From One to Two

Acts 15:36-41

36After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. 39The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. 41He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Paul and Barnabas are about to go on their second missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them, but Paul did not.  For reasons not given, Mark had deserted them during their first missionary journey, so Paul thought it best that they not take him on their second missionary journey. The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas got so sharp, the two decided to go their separate ways. Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus, while Paul took Silas and went to Syria.

So, who was this Mark, who split up Paul and Barnabas?  According to Colossians 4:10, he was a cousin of Barnabas.  Mark’s mother, Mary, was apparently a prominent early Christian in Jerusalem, where she hosted worship and prayer meetings in their large home. Back in Acts 12, when Peter was miraculously released from prison, he knew to head to Mary’s house.

Whatever happened in his youth that made Mark desert Paul and Barnabas, he became a reliable Christian worker.  Peter was so fond of him, he referred to Mark as “son” (1 Peter 5:13). He also proved himself to Paul, since in 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul asks Timothy to bring Mark with him when he comes to visit Paul, “because he is helpful to me in my ministry”.

This is all happening after the Jerusalem Council. In Galatians 2, Paul talks about the reason for his rift between Barnabas as based on doctrine.  Luke apparently saw the main reason as a disagreement about what to do with Mark.  Paul did not want someone he felt he could not count on when things got tough. Perhaps because Mark was his cousin, Barnabas thought it best to give Mark another chance to prove himself as a reliable co-worker.

When there is a major disagreement between two prominent leaders, it often does not work out well for a church and its ministry.  Things can get personal, people take sides, and splits and fractures often happen, leading to hurt feelings and resentments.

But that is not what happened here.  Yes, Paul and Barnabas ended up splitting up, but the result was that a single ministry group became two, and both continued to pursue doing God’s work.  The result was that young churches and believers were strengthened by both groups.

Mark, given a second chance, made the best of it. Most scholars believe that this is the Mark who wrote the oldest of the four gospels, which both Matthew and Luke used as a source. Some believe that the young man who is caught but runs away as Jesus is being arrested is Mark inserting himself into the writing.

What made Mark desert Paul and Barnabas in the first place? The incident is recorded in Acts 13:13 but does not provide any reasons.  He was a young man who belonged to a wealthy family in Jerusalem, so he probably had a comfortable life.  Since his mother was a well-known believer, as was his cousin, Barnabas, he may have felt it was the right thing to do to join their first missionary journey, to accompany the famous Paul.  The hard conditions of travel as well as meeting oppositions might not have been what Mark was expecting. So, it could well have been a form of homesickness that caused him to head home, as many scholars have speculated.

We could also envision that his mother was not all that happy once he got home and realized that he had deserted Paul and Barnabas. That might have been the start of his turning his life around. These missionary journeys were important works for the Kingdom, filled with hardships and dangers, and if he wanted to try it again, not only would he have to convince people that he had changed, but also be given a chance.  Paul was not convinced and was not willing to take him on the second missionary journey, but Barnabas gave him a chance, and Mark made the most of this opportunity.

Sometimes churches and ministries do split up, for legitimate reasons. There are also times where the split occurs over preferences or minor theological disagreements. What we can learn from this passage is that sometimes, differences of opinion can be used to branch out the work of a church or ministry to multiply the direction and the people. Through this, the people of God can be served better.

The passage also reminds us that we could mess up, but if we learn from it and repent, God can still use us for His Kingdom work.  It also reminds us that just because someone messed up, it is still possible that God can use them mightily going forward, if there was genuine repentance.

So let us be true to our convictions and the work God has given us, but at the same time, repent when we make mistakes, as well as be willing to give second chances.

It is a great thing to know that God can use our disagreements, our failings, our repentance, and our willingness to offer second chances, to further His Kingdom.

(This is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano at our worship service on February 13, 2022.)