[10] Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him),

Colossians 4:10

Why is it that Christians fall out? I am not talking about minor things like they jumped the coffee queue, but rather significant divisions where deep convictions are held. We have all seen it or maybe are involved in one right now.

Once again the Bible shows the honesty, reality and challenges experienced in believers lives. There are a number of examples we could go to but none more pointed than the fall out between Paul, Barnabas, and Mark, and their subsequent reconciliation. We have the culprits right here in our passage.

The question is what can we learn from this very big fallout? To do that we will have to move from Colossians and look back to Acts 15 where we find this instance between Paul, Barnabas, and Mark recorded.

Barnabas was the kind of man whom everyone would want as a friend. No matter how bad things got, no matter how low you got, no matter how many times you failed Barnabas was there.

Barnabas is described in the New Testament as generous (Acts 4:36-37). His name means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). He was a good man (Acts 11:24). He was “filled with the Spirit” and “full of faith” (Acts 11:26). He is described as a teacher, prophet, evangelist, and apostle (Acts 11:26, 13:1, 14:1). This is some guy and in Acts 12 is where we can find him serving faithfully and reliably.

So to Mark, called “John Mark” (it was common to have two names, one acceptable to Greeks and Romans and the other Jewish).

He lived in Jerusalem with his mother Mary, in whose home prayer meetings were regularly held (Acts 12:12). We know from our passage in Colossians 4 he was the cousin of Barnabas. He was selected by Paul to travel with him on his apostolic journeys presumably on the recommendation of Barnabas.

Things seem to break down during one of these apostolic journeys recorded in Acts 13.

[13] Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John (John Mark) left them and returned to Jerusalem, [14] but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.

Acts 13:13-14

Luke doesn’t tell us why John Mark “left them”, nor does he tell us that anything is wrong. So why did Mark leave?

Some have said, it was am issue of immaturity, he was homesick, he missed his mother or was not used to the harsh reality of travel as at home he was accustomed to having servants.

Others have said that he had grown resentful of Paul for taking the limelight from his cousin Barnabas. It was family jealousy.

Still others have said that he was exhausted or even lazy. He could not cope with the harsh reality of travel and the demands made upon him. They surmise that he was having second thoughts about going on an missionary trip, it just wasn’t what he had imagined it to be.

When Paul reached south Galatia he was quite ill (Galatians 4:13-15). This may have been malaria which could be more easily managed by leaving the low lying area he was currently in and going to the Taurus plateau (in modern day Turkey) some 3,500 ft. above sea level. A few have argued that perhaps Mark thought Paul was mad to go north over the mountains and didn’t want to go with him.

As you can see there seem to be loads of possibilities as to why John Mark left the travelling group. Again another theory is that a member of the church in Jerusalem disagreed with Paul’s policy of evangelising Gentiles and granting them equal status in the church, this because it was allegedly Mark who provoked the Judaizers in Jerusalem into opposing Paul, although there is little proof of this.

One logical explanation would be that there were thieves and robbers in the Taurus mountains, it just was not safe. Paul had chosen this route, and John Mark just thought in was a foolish decision. Some even saying his mother had told him not to put his life in danger.

Whatever the reason for Mark’s refusal to continue with Paul and Barnabas, whatever he said to Paul as an explanation as to why he was leaving and going back to his mum in Jerusalem Paul took it as a sign of weakness and immaturity and unreliability. So did Barnabas, I suspect, although later they would differ greatly on how best to deal with the problem.

Following the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36). Barnabas wants his cousin Mark to join them, Paul did not want this at all.

[37] Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. [38] But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.

Acts 15:37-38.

This then deteriorates somewhat.

[38] But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. [39] And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, [40] but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.

Acts 15:38-40

What I love about Luke and scripture is that there is no attempt to cover up the problem or the deep feelings it had evoked.

Barnabas would not have disputed the fact that Mark had blown it badly on his first trip with Paul, but he also believed Mark had learnt and changed. There is no reason for us believe otherwise. However,

from Paul’s perspective Mark had yet to prove himself reliable and trustworthy in the heat of battle.

Who was right, Paul or Barnabas or both? Paul believed that Mark needed to prove his reliability before being entrusted with such an awesome responsibility. That’s probably true. But Barnabas believed he also needed encouragement and love and acceptance. Again, no argument there. But with neither man willing to concede, the split was unavoidable.

So what ultimately happened with Mark? How did he end up with Paul during his imprisonment in Rome? And how is it that Paul now commends him to the church in Colossae (Colossians 4:10)?

What lessons can we learn from it all? We shall look at this over the next blogs.