An episode that arose during the First Missionary Journey provides some insight into the patience of God – and our need to be patient with others who may be struggling.
John Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on the first major expedition by the church at Antioch to send the gospel of Christ into the heart of the Gentile world (Acts 13:3-5). John Mark, however, didn’t finish the journey. Luke explains that after the party landed along the southern coast of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), “John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13). Not much is suggested in the text to convey the idea that anything was troubling with that development, except that it is specifically pointed out. We learn later, when Paul and Barnabas were planning their second journey together, that John Mark’s leaving them had much more significance to it. When Barnabas suggested that they allow John Mark to travel with them on the second trip, it was not welcomed by Paul:
“Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:38-41 NKJV).
The separation of Paul and Barnabas is disappointing, but the disagreement – over a matter that was not related to faith or doctrine – was so intense that they elected to take different paths in the mission.
Whatever the cause for John Mark’s decision to leave the mission on the earlier trip, he later regained a strong relationship with and respect of Paul. In some of Paul’s later writings, he describes John Mark as a productive coworker (Col 4:10-11 and 2 Tim. 4:11). Peter referred to John Mark as his spiritual son (1 Peter 5:13). Early church history reveals that John Mark is the penman of the Gospel According to Mark.
Christians are forgiven, but they aren’t flawless. In John Mark’s life we see how the mistakes we make don’t have to define our lives – we can make a new start in Jesus Christ.
See more about God’s Makeovers: John Mark in our YouTube video.