Calvary Road Baptist Church


Second Timothy 4.10 

“It is a very evil thing to choose a small sin rather than a great affliction.”[1] That is a truth written by a godly man named Jeremiah Burroughs centuries ago. I have preached sermons emphasizing that principle on several occasions. Why so? Because, indeed, the Bible does clearly show to us that sin is always worse than affliction.

Admittedly, sermons about the evil of a minor sin over a great affliction can be somewhat abstract. Such sermons can be more theoretical than we are used to dealing with and applying to our daily lives. So, I desire to bring you a practical example of that principle from God’s Word.

Imagine yourself to be the Apostle Paul in a Roman prison. Suppose you review Paul’s prison epistles, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and letters to Philemon, Titus, and Timothy. In that case, you will note his great joy in Christ, his exuberance for being chosen to minister the Gospel to the multitudes, and his great hope in Christ.

Realistically, however, we must remind ourselves of Paul’s ever-present reality that this side of heaven, the Christian life, is grace given to deal with grief, wisdom granted to address challenges, and comfort provided by the God of all comfort to help His children cope with heartaches and disappointments. So it is that I bring this message from God’s Word.

Wearing Paul’s sandals, shortly after your morning prayer and communion with God, you receive a visitor to your cell in the dungeon. It’s one of your coworkers, a young man you have invested your life in, a young man you deeply love. While there, he speaks respectfully and with an honorable tone.

But the short meeting with him has left you saddened. The young man came to tell you that he is praying about leaving. But after some questioning, you conclude that he is much farther along in his decision-making process than supposedly praying about it. He is leaving.

But it is not only the leaving that has troubled your soul and left you so sad. It is also the fact that the young man has left you entirely out of the process leading up to this critical decision so that you cannot even influence what matters he weighs, what things he prays about, what dangers he ponders when supposedly seeking to do God’s will.

More disturbing still were his answers to some very straightforward questions you asked him in those last few minutes together. Oh, he tried to come across as upright, and he attempted to put his reasons for leaving into acceptable words. Only, he could not state the unreasonable in reasonable terms. Instead, he kept majoring on themes that were surprisingly selfish, surprisingly shallow, surprisingly materialistic, surprisingly unspiritual.

But now he is gone. He left a short while ago. And as you reflect on your conversation with him, you, Paul, turn to that letter you began to write to Timothy last night. You had felt strongly compelled by the Holy Spirit to ask Timothy to come quickly to you. Now the irony is that after you visited with your disciple, with your supposed disciple, with your former disciple, the compelling reason for needing Timothy’s presence has suddenly become clear in your mind.

Last night, Paul, you had written to Timothy, “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me.” This morning you indicate why, sitting there in the Mamertine prison in Rome, awaiting execution, Timothy is so needful to come now. In Second Timothy 4.10, you write, 

“For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica.” 

You roll up the scroll and seal it, dispatch it with the help of a young Roman believer who has come to send it on its way to Timothy in Ephesus, and you begin to think. Your thoughts turn to the visit with Demas, and you smile a sad smile.

After all these years of serving the incomparable Savior, it is still a puzzle to you why they do it, though you have seen it happen so many times before. Some so-called Christians just drop out. They just fall by the wayside. Step away from the path is probably a better way to phrase it. And Demas just had to tell him now that he was leaving, as you await your execution. What exquisite timing to say to you shortly before you are to be put to death that he has chosen to deprive you of any final consolation he might have provided.

Then you begin to mull over in your mind why. Why do some Christians drop out? Why does some stop running the race? Why do some give up fighting the good fight? Many of them call it transferring membership, but we know what it really is. Is it discouragement or distraction that causes it? Is it real defeat in spiritual battle or deception? Perhaps it is a proud sense of entitlement.

As you sit there in the prison cell, your mind wanders back over the years, reflecting on those Christians who fell by the wayside. There was that woman who loved Jesus so much. Oh, how she prayed and served God ... until her man was saved. Then, once her husband was converted, she undermined his progress as the spiritual leader in his home. Had her heart desired to be something of a living martyr, currying sympathy from other believers for the burden of courageously living with an unsaved husband? Had she concealed a subtle desire to be the spiritual leader as the only Christian in her home? Was she disappointed her husband turned to Christ, with her no longer the prominent believer in the household?

That was in Corinth. Last you heard of them, the husband had succumbed to her efforts and had all but stopped attending Church. Ironically, he justified his lack of commitment to the Lord by making up some excuse about disagreeing with the pastor about something or other. You have wondered if he is discouraged because his wife seemed to justify her unwillingness to follow her now Christian husband’s lead.

Then there was that single Christian who was so faithful in witnessing and praying until she decided to quit waiting upon the Lord and went looking for a husband. What was her name? Oh well. She found her husband, and she stopped serving the Lord Jesus. Then she had kids, only to lose them to Satan. Paul? It seems like you have seen it all over the years. Nothing surprises you anymore. Nothing at all.

There are so many little individual twists and variations related to those “Christians’” reasons for dropping out of the race. But, ultimately, finally, it can be traced back to this one truth: 

“It’s a very evil thing to choose the smallest sin rather than the greatest affliction.” 

So imagine, for just a few minutes longer, being Paul and thinking some more about this young man named Demas. As you reflect on his life, which is being so tragically altered and perhaps irreparably damaged by this wrong decision, you consider and ponder three things: 


Ah, if ever, a young Christian was prepared to serve God. What great promise he had.

You remember his conversion. You were there. It was you who guided him to Jesus Christ. Someone brought him to a Bible study you were conducting. What mainly seemed to touch his heart was his guiltiness of sin in the sight of God. He began to weep with sorrow at how wicked he was in the sight of God when you declared that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and how remiss he was for not seeking God with his whole heart, mind, body, and soul. Then Demas, precious Demas, responded to the offer of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of the living God, to cleanse away his sins in His shed blood. Demas trusted the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world as his savior.

Then you remember his consecration. When Demas was baptized, he was like so many others that he lost most of his family. They wanted nothing to do with what they considered an atheist who believed in and worshipped only one God, and a Jewish God at that! And how tolerant they had imagined themselves to be. But that did not stop him. Though he wept over his family and forsook all for Jesus Christ, he consecrated himself to Christ’s service by vigorously addressing those personal sins and habits that were not pleasing to God. He then began to work on virtues that made him a most capable and valuable servant of God.

So much so that his commitment to ministry was astonishing. Not only did Demas serve God in his local Church, but he volunteered to travel with you, Paul, and your party of Church planting missionaries, insisting it was God’s will for his life to serve as a Church planter alongside you. This did not surprise you at all. You thought you saw in Demas something unusual, special skills for ministry that few other Christians showed, and particular combinations of experiences, even before his conversion, that gave him highly developed people and leadership skills. Besides, Paul, you had been praying for months that God would raise up another helper to join your team in spreading the Gospel to the unreached peoples in the West. So, when Demas came to you one night after a particularly stirring preaching service to say he had surrendered his life for the Gospel ministry, you welcomed him into the fellowship of those called by God to leadership.

However, over time your concern for Demas grew. He performed admirably in his ministries. And he never indicated that anything was wrong or that he was reaching the limit of his capacities. Initially, he did exceptionally well. But something, all but undetectable, was wrong. His countenance no longer glowed as much as it once had. The thrill of serving the Lord of glory seemed to be waning. Oh, did he ever have promise, that Demas. But then, others have had promise, haven’t they, Paul? 


There are three basic postures that any believer can take concerning his ministry and service to Christ:

Spiritually, the most important posture of all is also the most challenging posture to govern and evaluate. From your own experience, you realize that Demas’ demise had to have begun in the spiritual realm. He could not have continued to posture himself correctly spiritually and ended up doing what he did. So, with the wisdom born of excellent knowledge and vast experience, you know that his prayer life had begun to cool off at some point in time. At some point in time, his awareness of how much he needed God’s blessings in his life began to diminish. At some point, he no longer hungered for Bible preaching, for Bible teaching, for spiritual food. Oh, he still went through the motions of attending services, but his mind wandered. And, for a time, he still sought the salvation of the lost. But it was more out of habit than urgency. Yes, that would be how it happened to Demas. Because that is how it happens to everyone it happens to. The soul fires cool down.

After the spiritual posture changes, the emotional posture changes. Imagine yourself to be the Apostle Paul still. And, still thinking about Demas, your mind goes back to the days of Joshua, shortly after Moses had died. And then to Solomon, shortly after David had died. To both men, God, the God of Israel, had promised that as He had magnified Moses and David in the sight of all the people, so He would magnify their successors.[2]

You imagine how difficult leadership would have been for Joshua and Solomon had God not blessed them in that way. But you know something, Paul? God does the same with pastors and missionaries. In some beautiful way, He frequently magnifies spiritual leaders in the eyes of new Christians. And, oh, how much easier it is to lead those new converts during that time they imagine the preacher really is bigger than life. However, the day comes, as it must come, as it is supposed to come when the young believer matures to the point that he begins to see the preacher as he really is. Not an extraordinary man at all, but an ordinary man used by our extraordinary God.

You remember when those days came in the life of Demas. For some time, all was well. When he was right with God spiritually, it did not matter much to him that you, Paul, had your faults and human frailties. After all, Demas had correctly reasoned, his ministry was to serve Christ and to preach Christ. And no servant of Christ was perfect. So, he loved you despite your peculiarities and quirks.

But you reflect as well, Paul, when Demas began to cool off spiritually when he took his eyes off the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember? He began to look around the Church with a different eye, a critical eye, and a skeptical eye. Not that Demas had ever held you to a standard nearly as high as the personal standard you held yourself to for Christ. But, with Demas, there was no longer the long-suffering. With Demas, there was no longer the tenderness. He began to look at everything and everyone through a jaundiced eye. He looked at your life through a spiritual microscope. Remember?

Paul, you realize that at that point that Demas began to, as the bureaucrats would say it, build his case. He had decided way down in his heart of hearts that he was going to drop out; he was going to quit, though he would never admit it to you or even to himself. He would never be that honest with himself. To live with himself, he had to have reasons for quitting. He had to have justification. So, each time he observed something through eyes that were not eyes of love or eyes of faith, he filed it in his mental file cabinet. Little snippets of false reasons that, when added all together, he could use to convince himself that he had good cause for doing what he had already decided to do.

He was going to quit. He would transfer to the Thessalonian Church. That was when the emotional distancing began. The delicate little ties that bind hearts together began to be severed, one at a time. The little fellowship times were curtailed. The extra investments in the lives of others came to an end. Oh, Demas fancied that he was so clever. He imagined no one noticed what was happening. He was going to ease out.

If you had approached him and brought the matter up, he would have denied everything. “Oh no, Paul. Nothing is wrong. I’m just cutting back a little. That’s all.” But Paul, you have seen too much. You have experienced too much, and you are far too concerned about the spiritual welfare of those around you not to notice. So, you pray, and you wait, hoping he will not do what you know he will do.

Then comes the change in physical posture. You dreaded it. You prayed that it wouldn’t come. You fervently asked God to turn his heart around and draw him back close. However, the apparent behavior changes came. What did Demas stop doing first? It is hard to remember now. Did he stop giving to the cause of Christ first? Or did he drop out of evangelism first? Or was it the prayer meeting that he gave up on? Or was it when he decided that he was too busy to be discipled or to disciple others. It may have been when he began to step away from others for fellowship after worship.

He had a very good sounding reason. You cannot remember what the excuse, or the reason, was. But it had to be good and not ridiculous. You would remember a ridiculous reason. But you do remember that it was only a reason. And he knew that you knew it was only a reason. Those unspoken words of the eyes. Words that will never be said out loud. It was something like that sequence. The giving stops or is severely curtailed. The praying with other men stops. The participation in outreach stops, though the pretense of concern for the lost continues. It is always like that. However, you just cannot bring yourself to bring anyone to a Church you have decided to leave. Let’s see now.

Next comes a midweek Bible study miss. But if anyone asks if something is wrong, there is an astonished, “No. Why would you think there’s something wrong?” But the frequency of missing increased until no one really expected Demas to be there. Therefore no one asked anymore. Did he mention that no one asked about him when he missed? They sometimes do that after they have lulled people into not expecting them to attend. I suppose the startling thing wasn’t when Demas began cutting services on Sundays. It was when he began to dress in such a way as to convey to the world around him and his neighbors that there was nothing about worshiping God that was special enough to be reflected in his manner of dress. He wore better clothes to work!

Not that you ever encouraged people to put on a fashion show, Paul. No way. Most of your converts had no change of clothes other than what they wore. But you did stress doing your best for Jesus and wearing the better of two garments. Washing your face and hands before Church. Things like that that magnify Jesus in your life. So, when Demas began to dress as commonly as he could, when he treated the worship of God as just something else to do (arriving late and leaving abruptly), it hit you particularly hard, though you said nothing. 


Up to this point, Paul, you have engaged in speculation. But when you reflect on Demas’ problem, you are on solid ground. Because Demas’ problem is known to you by revelation from God. Second Timothy 4.10 reads, 

“For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.” 

His problem? He loves this present world. But notice how he covers his issue. He is going to Thessalonica. There is an excellent Church in Thessalonica. But, though no one else on earth will ever know it, Demas will be just as certainly out of the will of God in that great Church in Thessalonica as a soul could be because it is world-love, not Christ-love, that takes him there. Not at all like Crescens or Titus, who were dispatched to ministry by Paul.

With that kind of presenting problem, that obvious problem of leaving his place of service for love of the world, what could possibly be Demas’ underlying problem that is really at the root of it all? What is the root cause of this symptom of loving the world?

Perhaps he is lost. I mean, we do not know for sure that Demas is saved, do we, considering First John 2.15-16? 

15  Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 

So-called Christians who are in love with this world and with materialism are all too likely not genuinely saved at all. Why so? Because if you love the world, the love of the Father is not in you, and you are lost.

“But pastor Demas started out so well in his Christian life. You said so yourself.” I sure did. But read a portion of the Lord Jesus Christ’s parable with me, Matthew 13.20-22: 

20  But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;

21  Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

22  He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. 

Perhaps Demas was just one of those promising lost people who hear the Word, seem to get started with a bang, but are not ever really saved.

Maybe Matthew 7.20-23 should be applied to Demas: 

20  Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

21  Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

22  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. 

And what about James 4.4? 

“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” 

If friendship with the world is spiritual adultery, what is it when you go so far as to love this wicked old world?

No, my friend. You are not judgmental and critical when you wonder about the salvation of some Christian who seems to start out right and then drops out or falls by the wayside, and there is sufficient Biblical reason to fear for that person’s soul.

Perhaps Demas’ presenting sin of loving this world, even though he did go to a good Church as a way to hide from his spiritual responsibilities, was indicative of a far greater problem ... not knowing Jesus as his Savior. Not really.

Or perhaps Demas was saved, and he left his first love. We know this can happen. It happened to the entire congregation in Ephesus, according to Revelation 2.4. Those Christians lived a most exemplary outward life. But the Lord Jesus was aware that despite their active ministry, they had left their first love. They no longer loved Him as they once had.

If Demas really was saved, he had at least left his first love. Amen? Imagine, if you can, doing what Demas did and choosing materialism or dropping out of Christian service for one reason or another, actually leaving your first love, and then spending eternity with your Savior after showing Him down here that He was no better than second in your life.

What would it be like to go to a restaurant and there take up with another woman, and then looking forward to spending the rest of your life with your wife, her knowing that at that point in time you had chosen another over her? But isn’t that what we do when we leave our first love? Isn’t that what a man does when he chooses his wife over his Savior? Isn’t that what a woman does when she chooses her husband over her Savior? Shouldn’t Jesus be our first love?

Oh, Demas, poor Demas. Right at the end of Paul’s life, you left him. And for what? So you could buy a lovely brick house in the Midwest? So you could retire near lifelong friends? So you could run with a more affluent crowd? So you wouldn’t have to mix with people far below your social station in life? So you could accept that promotion and climb the corporate ladder?

I don’t know why you thought you did it, Demas. But you did it. And it was wrong. It was your love for this wicked and soon-to-perish world that won out over your love for Christ and your willingness to stick to the ministry God had called you to alongside the Apostle Paul.

Was Paul angry? Was Paul hurt? We see no evidence of that in our text. But I am sure that Paul was sad. Not sad for himself. He had been through too much for something like this to do him much harm. And he was almost finished with his course. He was looking forward to glory. But he was sad for Demas. But for his love for the world and whatever underlying problem caused him to love the world, the final comment in God’s Word about Demas might have been very different indeed. 

My friends, “It is a very evil choice to choose the smallest sin rather than endure the greatest affliction.” Demas made the evil choice of leaving Paul, the afflictions associated with being exactly where God wanted him to be, and going instead to a wonderful Church in Thessalonica. Where it was easier, less affliction, but not at all where God wanted him to be.

Some take the course of Demas by leaving such a region as we live in, with all its attendant problems, for greener pastures by moving out of state, by moving out of the county, by moving out of the city to a nicer town, or by moving to a nicer Church with far more refined people than we have here.

Hey, some people travel the road of Demas without ever leaving their home Church and going elsewhere. They just slip out of real ministry and begin to coast through life. They no longer run the race set before them. They jog or they walk. The soul fires cool down. Quit this service. Stop that ministry.

Hey. There are all kinds of reasons why these steps are taken. Demas had his and we have ours. Chairs are uncomfortable. Nursery isn’t up to snuff. It’s so hard to drive ten miles to attend Church. There are no business contacts at this Church for the advancement of your career.

The preacher preaches too hard on sin. You’re all a bunch of legalists for having ushers and men in the choir to wear ties. Used to doing things the Covid lockdown way and not willing to go back to the old way. The kids are a burden. That’s what two young pastors with seven children told me earlier this week some of their Church’s members tell them. Their members have two kids, and two kids stop them from doing what seven kids do not stop others from doing.

There are all kinds of reasons. But regardless of what is said, if the real reason is a love of this world, there is a real problem. It may very well be that you’ve left your first love. But it is also possible that some are not really saved at all and have no real understanding of the truth that, “It’s an evil thing to choose even a little sin rather than a great affliction.” Stay faithful and serve God.

If you are not saved, address this matter of conversion and serve God for the rest of your life right here. But if you claim to be led by God to serve in this Church, make sure of two things: First, make sure you’re not coming here to avoid addressing a spiritual problem where you’ve come from. And second, understand that at this Church we want to be the kind of place where a Demas leaves, not the sort of place that a Demas would ever want to come.

Why? Because we want to serve God here. If you're going to serve God, then this is the place for you.


[1] Jeremiah Burroughs, The Evil Of Evils, (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications,1992), page 1.

[2] Joshua 3.7; 4.14; 1 Chronicles 29.25; 2 Chronicles 1.1

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