36 And after some days 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." 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.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. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (ESV)
Many American evangelicals read this passage and think Paul is overreacting. After all, doesn’t Paul find John Mark useful later on when Paul is in prison?
Colossians 4:10 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). (ESV)
2 Timothy 4:11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. (ESV)
We need to understand that Paul was not overreacting. The brothers commended Paul and sent him off on his second missionary journey. But if Paul was not overreacting, what is going on?
Here is my reading of the text:
Paul understands that the life and practice of a minister is his message (Gal. 2:11-14; and all of 2 Cor.). For Paul to take John Mark with them on this trip will contradict his very message, which often goes like this, “imitate me” and even “imitate us” (see 2 Thes. 3:7-9; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; Heb 13:7). Not only is Paul the apostle to be imitated, but his whole team.
Interestingly, John Mark is permitted to go with Barnabas to Create, which was the leg of the first missionary journey that he had gone on. But also note that we never really hear of anything else of this journey.
Barnabas was an encourager; he likely saw that John Mark was repentant and was much more ready to endure the abuse which is poured out on missionaries. However, it must be recognized that even a minor infraction like leaving early on his first trip can have long term consequences.
Only after studying with Peter, the apostle best known for his ability to shrink back under pressure (again Gal. 2:11-14), did John Mark really get restored and become profitable again, even to the point of writing my favorite gospel.
The day after Ted Haggard’s confession, I heard someone say, “Some day Ted will write a book about all this, that’s what they do.” And this is why Ted should never be restored to the ministry, even if he is restored to Jesus Christ and body of Christ, his church.
Let the minor infraction of John Mark help us think more clearly about the major infractions of Ted and others in leadership.