No one likes to be left behind. Be it at the altar, in a race, on a road trip, or in friendship, being left by someone simply hurts. I have a friend who was newly married, and driving to start a new job in California. They packed up belongs in their two cars, and struck out. My friend’s new bride drove slowly and it frustrated him. My friend eventually called his wife and stated that he’d drive at his pace, and meet her midway for lunch. He then zoomed off! As you can imagine, the next rest-stop wasn’t all that “restful.” No one likes being left behind! Yet, life is full of people who feign commitment, only to get up and leave when things get tough, or don’t suit their personal desires.
The apostle Paul dealt with this. From the dungeon before his death, Paul writes some of his last words to young Timothy, “Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me… (2 Tim 4:9-10) Paul clearly knew what it felt like to be left behind, even when he needed friends most! The word “deserted” egkataleipo means abandonment, and apparently it happened because Demas loved earthly pleasures over heavenly purposes.
We don’t know much about Demas. He’s mentioned with Luke in Colossians 4:14 as an esteemed companion. He’d been with Paul a long time and likely had a very important role in the ministry. All we know for sure is that he enjoyed getting his way so much that he chose to leave the man he promised to support.
Jesus also had a friend who deserted him like this. His name was Simon. Jesus called him Peter. Peter was a nickname meaning, “Rock.” Peter was a man who rushed into something and then bailed when the going got tough. Pastor-Author John MacArthur explains how close Peter was to Jesus:
In the New Testament “No one speaks as often as Peter, and no one is spoken to by the Lord as often as Peter. No disciple is so frequently rebuked by the Lord as Peter; and no disciple ever rebukes the Lord except Peter (Matt 16:22). No one else confessed Christ more boldly or acknowledged His lordship more explicitly; yet no other disciple ever verbally denied Christ as forcefully or as publicly as Peter. No one is praised or blessed by Christ the way Peter was; yet Peter was the only one Christ ever addressed as Satan.”[i]
Obviously Jesus and Peter were very close. Peter promised Jesus he would stand with Him through thick and thin, but when Jesus needed him most, Peter ran away…
He hoped the gate guard wouldn’t see his leg shaking under the robe. Why couldn’t he stop that leg from shaking? “I hope Jesus sees that only John and I came tonight,” Peter mused. “I told Him that I’d follow. Shows him, for doubting me!”
The battalion had led Jesus through the eastern archway to speak with Annas. John had immediately been allowed in while he’d been left to stand in line for the I.D. check. “Figures,” Peter thought, “John always gets the royal treatment.” Peter couldn’t see what was happening inside the gate but he could hear it! The guards were striking Jesus – The dull thud of fist on cheekbone is clear, even at this distance. Thud! Thud! There it was again – Jesus never made a sound – Peter knew the carpenter’s strength, and smiled at the naivety of the guards.
Finally, it was his turn to enter the outer court. Apparently John had put in a good word. A slave girl no more than 13 approached. She explained that he was welcome, but must go sit with the guardsmen by the fire. On their way to the fire, she kept looking at him funny. Peter pretended not to notice, but finally asked, “Can I help you?” With a stammer she whispered back, “Aren’t you one of the criminal’s men?” He hadn’t seen this coming! Did they all know that he was part of the crew? This could spell disaster. Peter wet his lips. “Quick!” he thought, “Don’t deny him, just tell a small white lie!” But, it was useless, nothing came to mind that answered why he was here so late, so softly he whispered, “I’m not.” It didn’t hurt as much as he thought it would. Jesus would never know, but still the leg quivered.
Hands extended, Peter stood next to the small charcoal fire. There were a few men around, mostly soldiers, and a few slaves. The light from the fire bounced off the cinder wall, leaving shadows that looked like demons bouncing atop embers. Two of the men began talking about the crazy events unfolding. “No one knows why He’s here!” one man said. The other quipped back, “They don’t bring men to the High Priest at midnight for misdemeanors!” Back and forth they jabbed, until the tea was warm.
Suddenly, one of the men noticed Peter, “Hey! You’re one of the followers!” Glancing over at the servant girl, Peter backed into a corner, “No, I’m not.” But, one of the slaves who’d been with the guardsmen in the Garden of Gethsemane piped up, “Yes, you are! You’re the guy who chopped at my cousin’s ear!” This was all too much for Peter… Now, he wasn’t only questioned as a follower, but as a confidante, and militant! “I might be taken captive too,” Peter’s mind raced. With all the force he could muster, the leg quivering again, he blurted out, “I don’t know the man!”
Silence. The men turned back to their tea. The shadows continued their shrewd dance upon the walls. “Finally,” Peter thought, “The pressure’s off.” And, then he heard it. Faint at first. The wail of a rooster. Cocka-do-doooo! That couldn’t be right, it was too early for a rooster. “Why would a rooster be out at night?” Yet, a second time it hurled the blood-curdling cry. Immediately, the words of Christ, hours before, came rushing back, “I say to you, a cock shall not crow, until you deny Me three times…” (John 13:38).
Peter grew cold inside. His mouth grew dry. He looked through the columns toward the Lord and saw that Jesus had turned. Jesus was looking his way! Blood trickled down the side of the Lord’s brow… The look in Christ’s gleaming eyes, a mix of consternation, forgiveness, and determination… Peter wanted desperately to look away but couldn’t. In the background, the lonely rooster wailed again into the night, the shadows skipped one last time, and Peter ran…
Everybody gets deserted by somebody. It’s impossible to be part of a church, a small group, or a family, and not have someone leave. It may be as innocent as a career change, as divisive as theological disagreement, or as destructive as divorce, but desertion will happen. Like Demas with Paul, or Peter with Jesus, it’s normally someone close to us, and often someone who has promised many things. If Christ Jesus and the apostle Paul didn’t escape it, neither will you. Note a few items to remember regarding deserters…
The first way to deal with desertion is to remember that you have likely deserted someone too. Paul wrote, “Forgive each other, just as God in Christ Jesus also has forgiven you.” (Eph 4:32) Once we come to fully understand our own sinfulness, we find a greater patience for those who have sinned against us.
Jesus illustrated this for us in Matthew 18 where He told the story of a man who owed a king $10,000,000 dollars. When police brought the man to the king, the man fell down and begged. The king forgave the debt and set him free. But, on his way out of the palace, the man saw one of his friend’s who owed him $100. When the friend couldn’t pay him, he called the police, and had him thrown in jail. As you can imagine, the king was not happy…
In the story, God is the king, you and I are the first man, and others are the second man. Christ is saying that we each have been forgiven an inestimable amount by God, and therefore shouldn’t hold small earthly grievances, over the head of another. Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.
Truth & Time
Truth and time go hand in hand. It is imperative Christian’s take the high ground and let deserters go, without verbally assaulting them. When we’re hurt, the great temptation is to speak from pain, and create larger rifts in the relationship – Our world calls this “venting” while Proverbs calls it “scoffing” or, “foolishness.” (Prov 9:7-9) Isn’t it interesting that Paul didn’t blast Demas publicly? Isn’t it interesting that Jesus only gave Peter a look?
Don’t push people into positions of preeminence quickly. Paul warned Timothy, “An overseer must not be a new convert, lest he become conceited…” (1 Tim 3:6) Clearly, the context applies to the pastorate, but the principle can be true for many things. How quickly do we step into friendship, marriage, business, or church leadership with someone? How well do we know them? Is their character proven?
Years ago I spent time with a very well respected pastor. I was bragging to him about how passionately our team was “supporting my leadership.” He then shared words I’ll never forget, and which have rung exceedingly true. He said, “When someone boasts that they’re with me I simply tell them, ‘I’ll watch how you behave when we disagree, and then I’ll know if you’re with me.’” His point was that true commitment does not prove itself when two people agree – Everyone is happy when they agree. True commitment is proven when two people disagree, and continue on together anyway.
For Paul, and for Christ, desertion was part of life. We must be prepared for it as well. But, like both, we must handle the adversity with nobility and patience, trusting that the Holy Spirit will work on the heart of our deserter, and bring them back to us, physically, spiritually, or both.
- Have you been deserted by someone? Who?
- Have you forgiven the person?
- Have you deserted someone?
- Have you apologized for your intentional/unintentional desertion?
The preceding article is an early excerpt from Anthony Wood’s forthcoming book Pious People – 4 Personalities Within a Local Church. It’s release is planned for winter 2016.