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"A few days after this, Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let's go back and visit all our friends in each of the towns where we preached the Word of God. Let's see how they're doing.' "Barnabas wanted to take John along, the John nicknamed Mark. But Paul wouldn't have him; he wasn't about to take along a quitter who, as soon as the going got tough, had jumped ship on them in Pamphylia. Tempers flared, and they ended up going their separate ways. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas and, offered up by their friends to the grace of the Master, went to Syria and Cilicia to build up muscle and sinew in those congregations." Acts 15:36-41 (The Message).
What a dismal end to a partnership that had produced so much fruit! What happened to their original call from the Holy Spirit when they were sent out from Antioch many years before? It seems that they were willing to sacrifice the unity they had worked so hard to protect in the church, over a personal issue. This was not about a doctrine, in which case they had made the right decision. This was over a young guy who could not take the pace.
Let's have a look at the character of Barnabas, which was, incidentally, his nickname and meant "son of encouragement". Quite significant! He appears early in the book of Acts, doing what his name meant, encouraging people. Had Paul forgotten that it was Barnabas who had faith in him when the church in Jerusalem was afraid to welcome him? They didn't want a vicious persecutor to infiltrate their ranks. Barnabas was willing to vouch for him (Acts 9:27), introducing him to the leaders in Jerusalem.
It was Barnabas who fetched Paul from Tarsus to teach the new believers in Antioch when the church exploded among the Gentiles in Syria. Barnabas gave way to Paul when it came to preaching and teaching on their first missionary journey. His was a "Jonathan" ministry, the support and encourager Paul needed during the rigorous trials he had to endure.
What if Barnabas had rejected John Mark as Paul was doing? Paul's letters reveal that it was he who had to eat humble pie regarding Mark. Had Barnabas not been true to his name and nature, Paul would never have been able to write: "Aristarchus, who is in jail here with me, sends greeting, also Mark, cousin of Barnabas, (you have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him)." Colossians 4:10 (NIV).
What a change of heart -- and it gets even more personal. During Paul's final imprisonment in Rome he wrote these words to Timothy: "Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and Bing him with you because he is helpful to me in my ministry." 2 Timothy 4:11 (NIV).Because of Barnabas, Mark, the quitter, became Mark the helpful.
Without Barnabas' faith in him, would Mark have ever been the author of the second gospel? According to tradition, Mark also spent time with Peter, either recording his memoirs or listening to his preaching which he used as the basis for his gospel. How much poorer the church might have been had Barnabas not tenaciously stuck to his belief in Mark in spite of Mark's failure.
There are many lessons in this incident. What stands out for me is that Mark' failure did not permanently disqualify him from fulfilling his calling. Perhaps parting company with Paul was the best thing that could have happened. Although Luke records nothing of the details of Barnabas and Mark's journey around the churches, we know the outcome of the time they spend together. Barnabas, the mentor and encourager, put Mark back on his feet and helped him to become Mark, the helpful!
In the end one can conclude that Barnabas' ministry to Mark was just as valuable as Paul's ministry to the people of Asia Minor and Europe. How much poorer the church throughout the generations would be without the Gospel of Mark and how much poorer Paul might have been without him.
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