Keeping Our First Love (Revelation 2:2:4; 2 Timothy 4:6-10)
A philosopher said, “The young man gathers materials together to build a bridge to the moon, or a temple or palace, but, in time, the middle-aged man decides to use them for a woodshed” (Thoreau). I’d make it broader… this happens not to just young men but to most of us. We have grand ambitions of what we will do with our lives but, as time goes by, settle for far less.
A Christian named Demas had something like this going on in his life and his walk with Jesus (2 Timothy 4:6-10 READ). Paul wrote these words as he neared the end of his life and spoke of hope for heaven for himself and “…all those who love his appearing and his kingdom” (v 8). But he added a word of regret that one would be left out: “But Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life” (v 10).
Demas’ name comes up three times in the NT: (1) Colossians 4:14 – he and Luke are Paul’s companions in Rome (AD 60-61), (2) Philemon 24 – he, Mark, Luke, and Aristarchus are Paul’s “co-workers” (AD 60-61), and (3) here, 2 Timothy 4:10 – likely about AD 66-67, when about six years later he’s about-faced and left Paul – more importantly, the Lord – because he “loved the present world.” What happened? We don’t know. But we know what happens to people we know like Demas.
Some possibilities (for Demas… us)
Maybe he was wondering where God was and why He was absent. Nero was persecuting Christians constantly and severely, most to the death. Demas might have thought that the “bloom was off the rose” with that kind of “cost” possibly ahead of him.
Maybe he tired of being part of an unpopular, often hated, minority. Christianity’s heroes were all ending up dead or locked up: Jesus crucified, James beheaded, Stephen stoned, Paul imprisoned. Perhaps he asked, “Will that be my fate?” From 2,000-years-later in hindsight we can tell Demas that Rome which looked so strong is gone and Christ who looked so weak is standing tall… But Demas didn’t know that.
Maybe he was ambitious and grew tired of playing “second fiddle” to Paul. Maybe again and again he heard “Paul, Paul, Paul” and thought, “All Paul all the time.” John Calvin thought that Demas forsook only Paul and not Christ. But that’s hard to see since Paul said explicitly “Demas… loved the present world”; in context, Paul is saying he wasn’t one who “love(d) Christ’s appearing and kingdom”).
Maybe he was disillusioned by other Christian’s behavior and examples. There were Judaizers, constantly harassing Christians to adopt all the Mosaic Law. There were Christians freely indulging in every sin because they believed grace was great enough to cover it all.
Maybe he was just lured away by sin. Paul said “[he] loved the present world.” That seems to imply money or fame or pleasure. We must never, ever preach the lie that there is no pleasure in sin… (see Hebrews 11:14-15).
Let’s look deeper.
Pilgrim’s Progress is an epic poem by John Bunyan about the journey men and women make from earth to heaven. In his story Bunyan created characters representing every kind of person and put them in all the situations that challenge Christian “pilgrims” as they journey toward God. He has good characters to show us traits that make the journey a success and bad characters who show us what prevents our reaching the goal. Among the characters is “Mr. Standfast” – Bunyan knew the high value of “pilgrims” holding on tightly to their early vision of Jesus.
We are, as you see, upon the Enchanted Ground; and as I was coming along, I was musing with myself of what a dangerous nature the road in this place was, and how many that had come even thus far on pilgrimage, had here been stopped and been destroyed. I thought also of the manner of the death with which this place destroyeth men. Those that die here, die of no violent distemper: the death which such die is not grievous to them. For he that goeth away in a sleep, begins that journey with desire and pleasure. (from Pilgrim’s Progress).
A great need in the Christian life is to hold on to the passion, hope, and love for Jesus we felt when we started. Maybe we’ll discover once we arrive at God’s house and God gives us His eyes that some of His greatest heroes are those who just held on... Isn’t that what Hebrews 11 is about… people who refused to let go of God… people who refused to “love this present world”?
The Lord Jesus in Revelation evaluated and advised seven churches. One church, Ephesus, had “…left [its] first love” (Revelation 2:4). Jesus recommended they “remember… [and] repent and do what you did at first” to keep their “lampstand” in God’s presence (v 5).
One day Jesus sat telling His disciples about the future destruction of Jerusalem. He warned, “because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold”, and promised, “…but he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:12-13).
Paul knew he had to stand strong; he was running the Christian race for the “victor’s crown” – a “well done faithful servant” from Christ. What a telling statement it is for him to say, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself should not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
Then the difference between Paul and Demas is simply that Paul faced great trials and difficulties without giving up while something took Demas’ eye off the goal.
Keeping the vision is a lifelong endeavor
In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction Oswald Chambers asserts that our walk through this world and our maturing from worldly-minded to spiritually-minded is a life-long process! John Hick, a late 20th century philosopher would agree. He coined the term “vale of soul-making,” saying that in all of the time and events of Christian’s lives God is building in that which makes our souls fit for His presence.
Remember how all fairy tale marriages always end — “…and they lived happily ever after…”? In the whole dictionary, we couldn’t find six words more false to describe marriage… or LIFE! Life’s battles aren’t all fought easily or won at once, and we don’t usually zip lickety-split to our goals. They come some yesterday, some today, and some tomorrow, often with blood, sweat, and tears in the crucible, the “University of Hard Knocks.”
Which brings up a very important point: the bad news is that our victories aren’t final! Super Bowl wins are good for a year. Fields grow up and fences fall down…
The proverb writer went past the field of a lazy man (a “sluggard”) whose field had grown up with weeds and whose fence had fallen down and made this observation: “A little slumber, a little sleep, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:30-39)
Spiritual fires in our hearts won’t blaze on or get brighter… without us keeping them stoked. But we can rejoice that the good news is that our defeats aren’t final either.
That is a truth of life. We have to keep on. When we quit, what we’ve accomplished falls apart. Think about what happens to abandoned houses… We end where Demas ended. Teachers have keep getting trained; doctors have to brush up on new medicines and healing techniques by reading and learning; lawyers need to keep brushing up on their field; mechanics are seeing new engines all the time; farmers have to learn new products and techniques; ministers need to read and study on and write new sermons. With elders and deacons and Christians, it’s the same… because nothing stays accomplished.
The principle applies in other places…
Nations — America’s forgotten many of the things that made her strong…
Churches — we often live in the past, often letting focus on the local institution block out the vision Jesus had to save the world and what His kingdom is about…
People — ol’ Abraham was 75 when he left Ur for a fresh start… somewhere…; Jacob was 77 when he headed north to Laban and marriage; Moses was 80 when he trudged back to face down Pharaoh.
YOU — Your Christian walk started with a decision, likely an excited one, but it has to continue with living with the vision of what you wanted the day you gave your life to Christ before you. The OT SHEMA kept the goal before every Israelite every day.
Where does Christ really rank in your priorities and loyalties now? Look back… your original commitment was clear, wasn’t it? Jesus would be first in your life. But maybe now other loyalties — nation, school, business, hobbies, friends — have shifted Him way down the list…
Just how current and up-to-date is your fruit-bearing for “the Vine”
How long has it been since you did something special just for Jesus? Talked to others? Brought someone to a study or activity? The essence of Christianity is to have our “shadow” fall across the life of another in a meaningful way. This may come as the shock of the month for you, but… people don’t always believe the preacher. But they hear “personal recommendations” loud and clear, always! People are looking for someone to say… “Here’s where I was… Here’s where I am… Here’s what has made all the difference.”
Someone asked Churchill in World War II, “What are we fighting about? He replied, “Just stop fighting and you’ll see.”
Have you “kept the vision?” Struggle is built by God into all of life… most definitely into the best of life. Remember Paul’s contrast? Demas’ “love of the world” — there we lose the vision and the goal… versus “love of [Christ’s] appearing” — there we grow fruit and gain life. It is within our reach.
“Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36).