Going Away?

Jim Voisey, Cardiff, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

There are a lot of partings and separations in the Bible, many of them sad and some of them very sad. We will consider three of these involving Lot, Samuel and Demas:

1 Lot - ‘Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan’, Gen. 13. 11.
We all know that Lot made a bad choice. He is such a contrast with Abram, and we condemn him for his worldliness. He was a righteous man but with no spiritual emphasis or determination in his life, 2 Pet. 2. 7. He chose the well-watered and fertile land of the cities of the plain, but it was the start of his edging ever nearer to ‘the dwellings of the wicked’, the place of those who know not God, Job 18. 21. The testimony of scripture is plain, ‘The men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly’, v. 13.

Lot was possibly the kind of man who would take the largest slice of anything that was offered to him, and to people like him the world will always have a strong attraction and influence. We never read that he raised an altar to the Lord, nor that he had a good testimony in Sodom. How sorrowful it is for us to read what they said, ‘This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break down the door’, Gen. 19. 9. Even his own family laughed at him when he warned them of the coming judgement of Sodom, ‘He seemed as one that mocked unto his sons-in-law’, Gen. 19. 14. No one took Lot seriously, so much was he compromised in their eyes. Wealth and possessions were predominant in his life; nor can his wife be excused. She is a picture of those who are so unwilling to give up the temporary things of this life for those things that are spiritual and eternal. Our Lord used her as an example and a warning as He, too, spoke of coming judgement, ‘Remember Lot’s wife’, He said, Luke 17. 28-32.

Lot was hesitating, despite the angels’ warnings, and he escaped only by ‘the skin of his teeth’, with nothing of his worldly acquisitions left to him. At last, he was compelled by necessity to live in a cave with his two unmarried daughters, by whom, in a state of drunkenness, he fathered two sons who would produce families opposed to his own people. It is a sad story of a righteous, outwardly respectable man making a wrong choice when he followed his own way and departed from Abram.

2 Samuel - ‘They have rejected me’, 1 Sam. 8. 7.
Here we have not a parting of men, but of His people from the Lord. Samuel had become old and his two sons, despite their godly upbringing, ‘walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment’, 1 Sam. 8. 3. The Lord still looks down from heaven upon men and their ways, even if we do not always realize this. These were no better than Eli’s sons, see Gen. 6. 12; 1 Sam. 8. 3; Ps. 33. 13.

The people were looking for an excuse to change things. They desired to be ‘like the nations’. In the Old Testament the Lord’s people were ever harking back to the practices of the heathen na tions, always ready to ‘follow a multitude to do evil’ and to do as they did. They were oblivious to their own privileged position among those nations. ‘For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for’, Deut. 4. 7, and, ‘The Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth’, Deut. 7. 6; 2 Kgs. 17. 15. It is invariably a sign of spiritual declension when we desire to be like others and turn our backs upon the Lord’s distinctive purposes for ourselves as a chosen and special people.

Even among us today there is a rebelling against the teaching of scripture. Some are urging the appointment of an officially recognized pastor to be over the assembly. It is argued that he will take a lead in developing a spiritual focus, but inevitably it will result in a reduction of the personal responsibility we all have to contribute to the welfare and spiritual life of the assembly, a watering-down of the principle of the Holy Spirit’s guiding, and, ultimately, even a return to the evils of clerisy. We should not follow the world nor its religious systems. The New Testament pattern is all that we need today. Let us be alert about these things; Israel’s departure from the Lord here, as elsewhere, is a warning for us.

The character of Samuel himself comes out particularly beautifully. The people were turning their backs on the Lord and on him, but although he warns them, he is ever gracious and large-hearted. The people were still in his heart, ‘God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you’, 1 Sam. 12. 23. When Samuel died all Israel lamented him, 25. 1. Were they ashamed at what they had done and the pain they had caused such a godly man? Sometimes we do not appreciate people until they are no longer with us.

3 Demas - ‘Demas hath forsaken me’, 2 Tim. 4. 10.
None of the men mentioned in 2 Timothy is there by accident; each has lessons for us. These were perilous times, and we have references to those who had failed over errors of doctrine, and those who no longer continued for various reasons. Timothy is being exhorted, and the words apply to us also today, to hold fast, to keep the good thing committed, to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, to endure hardness as a good soldier, to preach the word (come what may) and to reprove, rebuke and exhort. Part of our education is to learn from the examples of others, whether it be their opposition to truth, their failings or their virtues. Think of those who are specifically mentioned in this epistle: Phygellus and Hermogenes, Onesiphorus, Hymenaeus and Philetus, and those others who resisted the truth. Even the sickness of Trophimus, a beloved and faithful brother, reminds us that none of the Lord’s servants is exempt from the frailties of human kind. So, the departure of Demas is mentioned as a warning to us today.

We have nothing to indicate that Demas had been anything but a faithful brother. He was one of Paul’s fellow labourers and friends. Paul was bound by a metal chain, but just as much was he in the bonds of Christian love and service with those who shared his labours. It was a privilege for Demas to be among them and he must have been quite well known in the early church. Now, suddenly, he departed. What was it that caused him to forsake the apostle and go off to Thessalonica? Paul tells us that it was because he ‘loved this present world’, 4. 10, that is, the world in opposition to the will of God, concerning which John warns us, ‘Love not the world . . . the world passeth away’, 1 John 2. 15-17. The apostle states his absence but does not satisfy mere human curiosity as to what it was particularly that made Demas depart. We may apply these things for ourselves and assess what are the attractions of this present world to us.

We are left to imagine how much Paul would have missed him, but his place was now empty, and his Christian work had to be taken on by others. How about his own loss? Would Demas ever hear those words, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant, Matt. 25. 21? Paul here writes his epitaph.

Lot and Demas were worldly men. They were not made of the stuff of the Bible’s spiritual giants, but separated themselves to their own loss and shame. In Samuel’s time, it was the whole nation of Israel that moved itself away from its unique position among the nations of the world, just to be like them. We must learn lessons from these things, ‘Therefore my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord’, 1 Cor. 15. 58.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Jim Voisey is in fellowship in the assembly meeting at Adamsdown Gospel Hall in Cardiff and has recently retired from his job as a university lecturer.