Demas was a fellow-labourer with the apostle Paul and was with him during his first imprisonment,1 but deserted him during his second, 2 Tim. 4. 10. He seems to have been known to the believers at Colosse, since he and a number of others sent their personal greetings. However, when he is named in the letter to Philemon, his name appears right at the end of the sentence, i.e., ‘Luke, the beloved physician, salutes you, and Demas’, Col. 4. 14 JND. At this stage, Demas got a mention, but no special mention.
Apart from this we know nothing special about him, except the reason for his desertion, ‘for Demas has forsaken me, having loved the present age’, 2 Tim. 4. 10 JND, having gone to Thessalonica (probably his home city). The first reason the apostle gave for asking Timothy to do his best to come quickly to him, 2 Tim. 4. 9, was this sad departure of Demas – and then others on legitimate business – leaving him alone, apart from Luke.
Paul had just spoken about those who loved the thought of the appearing of the Lord, v. 8, Who would award him – and them – a victor’s crown of righteousness. Demas loved the ‘near and now’, not the ‘then’ of His coming. The current hardships involved in being associated with the apostle Paul were too much for Demas and present comforts were more to him than future rewards. He was not able to ‘endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ’, 2 Tim. 2. 3, being too entangled in the affairs of life down here, v. 4. How sad that, although he had been prepared to spend time with the apostle in easier days, now, in Paul’s hours of greatest need, Demas was found wanting, putting his own present comforts before anything else. Sadly, there were others who had forsaken Paul at this time, 1. 15; 4. 4, so the defection of Demas must have been a severe blow.
Are we ‘fair weather’ Christians, or do we seek to stand by our fellow-believers in hard times, whatever the cost?
How long had Demas been cold in heart before his final break with Paul? He had now made ship-wreck of his testimony, even if he continued in assembly fellowship in Thessalonica, 1 Tim. 1. 19. Demas did not go back to seek the pleasures of ‘the present evil world [age]’, Gal. 1. 4, so no moral failure is implied – the ‘ease’ rather than the ‘evil’ appealed to him. Fanny Crosby (1820 - 1915), the prolific hymn-writer, penned the words that should characterize our attitude to life in these circumstances, ‘Not for ease or worldly pleasure, nor for fame my prayer shall be; Gladly will I toil and suffer, only let me walk with Thee’.
Timothy already knew that the Christians from Asia had turned away from Paul and avoided him, 2 Tim. 1. 15. However, Paul had taken the opportunity to make a distinction in the case of Onesiphorus, who was also from Asia (i.e., Ephesus), but who had acted in a very commendable manner, risking himself in doing so. On the other hand, of those who had turned away from him, Paul especially mentioned Phygellus and Hermogenes, and one gets the impression that he was especially surprised about them, given their previous conduct towards him and their position among the saints. How great a contrast to Onesiphorus!
Hymenaeus and Alexander are the notorious persons who had been excommunicated by Paul on his visit to Ephesus when he left Timothy behind, 1 Tim. 1. 20; they were ‘delivered unto Satan’. Hymenaeus and Alexander are quoted by Paul as prominent among those who ‘concerning faith have made shipwreck’, v. 19 and the purpose of excommunicating them was that ‘they may learn not to blaspheme’. In their case the action was meant to be corrective.
Paul mentions Hymenaeus again in writing his Second Epistle to Timothy, citing him as a leading example – along with Philetus – of those who were striving about words to no profit, subverting their hearers, 2 Tim. 2. 14. These were ‘profane and vain babblings’, who were increasing in ungodliness, v. 16. The bad thing was that ‘their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus’, v. 17. These were notorious ones ‘who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some’, v. 18. Hymenaeus had obviously not learned and was still a problem.
The name Alexander was quite common in New Testament times, following the famous conqueror from Macedonia. One Alexander was the coppersmith (metalworker) whom Paul said did him ‘much evil’, 2 Tim. 4. 14. The context in which this statement was made leads us to think that Alexander might have been responsible for Paul’s re-arrest which led to his transfer to Rome and imprisonment. Maybe it was because of his fierce resistance to the gospel message that motivated his actions, v. 15. He warns Timothy about him, that he too should beware of this man.2