example of faithfulness that Paul give is found in Philippians 2. Here Paul mentions two men who have shown themselves to be faithful above measure. Timothy and Epaphroditus are talked about as men who pleased God in their service. The difference between them and Demas? Selfless giving of themselves to the work of the ministry.
I don’t know if you have found yourself loving this world, but I have. I know that I live daily fighting to love the right things. What encourages me is that even when I fail I have hope. Mark made it so can I! But even more important is to be reminded that just like Timothy and Epaphroditus we can all be approved by God as His servants.