One of the discouraging things about modern missions is the fact that there are high numbers of drop outs on the mission field – many times dropping out in the first year or two. These are missionaries who quit because they can't hack the primitive conditions, the insects, disease, they can't take the persecution, or they aren't willing to resolve conflicts. When the pressures come against them from outside, they don't have the inner stamina to keep themselves from quitting. That was what happened with John Mark. He was a quitter. And we know from later passages that it was considered a great shame that he quit, and he repented and he tried again. And when we get to chapter 15 we will (Lord willing) be looking at how to salvage such dropouts and instill more backbone into them. But this issue of being a quitter affects our children when they feel like giving up on a math problem, or when they get overwhelmed with their chores. We've got to train them early to not be quitters. It is harder and harder to find men and women who will finish the tasks they have committed themselves to. They are quitters. I know people who have badgered me to start a prayer meeting, but within two weeks they are the ones who are no longer coming. They will next badger me to start a Bible study, and lo and behold, they get tired of it after three weeks. And they don't think the second thing about their lack of commitment.
In the same way, we find increased dropouts from marriage. I've had more than one person tell me over the past several years, "I've had it. I'm through. I can't take it any longer." Of course, it isn't true. They could take it longer, but they are like Demas who started out well in Philemon 4, but who forsook Paul in his hour of need in 2 Timothy 4:10. And Paul's reason is, "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica." And John Mark, though he later repented, had the same problem as Demas. He was a quitter when the going got tough. In the twentieth century there are lot of people who would probably think there is nothing wrong with John Mark for going back to Jerusalem. If it didn't fit his desires, why not? There is a book out there now that promotes the ridiculous notion that if you aren't passionate about your job, you need to find something different. That book is just producing more quitters. Many of these modern quitters would have done what John Mark did here, and would have done it in a heart beat if they had to work with a tough old bird like Paul, or if they had to face the same difficult circumstances.
The man who wimped out and quit
What precipitated John Mark's quitting?
Let's just think of the context here. There were some tough transitions that John Mark had already faced. And by this time there was probably a bit of tension. The first change that had happened is that this missionary team was beginning to preach to the Gentiles. At the beginning of Paul's first missionary journey he was only preaching among the Jews. For example, verse 5 says, "And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant." Working among the Jews would have been fairly easy for John Mark. It would have still been a challenge, but not nearly the challenge that begins in verse 7. Beginning in verse 7 this team begins to target Gentile unbelievers. For any of the Jews in that day, this would have been a very uncomfortable thing. This would have taken John Mark out of his comfort zone. Now in theory, John Mark knew that this was going to happen. But reality is often less glamorous than the theory.
This transition can also be seen in that Saul (a Jewish name) is now consistently called Paul (which is a Roman name). This begins in verse 9: "Then Saul, who also is called Paul…" Paul is the only member of the team who is a bone fide Roman citizen. And every Roman citizen had three names: a praenomen, a nomen and a cognomen. Commentators point out that this was his cognomen. Now, in addition to the three required Roman names, there would have been a Jewish name, called a signum. Jews would have always referred to him by his signum or his Jewish name, Saul. So for Luke to begin exclusively calling him Paul from this point on shows the transition that has been made to a Gentile ministry. And I think it is significant that Barnabas and John keep their Jewish names. It's not until chapter 15 and the epistles that John is regularly called Mark.1 They have not dived head first into this cross cultural experience with quite as much enthusiasm as Paul has.
A third transition that we see is that it is Paul who is now emerging as the defacto leader. And I think this is in part because of his ease at working in the Gentile world. But it is also in part because of his tremendous leadership abilities. Most people automatically tend to defer to a person who has tremendous abilities. I know that I do. We do so without even thinking. We sometimes refer to this as a pecking order. We just sense the leadership. But let's trace this out. Up until this chapter, it is always Barnabas and Saul. Barnabas is listed first in chapters 9 and 11. Look at the last verse of chapter 12. It's the same there. It says, "And Barnabas and Saul…" In chapter 13:1 Barnabas is listed first. In verse 2 God Himself lists Barnabas first. He was the older gentleman, and it would be natural for him to take the leadership. Look at the second sentence in verse 7. "This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God." But from this point on, Paul begins to take the leadership. You can see the leadership initiative that he takes in verses 9-12. You can see it in verse 13 where it speaks of "Paul and his party…" Huh! His party? I thought this was Barnabas' team. What's going on here? Well, Barnabas was the team leader. But it becomes quite apparent that Paul was the natural leader, he understood Roman customs, he's the one who leads in speaking. And I don't think Barnabas necessarily resisted this. He himself recognized Paul's giftings and his special calling. From here on in, when it says Paul and Barnabas, it shows them united as Paul and Barnabas until the end of chapter 15, where the rift happens. For example, verse 46 says, "Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said…" It indicates a unitedness in this reversal of roles. But many commentators believe that John Mark resented the way his uncle Barnabas was receding in leadership. He may have taken offense on Barnabas' behalf. It doesn't appear that Barnabas took offense, but appears that Mark may have.
The fourth transition that may have been difficult for John Mark was the transition from the wealth and comfort which he experienced in chapter 12:12 (growing up in a wealthy home) to the deprivation and dangers he had been facing in verses 4 through 12 of this chapter. But those dangers were nothing compared to what they would be facing in the mountains. Verse 14 simply says, "But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia…" Luke doesn't make a big deal about it because he, Paul and Barnabas had what it took to tough it out. They didn't dwell on the difficulties. And this is a great model for us. This grueling trip wasn't anything for them to make any fuss about. But anyone who lived in that era would have known that verse 14 is talking about a grueling trip. Verse 14 is describing a trip of 100 miles by foot over the rugged Taurus mountain range. And we are not talking about walking on nice park paths, with spots to camp with a down sleeping bag. It would have been cold, grueling and dangerous. There were numerous mountain streams that had to be swum across. And Paul elsewhere said these were dangerous rivers (2 Cor. 11:26). According to historical accounts, the route was notorious for bandits, and even the Roman army hated the area and struggled to bring that wild area under control. Commentators believe that this was the territory where Paul spoke of being "in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers… in dangers from Gentiles… dangers in the wilderness… in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." (2 Cor. 11) In the face of where the team was going to go, John Mark chickened out and returned to his comfortable home. As Matthew Henry worded it, "Either he did not like the work, or he wanted to go and see his mother." But make no doubt about it, there was a definite shame in quitting at this point.
Now we would tend to sympathize with such quitters, but here's what Jesus had to say. "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62) He said that in terms of counting the cost.
He did indeed make a mistake in returning to Jerusalem (v. 13 with 15:36-41)
Now you may still wonder whether what John Mark did was wrong. And in part it may be because you would be tempted to make the same decision. We don't have many Peter Hammonds who are willing to suffer and tough it out for the cause of Christ. So let me make a case for the fact that what John Mark did here was shameful. Please turn to Acts 15:37-38. This is Luke's commentary on what happened here and the way that Paul and Luke interpreted it. Acts 15:37-38.
Acts 15:37 Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. Acts 15:38 But 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. Acts 15:39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; By the way, both of them were from aht island, so Cyprus was a less intimidating place to go to.
Paul's opinion (15:38-39)
No one questions Paul's opinion about the matter. He felt so strongly about the danger that John Mark posed to the team that he wouldn't budge. Paul thought, "There is no way that Mark is going to go on this dangerous voyage. He doesn't have what it takes." For Paul quitting was a character issue. And Barnabas' desire to bring John Mark is not a disagreement over John Mark's weakness. I think in chapter 13 Barnabas agreed with Paul. It was just a desire to give John Mark a second chance. There must have been some changes in attitude that he had seen.
Luke's opinion: "who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work" (15:38). Departed is a strong word with connotations of "rebellion..abandonment…defection" (NIDNTT)
Secondly, Luke's opinion can be seen in the phrase, "who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work." Here's some other translations that bring out nuances of the Greek: "who had abandoned them" (Darby), "who deserted them" (NIVNAB, NLT, NRSV, NASB), "who quit and deserted them" (AMP). Luke is saying that John Mark bailed out of his commitment to the work and secondly, that his leaving had moral problems. The word for "departed" is a word that can mean "rebellion… abandonment… defection." Another dictionary adds to that - the "emphasis upon separation and possible lack of concern for what has been left." (Louw & Nida). Another dictionary says that this can be translated (depending upon the context) as: "rebellion, abandonment, state of apostasy, defection…bill of divorce… deserter…to act unfaithfully, contrary to duty." Strong's says that for the active tense it has the idea of "(actively) instigate to revolt." My main dictionary says, "cause to revolt, mislead … to distance oneself from some pers. or thing." Every dictionary gives a negative moral connotation to this word. It is clear that Luke saw this as a shameful character issue as well. He sided with Paul. Now which of those nuances of meaning were involved here, we are not sure. The word is used elsewhere in Acts to incite rebellion. Was John Mark undermining Paul's decision to go across the mountains and trying to talk the rest of the team out of it? We aren't told, but Paul obviously felt very hurt by this for some years to come. Quitters rarely have any idea of the damage their quitting can have upon the work of the Lord. And so I say without any doubt that what John Mark did was a shameful thing.
He had a great heritage
His mother was Mary (Acts 12:12)
She was wealthy
Can this happen to us? Absolutely yes it can, unless the Lord keeps us walking in His grace. And John Mark is such a wonderful example of the power of God's grace to restore such a person. But at the beginning, no one thought that John Mark would be a quitter when he first started this first journey. Here's a young man with zeal and enthusiasm for the Lord. John Mark certainly had the desire. We can see that in the passage we just read in that he wanted to have a second chance. He really wanted to be in ministry. And no one could question the wonderful heritage that John Mark had. From Acts 12:12 we know that his mother was wealthy, was a praying woman and was a woman of faith. He himself was a man of prayer.
She was a praying woman
She was a woman of faith
His uncle was Barnabas (see Col. 4:10; Acts 4:36,37; 11:24)
He was a great encourager (Acts 4:36)
He had a great uncle in Barnabas. Colossians 4:10 calls Mark the cousin of Barnabas in the New King James. But the King James and some other translations have "nephew of Barnabas." And I think that is the preferable translation. The Greek is a little bit ambiguous. In this series we have already seen that Barnabas was an amazingly godly man. He was noted by the whole church as an encourager, a generous man, a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and a gifted preacher.
He was generous (Acts 4:37)
He was a good man (Acts 11:24)
He was full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:24)
He was a gifted preacher (Acts 13)
He was close to Peter (and perhaps converted by Peter) (1 Pet. 5:13)
We know from 1 Peter 5:13 that John Mark was close to Peter, and perhaps even converted by Peter. Some think that he was one of the 70 disciples sent out by Jesus. And if that was the case, he had at least been tested for a short while. That may have been why they let him on the team.
Was probably one of the 70 disciples sent out by Jesus
He had a failure of nerve
But he had a failure of nerve. And let me tell you, it's not just on the mission field that people can have a failure of nerve. Parents can desert their duty to discipline their children. Business men can have a failure of nerve to make the right ethical decision that might lose them money or lose them face. Politicians can have a failure of nerve when they are a tiny minority in the house. Judges can have a failure of nerve in the face of public opinion. And certainly, any of us can give up doing the right thing when it means discomfort, aching muscles, boredom or frustration. I can assure you that there are several John Mark's in this congregation. You simply have not toughed it out when God has called you to do something. You are quitters. You have not followed through on your commitments. You have let others down simply because you didn't feel like continuing. That is not to be taken lightly. God wants our word to be as good as gold. He wants our yes to be yes and our no to be no. And if he had made an unwise decision, we follow through – as the Bible says, even to our own hurt (Psalm 15:4). In another place the Bible says,
(Eccl. 5:4-5) When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed— Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.
In America we just don't take commitments seriously. We don't see it as a serious sin. And yet the word that is translated for departed can even mean apostasy. Now I don't think that John Mark apostatized, but it is a remarkable thing that such a strong word was used. The Bible treats it seriously. And we need to repent of our quitting our commitments and take our sins as seriously as Paul and Luke did. If we want to be used by God to change our nation, we will have to be able to persevere in the face of loneliness (when others don't join our cause), and in the face of discouragement, and opposition, and persecution and slander.
He was restored
First by Barnabas
The cool thing about John Mark is that he was restored. Even though in chapter 15 Paul didn't feel that he could risk another mission on him, Barnabas saw something there than enabled him to believe in John Mark and take another risk. And it paid off.
Eventually (after 20 years) by Paul (Col. 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Tim. 4:11)
Twenty years later we find John Mark working with Paul, facing risk of imprisonment himself by visiting Paul when others had forsaken Paul. We see that Barnabas had ministered to his weakness and infused some backbone in his young nephew. And that's a story for chapter 15. But let me give you a small preview. In Colossians 4:10 Mark is listed as one of Paul's team members some 20 years later. He speaks of the greetings from "Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him." In Philemon 24 he sends greetings from his fellow laborer Mark. And in 2 Timothy 4, in context of lamenting that all had forsaken him when he was defending himself before Caesar, he says, "Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me in ministry." What a great tribute to the change that can come over a quitter and make him someone who is faithful when everyone else is quitting. God's grace is so good.
God raised him up to write a Gospel.
Of course, the ultimate glory that Mark had was to write the Gospel that is named after him (the Gospel of Mark). Quitters can change. Quitters can be given backbone by God's grace. And so I love the character of John Mark. I can identify with the fact that he quit, but I derive great comfort from the fact that he learned by God's grace to persevere.
Different perspectives on John "the quitter"
Look at John's "departing" from his own perspective
He had endured the same perils of rivers and perils of robbers that Paul had.
Now we could just end the sermon there, and I think it would be complete if it weren't for the fact that we tend to be such rationalizers. I know how the human mind thinks. We always think that our case is unique; our case is different. We aren't quitters – we are just being reasonable. And sometimes everybody will buy your story. I think of the time when Peter Hammond made a trip to his mission station in Sudan. He had left a new ground crew there, and was coming back at an appointed time. It was a horrendously difficult trip, but he felt that his ground crew needed support and the church desperately needed the supplies they were bringing. When he got there, the ground crew had abandoned their posts, dismissed the school and headed back to South Africa just hours before Peter's two teams arrived. The national church leaders were really upset. They had instituted a board of inquiry into the disrespectful and destructive activities of the ground team that Peter had sent there. Peter had to apologize for not having tested them. That may have been in part why the John Markian ground crew had told Peter Hammond earlier that week to abort the mission. They didn't want to be the only quitters, and there was an excuse – they were experiencing torrential rains. But Peter had radioed them that he didn't quit over such things, and that they were coming and to stay put; that they would need their equipment to help them get across the river where the bridge had washed out. And the nationals had said that they fled when they got wind that Peter was just hours away. Peter had to apologize to the nationals for not having tested his ground team.
In his newsletter, Peter said "Over the years I've seen many people crack up, or give up, under the severe stresses of the field. Extreme heat, clouds of insects, tropical diseases and prolonged dangers along with all the cross cultural complications, linguistic difficulties and logistical frustrations can combine together to drive even normally strong people to bitterness or irrational despair." And apparently that's what had happened. But what hurt Peter is that Tim and Hansie who came overland through horrendous difficulties, and Peter and John who flew part way and faced tremendous dangers in coming the rest of the way, had faced many times more troubles in order to come and relieve the team. John almost died because they had not brought equipment to the river to help them. He had to cross the river on a cable that was straining and shredded, leaving chunks of his flesh behind. He fell into the river, almost drowning. But he finally managed to cross in order to get the pulleys needed from the station (that the ground crew was supposed to have brought), in order to bring the boxes and the rest of the people over. In fact, it gives you the willies when you read some of the things they went through. But when they got there, they found the station a disaster, the church angry at the attitudes and desertion of the ground crew and a major set back to their ministry. It felt like a kick in the stomach to Peter and his team. And I imagine that is what it felt like to Paul.
But the ground crew had a quite different perspective. Their attitude was, "What kind of lunatics would cross a river when the bridge has washed out, climbing on a cable that is about to snap, leaving shards of flesh from their hands and legs on the cable and thorn bushes? That's not reasonable; that's lunacy. These guys have an over-heightened sense of duty. What kind of lunatic fringe are these missionaries when they push through despite one of the team members having a high fever? Is Peter insane to land on that airstrip covered with water? What kind of lunatics are Peter and John to crawl through an area with bullets whizzing past them and thudding into the trees around them. He should have just stayed home and let us quit.
But not satisfied with that, Paul is like a crazy man. He's taking too many risks, traveling too fast, not listening to his body when it is in terrible shape. He can push himself like that, but it's not fair for him to push us.
And I'm sure that similar thoughts were going through John Mark's mind. Here's what I imagine him thinking: "Paul's not being reasonable. He won't slow down even though he has had a raging fever and malaria on this trip." And I think that Sir William Ramsay builds a pretty credible case for Galatians 4 teaching that Paul had contracted malaria in verse 13 of our chapter. And when Mark sees Paul neglecting his body for the sake of the Gospel, it makes him nervous. What's he going to do in the future? He's probably thinking, "It's not that I am a weenie. I have endured some suffering too. But there is a thin line between courage and foolhardiness." And John Mark may have thought that Paul had crossed that. "Paul travels too fast. He won't listen to his body. He takes too many risks. He can push himself like that if he wants to, but its not fair for him to push us." Listen to some of the things that Paul did on his second and third missionary journeys and you will get a feel of what John Mark was dreading. (We are trying to get his perspective here.) He was dreading exactly these things happening to him.
In first Corinthians 4 Paul said,
1Corinthians 4:11 To the present hour we [notice that it's not just Paul. "we." He's talking about his team here. "…we"] both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. 1Corinthians 4:12 And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; 1Corinthians 4:13 being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.
In 2 Corinthians Paul said,
2Corinthians 6:4 But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, 2Corinthians 6:5 in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; ... 2Corinthians 6:8 by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; 2Corinthians 11:23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 2Corinthians 11:24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 2Corinthians 11:25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 2Corinthians 11:26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 2Corinthians 11:27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
Would you have signed up, if you knew that was coming in the next portion of the trip? We need to have a little bit of sympathy for Mark. I doubt that Mark saw himself as a deserter. I doubt that he saw himself as a quitter. He saw himself as being reasonable. It wasn't until later that Mark understood the extent to which his actions undermined all that Paul was seeking to accomplish. Paul was probably thinking, "If you don't want to be on the team, fine. This is a free world. But don't come on and then bail out right in the middle, and leave us in the lurch." But you know Mark had his reasons for quitting. I doubt most of you have as good an excuse as Mark did. Paul was a tough cookie to work with.
So that is looking at the problem from John Mark's perspective. If he was the only one you had talked to, you would probably have sided with him and thought that Paul was unreasonable.
Look at John's "departing" from Barnabas' perspective
Barnabas's leadership role is taken over by Paul. That can hurt. Barnabas and Paul, Paul and Barnabas, Paul and "his party," Paul, Paul, Paul.
Let's look at the problem from Barnabas' perspective. Barnabas is a pretty reasonable man. We've already pointed out that Barnabas graciously allows Paul to take the lead. But technically Barnabas was the leader in chapters 9,11,12 and the beginning of chapter 13. I'm sure that Barnabas had a right to be peeved in chapter 15 when his ideas are being unilaterally slammed down. (Of course, to give balance – in chapter 15 they are starting a new missionary journey, and before they commit, Paul and the other team members have a right to say whether it is reasonable to start. But we are talking about giving Barnabas the benefit of the doubt now.) The transition is made obvious by Luke that where it started out Barnabas and Saul, it became Paul and Barnabas, and then Paul and "his party," and then Paul, Paul, Paul. As gentle and encouraging as Barnabas was, that had to hurt a bit. I'm sure that later factored into the eruption.
Paul's not the only one who had to take up the slack for John Mark. The "work" (15:38) that John Mark had left behind had to be picked up by the whole team.
Secondly, it wasn't just Paul who was let down. Luke and Barnabas were let down too. In chapter 15 it becomes clear that the work Mark left behind had to be picked up by the whole team. So why is Paul getting bent out of shape if I am willing to risk that again? I had to bear the load just like Paul did. I'm not a quitter, and I don't countenance quitting, but we should give Mark a second chance.
This is my nephew. I know him and love him. Paul pushes me (an old man) and I can relate to John's weariness.
Third, by the time you get to chapter 15 there may be other things that have finally led even patient Barnabas to explode. Barnabas knows his nephew better than anyone else on the team. Sure he caved in under the pressures, but let's work with him. Let's extend grace. After all, Peter denied his Lord and was a quitter too in Christ's great hour of need. I think there's a reason why Peter speaks endearingly of Mark in 1 Peter 5:13 as "Mark my son." Barnabas is approaching this problem in a relational way, not simply as a practical decision. "Yes, Paul's decision makes sense. It makes logical sense. But let's shepherd a heart here for a second."
And by the way, we need to keep in mind that Barnabas is a completely white haired man. Commentators conclude this from both his age, and from Acts 14 where Barnabas is mistaken for the Greek god Zeus and Paul is mistaken for the Greek god Hermes because of how well Paul can speak. This means Barnabas was probably having a tough time keeping up with Paul too. Though he wasn't a quitter, I'm sure this old man could no doubt sympathize with John Mark.
But at the same I think Paul is right on this, so I will stick with him. But I wouldn't be so hard on John as Paul is.
But at the same time, from chapter 13 it is clear that Barnabas knows that John Mark was wrong. He didn't buy into the insurrection, and John Mark left on his own without infecting the rest of the team with his rebellion. Barnabas proved a steadfast and united companion to Paul. But he could see two sides to this issue. He knew Paul was right, but I'm not sure he agreed with the rough, cut-and-dried way Paul approached the matter.
Look at John's "departing" from Paul's perspective
John Mark has left the team at the worst possible place. Perga (13:13) is part way to Antioch Pisidian (13:14) – a very challenging part of the journey.
But at the same time, we need to appreciate Paul's concern. Let's look at it from his perspective. You've got to realize where Mark left them in the lurch. They are in Perga, part way to Antioch Pisidian. If you look at a map you will see that they have already gone inland. If John Mark was responsible for a support role while journeying, as many commentators believe, John Mark has left them in the lurch at the worst possible place. It would have been better to have not come on the trip at all, than to have the team dependent upon him, and leave them in the lurch in the middle of the toughest portion of the journey. If Mark had even bailed a few days earlier, they might have been able to scramble to find a replacement or come up with alternative plans. But to bail out at Perga shows no consideration for the trouble and possible danger this would leave the rest of the team in. It was just irresponsible. It was a failure of duty. It was not thinking of the team. It was highly inconsiderate. That's why one of the definitions of that word "to depart" includes in its meaning to desert with "a lack of concern for what has been left" (Louw & Nida).
John Mark left them at a particularly bad time (Gal 4:13)
But there's more that made Paul say "No way." According to Galatians 4:13, Paul went into this portion of the trip very sick. According to a long essay by Ramsey, Paul got malaria in the marshes they had just gone through. The whole area is rife with malaria. To have John Mark bail out of his responsibilities during his period of miserable sickness, made the desertion even more tough to bear.
Paul and Luke were concerned about the lack of character that John Mark had shown (15:36-41 – Greek word for "departed")
Third, as I have already mentioned, the word "departed" in Acts 15 shows that both Luke and Paul realized that there was a moral character weakness that was shown in chapter 13.
The plan for the second missionary trip is to travel the same territories that had worn out John Mark (15:36). If he couldn't hack it then, why do we think he can hack it now.
Fourth, in chapter 15:36 (when they are making plans for a second missionary journey), Paul and Barnabas were planning to travel the same territories that had worn out John Mark before. That's the context of Paul's refusal – it's the same areas that John Mark had bailed out before. Paul felt that if he couldn't hack it back then, why should we believe he can do it now? This was not simply a training trip. This was a dangerous ministry trip, and there had to be solidarity for the team to make it. It's one thing to risk the possibility that a new team member might not make it, but to deliberately put a weak link into a critical trip would not be wise. I think Paul was right, even if he was a little too crusty in the way that he handled the problem. I think he was right. And I think that Barnabas realized it too because he didn't take John Mark to that dangerous area, or any other challenging area at first. He went to Cyprus, which was a civilized area that both of them were used to. It's their home island. So I think that Paul was right.
Lessons we can learn
Try to look at problems from the perspective of other people.
What are some other lessons that can be learned? First, try to look at problems from the perspective of other people. WE are so consumed at times with how a decision will affect us that we fail to think of the negative way that our decision will impact others. John Mark appears to have been blind to this. Sure he could point to Paul's unreasonable idiosyncrasies, but he was failing to consider Paul's legitimate concerns. If all three of these missionaries had done so, some of the problems could have been averted. I think we have seen from this complicated situation that John, Barnabas and Paul all had legitimate complaints and perspectives. Paul had to learn not to measure what other people could do by his tremendous stamina. Pathbreakers often make this mistake. I understand that Sturrett, one of the founders of SIM was so driven in his marches that when the other team members would pause on the ground exhausted, he would march around and around them, impatient to be on, until they got up and wearily went on. But such men need to realize that not everyone has the same constitution, and the Bible does give a place for bearing with those who are weaker. Paul learned that in 1 Thesalonians 5:14 where he said, "comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all." Now I agree with his decision not to take Mark on a strenuous journey, but it might have been worth adjusting the journey. Barnabas probably did the best at heeding 2 Corinthians 10:7 and not looking only at the outward appearance. But all three of them needed to try to trouble-shoot by looking at the problem from the perspective of the others. That's easy to say, but it is a lot harder to do when you are in the emotion of the moment. But we should pray that God would help us to see our wife's or our children's or some other person's perspective.
Give grace to others and seek to put up with their idiosyncrasies
A second lesson we can learn is that we need to give grace to others and seek to put up with their idiosyncrasies. This is not just trying to see the truth in another's perspective, but even where they are wrong, learning to put up with idiosyncrasies. John Mark learned to value Paul's driven personality and he became patient with Paul years later. Paul on his part pleaded with others saying, "I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me!" (2 Cor. 11:1). But Paul too learned to value the various personalities of each team member – even the weak ones. Years later he said, "We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves" (Rom. 15:1). In another place he said, "uphold the weak, be patient with all" (1 Thes. 5:14).
Ask God to help you consider the consequences of your quitting.
Consequences to those you have failed and upon others
Immediate difficulties caused
A third lesson we can learn is that we need to ask God to help us consider the consequences of quitting. There were immediate consequences of Mark's action that would have been hard for a malaria-weary Paul to bear.
Ripple effect upon others (15:38-39)
But we have already seen the ripple effect that his action had in chapter 15. It led to a rift between Paul and Barnabas two chapters from now. It could easily have led to the disaffection and the defection of others. Praise God it did not. But there may have been other ripple effects.
Consequences to yourself.
Shame and/or loss of credibility; distrust.
But we need to consider the consequences to ourselves. Think of the shame it will bring. And if shame is not something that bothers you, think of the loss of credibility. If you fail now, people like Paul may not trust you for later tasks. If we cannot count on you to fulfill your small commitments, don't expect us to count on you for greater tasks. You've got to prove yourself. As Christ said, "if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" (Luke 16:11).
You will miss the glory of tasting of God's supernatural
A second consequence is that you will miss out on the glory of tasting of God's supernatural grace. If the only things you tackle are the easy tasks, you will never see great grace. Christ gave the impossible tasks in the Sermon on the Mount to enable Christians to demonstrate that they have access to a grace that the world does not have. They can love the unloveable. They can bless when they are cursed. They can persevere when others are quitting. It is often only when we come to the end of our own natural energies that we experience the power of God's energies. Too many people quit before experiencing God's energizing power.
though reconciliation can take place, it can many times take years to restore what has been lost.
A third consequence is that relationships and ministries that we destroy by quitting may take years to rebuild. In the case of Mark, it took some time before he was restored to ministry with Barnabas, and it took 20 years before Paul sought him out as a valuable team member. Yes we can have forgivieness, but that doesn't instantly mean that everything is restored the way it used to be. There are consequences that often take a long time to undo.
A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city (Prov. 18:19)
Proverbs 18:19 speaks of one. It says, "A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city." You can win him, just like you can win a strong city, but you will have your work cut out for you. There are consequences.
Ask God to help you have wisdom so that you don't take on commitments that you can't finish.
A fourth lesson we can learn is to ask God to help us to have wisdom so that we don't take on commitments that we can't finish. Don't say "yes" unless you know you can finish.
Learn to depend upon God's supernatural, rather than constantly living in the ordinary of what flesh can provide. Ask God to give you supernatural perseverance.
Finally, (and this principle balances the previous one), we need to learn to depend upon God's supernatural. We should not be offended when Christian leaders ask challenges of us that require the supernatural. Instead, we should take such challenges as a complement. Too many times we depend upon ourselves and our own strength. But every person needs to learn how to experience divine grace and strength to do the impossible. There comes a time when only God can uphold you. To quit when a Goliath appears is natural to the world. But to those who have tasted of God's supernatural enabling, it is disappointing to see so many flee in the face of a Goliath. You see, each one of us has divinely appointed Goliath's that are designed to stretch us and teach us to rest upon the everlasting arms of the Almighty. If you could do it alone, there would be no need for God's grace. The call to persevere in the face of pain and discomfort is the call to persevere in God's grace. It's not legalism. Don't settle for less than the supernatural. Live by faith.
Let me end with a poem. I have not been able to find the author of this poem, but I think it is a challenge that fits the situation of John Mark well. The poet said,
When things go wrong as they sometimes will, When the road you're trudging seems all up hill, When the funds are low and the debts are high, And you want to smile, but you have to sigh, When care is pressing you down a bit, Rest if you must, but don't you quit. Life is queer with its twists and turns, As everyone of us sometimes learns, And many a failure turns about When he might have won had he stuck it out; So don't give up, though the pace seems slow - For you may succeed with another blow. Often the goal is nearer than it seems To a faint and faltering man, Often the struggler has given up, When he might have captured the victor's cup. And he learned too late when the night slipped down, How close he was to the golden crown. Success is failure, turned inside out, The silver tint of the clouds of doubt. And you never can tell how close you are, It may be near when it seems afar; So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit, It's when things seem worst that you mustn't quit.
May God save us from being quitters. Amen.
Children of God, I charge you – Don't be quitters. Persevere in God's grace and prove yourselves to be men and women after God's own heart. Amen.
Earlier it is "John, the one who is called Mark" (John 12:12,25) or simply John (13:5,13). It appears that he was called "John" by the people in chapters 12 and following, and the writer is clarifying that this was not the apostle John, but the John who came to be known as Mark. But it does not appear that he was called "Mark" until chapter 15. ↩