In this series of “minor characters,” we have so far looked only at positive examples. There are negative lessons to be learned from a few names, too.
Toward the end of his life, Paul testified sadly,
You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. …At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth (2 Timothy 1:15, 4:16-17).
What a heartbreaking situation, to stand friendless and alone before the Roman magistrates, having to be brave and outspoken while bottling up the sadness of being abandoned. Thankfully, Paul knew that Christ never abandons his children!
Demas: He Loved This Present World
Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me (2 Timothy 4:9-10).
Once, years earlier, Demas had been listed among Paul’s fellow workers (Colossians 4:14). But the kingdom of the Lord can be difficult and require sacrifices. For every Timothy and Titus who serve faithfully and endure to the end, there are others who have a change of heart. Perhaps Demas just wasn’t prepared for the hectic schedule of travel Paul would demand, or the challenges of speaking out boldly. But then again, we have seen so many modern Christians fall away for minor things.
Whether we are called to serve in an easy place or a hard place, the root cause of giving up is always the same. We love the world more than we love Jesus. We desire the “passing pleasures of sin” over eternal glory. We fail to keep our eyes fixed on the prize of heaven. Beware: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:34-37).
Hymenaeus and Alexander: They Suffered Shipwreck
Others didn’t so much abandon Paul as abandon Jesus. Paul told Timothy,
[Keep] faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan so that they will be taught not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:19-20).
Hymenaeus and Alexander had once been faithful servants. I figure you’ve got to be sailing in order to have a shipwreck. “Once Saved Always Saved” is still believed by many, despite the host of passages which discuss the possibility and reality of a Christian falling away (Gal. 5:1-4, 1 Cor. 8:11, 9:24-25, 10:12, 2 Pet. 2:1-2, 2:20-21, Rev. 22:19, Acts 8:13-24, James 5:19-20, Heb. 6:4-6, 10:26-31, Luke 8:13, Ezek. 33:13-16).
Not content to crash themselves, they also threatened to attract others to the same dangerous shoals (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-18, 4:14-15). Paul “handed them over to Satan,” which reminds us of the immoral man “delivered to Satan for the destruction of his flesh” in 1 Cor. 5:1-5. Extreme cases of immorality and false teaching can require church discipline.
John Mark: He Left, But He Came Back
Early on Paul’s first missionary journey, when he and Barnabas had evangelized Cyprus, they sailed for Perga. But as soon as they touched the mainland, “John left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).
I don’t get the impression that John Mark totally left the faith, but he certainly left Paul and Barnabas in the lurch. Was the schedule of preaching too difficult? Was opposition from Elymas too frightening. Was he just homesick? In any case, Paul took it as evidence of unreliability, so that later at the beginning of the second missionary journey,
Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also, but Paul kept insisting they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left… (Acts 15:36-40).
Thankfully we can end on a high note. For we see not only that John Mark proved diligent in service with Barnabas on Cyprus. But many years later, John Mark is associated with Paul’s work. Paul says to Timothy, “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Timothy 4:11, cf. Philemon 24).
In Christ, what’s broken can be repaired, and what leaves may return. If you feel your faith flagging, draw nearer to Christ, before it is too late! —John Guzzetta