The struggles of a church leader are seldom fully understood by those who are around him. Paul has captured the troubles of the church leaders the best, when he wrote, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Some in the ministry have been so plagued by problems that they allow their souls to plunge into self-pity and many other sins that accompany anxiety, worry and fear. Some leaders have used their needs, loneliness, problems to excuse their sins of greed, theft, sexual promiscuity, abusive behaviour, etc. They would say, “Nobody understands my problems. Nobody seems to care that I also have to take care of my family’s needs. It is such pressure that led me to steal.” Or “Nobody else seems to feel for me in my loneliness the way she does. If any of them knew what I was going through in this leadership role, they would understand why I need this kind of embrace, why I need this kind of ‘unconditional acceptance’. I have borne enough of the burden of being everybody’s spiritual example; I can’t take it any more. And I don’t care if they don’t approve.”
Self-pity is a subtle sin; and it is packed with deceptive power. It looks so meek and weak. But underneath it is pride. Self-pity is a blind leader of proud men, which guides them into pits of sins.
Every leader must learn to find his strength, wisdom, courage and provision in the Lord. The Lord—and He alone—must be our portion, or we will give in to self-pity and all the sins that accompany it. We must seek the presence of God where there is “fulness of joy” and “at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore”. Let us learn to draw near to God when all kinds of troubles arise before us. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2).
“For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica. . . .” (2 Timothy 4:10). Demas was a fellow labourer of Paul in the work of the Gospel (cf. Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24). Paul mentioned him along with the early church leaders like Luke, Marcus and Aristarchus.
Demas left Paul and the ministry after he fell in love with this present world. What is it about the world that leaders like Demas in particular are tempted to love?
In Luke 8:14, Jesus cautioned, “. . .when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” Our Saviour mentioned three causes that could lead a man away from being fruitful in the kingdom of God. They are cares of this life, riches of this world and pleasures of this world.
Demas’ motive for forsaking Paul might have been his love for worldly ease, safety, comforts and disinclination to brave danger with Paul.
Anyone who sincerely serves the Lord would soon find that he needs to sacrifice all his desires for the comfort, pleasure and glory of this world. Anyone who entertains an immoderate love for this material world, its gain, pleasure and glory, will not be able to serve God fervently and faithfully. He will soon wilfully abandon the cause of the Gospel because of his love for this material world.
The best protection from this pitfall is to always set our mind on the glory of God and His kingdom. Paul said, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14). The spell of sin’s fascination is broken when the superior pleasures of God’s presence becomes the preoccupation.
If we love the Lord and His work, then we must also remind ourselves that “the friendship of the world is enmity with God” and “whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). Think long and hard about those who have fallen so painfully and drastically, having drunk the deadly poison of worldliness.