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),
We are continuing to look at the apparent falling out between Paul and Barnabas over the treatment of Mark, the context for which can be found in my previous blog.
Luke describes the intensity of the falling out as a, “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:39). My imagination has run wild but I imagine it being something like this.
Barnabas: “Paul, your being unreasonable and lacking in Grace, give the boy a chance.”
Paul: “You may think I am being unreasonable Barnabas, but you are lacking in wisdom and discernment. You are blinded by the fact he is your cousin. We cannot risk the ministry.”
Barnabas: “I am thinking of the ministry, Mark has real gifts, yes he is young and has made mistakes, but he will in time be an asset to the team. Your decision to not use him will crush him and hurt him.”
Paul: “You are being overprotective and over compassionate, the boy is not ready yet.”
Barnabas: “You are showing no compassion at all and are letting your high principles govern what God is doing in Mark”
So now we have an impasse and Paul, Barnabas and Mark have put huge tension into their relationship. What we tend to want to know is who was right? But what maybe better is to understand what we can learn.
We mustn’t ever forget that Paul, Barnabas and Mark are all prone to sin. Yes, two of the Bibles great apostles Paul and Barnabas can sin and end up having a strong disagreement that puts tension on their relationship. Admitting that is a good starting point.
It reminds us that no one in this life achieves perfection or rises above the challenges of the flesh. These two men had worked miracles by the Spirit of God. They had laid hands on the sick and healed them. They had seen many saved. They both loved Jesus. Yet here they are shouting at each other! If this had happened in your church, maybe you would have thought, “these men obviously can’t be Christians.”
Or even, “I cannot listen to a word these so called apostles say when they argue like this.” You may even think, “you appointed these guys,”
or perhaps, “I won’t believe anything either of them teaches. They are obviously disqualified from instructing others when they can’t get along with each other.” Or perhaps even “hypocrites!”
If nothing else, we can learn from this not to judge too quickly or draw conclusions about the Godliness of people from a singular incident.
So had Paul got a point? Possibly, but maybe how he was making it was the problem. His point being not to push young people into ministry and leadership positions too early (1 Timothy 3:10) but rather to look for a proven track record and character first.
Had Barnabas got a point ? Also possibly. Those who fail are not to be abandoned and forgotten but lovingly restored and helped. It’s easy to just cast someone aside because they, in your eyes, are wrong. It’s harder to restore them gently, to teach them and give them responsibility again.
No matter what we think God will work all things for good. God will not be dictated to by our mistakes and failures. With Paul and Barnabas splitting up and going their separate ways, two apostolic teams instead of one are unleashed on the unbelieving world. Paul took Silas with him, while Barnabas took Mark. However, we must never justify our failures or sins by appealing to the overriding role of divine providence, but it is reassuring to know that God can redeem for his glory even the most foolish as well as tough clashes amongst his children.
So what about Mark in all of this? It would appear that although Mark had abandoned Paul, he had returned on his own initiative. This was a brave and humbling act on his part and demonstrated real character.
Mark was not only received back by Paul, but was restored to ministry as well! In verse 10 Paul sends the church greetings from Mark and adds this comment, “concerning whom you have received instructions if he comes to you, welcome him.”
Evidently Mark’s restoration had not been fully acknowledged by all. I suspect that some in Colossae were wary of him, which is why Paul insists that they receive him warmly and wholeheartedly. Now Paul honours him in front of others. So important! So very important.
Paul writes to Timothy from Prison in Rome in perhaps only weeks, at most months, away from his execution. Virtually everyone had either abandoned him or is busy, or at a distance away so they can’t get to him. He writes “ Luke alone is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11). That is so incredibly sad, to feel that isolated. Then we read this statement “Get Mark(!) and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Mark useful? What! Gods Grace is so amazing, nothing that happens is final, because God is always at work, we just need to allow him in.
So, how was Mark restored to usefulness? I suspect there were at least three human contributors but mainly it was a work of the Holy Spirit, conviction of sin and encouraging Grace.
One: Barnabas and his constant encouragement and friendship. He stayed with his friend in the tough times. Don’t we need them?
Two: Mark’s spiritual father was Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and Peter knew a thing or two about failure himself! He knew the joy of restoration as well. No doubt his advice and prayers and support proved invaluable to Mark in his restoration.
Three: Paul. Yes, he had principles, yes he was able to rebuke. (See Proverbs 27:5-6) but he was also able to forgive, to restore and to entrust. A very valuable lesson to us all, as we can have a tendency to just cast aside. I think Mark would have been the first to say that all three men were indispensable to him.
As I am writing this there is much going through my mind and heart so there will be a part three to follow.