Encouragement is a rare commodity. Strife and division abound in today’s culture, so much so that it seems things have never been worse. Even within the church, we find sharp divisions between believers over politics, doctrine, gifts, and personalities. Despite our call to love one another, Christians often doesn’t look much different from the world.
If the lack of encouragement and unity makes you wish Jesus would simply come and rapture us now, you might be surprised to know that two of the most respected leaders in the early Christian church encountered the same problem, just a few years after Jesus walked the earth! The source of their division was a man named John Mark.
John Mark was the son of Mary, whose large house the early disciples used for church meetings. (Acts 12:12.) John Mark was likely present when Peter was supernaturally released from Herod’s prison, fleeing to Mary’s house to rejoin the praying believers. Peter’s testimony must have made a powerful impact on John Mark, for later we read that Peter considered John Mark his spiritual son (1 Peter 5:13).
John Mark was also the cousin of Barnabas. He likely had the gift of “helps,” and the heart of a servant. Paul wrote in Philemon 24 that John Mark was a helper, a rare “fellow worker in ministry.” Paul mentioned him again 2 Timothy 4:11 as someone who was “useful to me in my ministry."
Immediately after a powerful commissioning by the church at Antioch, Paul and Barnabas decided to take John Mark on a first missionary journey with them. (See Acts 13:1-5.) After all, here was a gifted and able young man, ready for ministry. Unfortunately, for reasons never explained, John Mark traveled only as far as Perga in Pamphylia before leaving the two apostles and returning to Jerusalem, alone. (Acts 13:13.)
When the time came for another missionary journey, "Barnabas was determined to take with him John called Mark. 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. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.” (Acts 15:37-40.)
What a sad story! Paul and Barnabas, two of the church’s first apostles, ended forever their joint ministry, and became like boys on a playground, each choosing “besties” for their respective teams. In Lystra, Paul also met Timothy and adopted him as another spiritual son and “helper” for his own ministry.
I’m guessing that John Mark might have felt just a little rejected when Paul disqualified him from ministry! John Mark’s story could have ended here, with failure and division. But praise God, Barnabas (whose name means “son of the prophet” or “son of encouragement,” chose to encourage John Mark, and continued to mentor him in ministry.
Will the Real John Mark Please Stand Up?
Because someone believed in him despite his previous failure in ministry, John Mark became one of the most prominent ministers of the Gospel. You may not realize that this rejected and restored believer is now known to Christians worldwide as simply “Mark,” the author of the earliest Gospel written!
Mark’s historical account of Jesus is the one upon which all the other Gospels are said to be based. His writing (probably stories Peter shared with him about Jesus, since Mark was not an eyewitness), has impacted countless thousands and changed the course of history.
Because someone believed in Mark, Mark’s ministry enabled thousands of others to believe in Jesus. Without encouragement from Barnabas, Mark might not have been restored to ministry after what Paul perceived to be weakness or failure. By the grace of God, Barnabas believed Mark deserved a second chance. (For more on grace, click here.) What a contrast to the judgmental attitudes of so many in ministry!
Encouragement Leads to Happy Endings
Encouragement can mean the difference between success and failure in life. Because encouragement is so closely related to prophecy (see 1 Corinthians 14:3), it is imperative that we be listening to God to hear what He has to say about the people around us.
John Mark’s story has a happy ending; in reading Colossians 4:10-11, we find that Paul, near the end of his life and ministry, made amends with Mark. He writes: “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for the Kingdom of God who are of the circumcision; they have proved to be a comfort to me.”
Over time, Paul realized Marks’ worth and recognized his faithfulness, despite Mark’s earlier ministry failure. How wonderful to see that God restored a lost relationship and healed the division! John Mark endeared himself even to Paul as a faithful servant of Christ, and went on to encourage persecuted believers in Rome and beyond with the writing of his Gospel.
Whom can you encourage today? Is there someone who caused strife between you and another believer, who deserves a second chance? Please pray with me:
Father, I repent of any strife or division I have caused because of judgments I’ve made about people You love. Forgive me for unfairly rejecting others because of my unforgiveness or self-righteousness. Open my eyes to the redemptive qualities of each individual in my life. Show me how I can put the prophetic power of encouragement to work, enabling every believer to fulfill their unique call in Your Kingdom. Amen!
© Deborah Perkins / HisInscriptions.com. All Bible references NKJV unless noted.
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.