People who assert that humankind has morally evolved over time must not read the same books I do. Political intrigue and sharp dissent are nothing new, and unfortunately they find their way into the Church as well.
Again, not that that’s anything new.
What I find fascinating, however, is how God uses even our relational disputes to His kingdom advantage. Case in point:
“After some time Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.’ Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus.”
Barnabas and Paul were this new religion’s dynamic duo, so their split must have caused no little concern to the higher-ups. (Thankfully, there was no Facebook or Twitter at that time; one can only imagine…)
Barnabas, who’s name means Son of Encouragement, was well aware of John Mark’s action, his decision to walk away. It may have even been a true turning-his-back-on-God time of life for the younger man. Paul didn’t have the emotional energy for such a man, whereas Barnabas was willing to extend a second chance.
So glad he did, too, because John Mark is better know today as Saint Mark, the writer of the gospel bearing his name, and believed to be not only the earliest biography of Jesus, possibly providing information for Matthew and Luke, but is also considered to be the memoirs of Peter.
Evidently, God had a plan for this “backslider”.
In addition, it’s highly possible that Paul learned a lesson from this. We can see that, as an older man now bearing many scars from persecution and currently in prison for his faith, he finds himself in a similar situation with a runaway slave named Onesimus:
“I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus. I became his father in the faith while here in prison. Onesimus[c] hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.
It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me.”
Wow. Talk about an attitude adjustment! Like Barnabas, who saw something worth taking another chance in John Mark, Paul sees fit to give this fugitive a blank check with his own reputation.
However, one stimulating speculation is that this runaway-slave-converted-disciple went on later to become the same Onesimus that history records as the first Bishop of Ephesus. And this was at a time when Ephesus was an important publishing clearinghouse, gathering and copying and distributing (thus preserving) the writings of the early church, such as the letters of—you guessed it—Paul.
Take home? God can use even our disagreements, (or as my pastor says, “God is more powerful than my stupid”), and second (and third and fourth…) chances can have powerful consequences.
For we are ALL to be sons (and daughters) of Encouragement.
Acts 15:36-39; Philemon 1:10-12,15-17 Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.