Time To Move Forward (Reconciliation after apochoœrizoœ)

Time To Move Forward
Robert Wurtz II

Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus. The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments. (2 Timothy 4:9–13 KJV)

It is hard to read the book of Acts and not be troubled by the situation that arose concerning Mark (John Mark), the nephew of Barnabas. Because John Mark did not go to the work with Paul and Barnabas when they travelled to Pamphylia, Paul did not “think it worthy” to take him on the new journey in Acts 15. The statement “think it worthy” is a little stilted, but that is the import of the Greek words used to describe the incident. I concur with Matthew Henry’s assessment of the matter, “Paul did not think John Mark worthy of the honour, nor fit for the service, who had departed from them […].” It is possible that there was more to the quarrel than Luke has told us. The incident of Galatians 2:11-14 may have occurred at this time, in which Barnabas as well as Peter vacillated on the question of eating with Gentile believers. The matter seems to have been quickly settled, but the memory of it may have remained to exacerbate this present dispute. (David J. Williams, NIBC on Acts 15:39, 272-273).

“Dispute” is probably not a strong enough term to describe the event. In fact, both renowned Greek scholars Marvin Vincent and A.T. Robertson describe the event as an angry outburst.

The contention was so sharp (paroxusmos). More correctly, there arose a sharp contention. Only here and Hebrews 10:24. Our word paroxysm is a transcription of paroxusmo\ß. An angry dispute is indicated. (Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament).  

A sharp contention (paroxusmos). Our very word paroxysm in English. Old word though only twice in the N.T. (here and Heb. 10:24), from paroxunoœ, to sharpen (para, oxus) as of a blade and of the spirit (Acts 17:16; 1 Cor. 13:5). This “son of consolation” loses his temper in a dispute over his cousin and Paul uses sharp words towards his benefactor and friend. It is often so that the little irritations of life give occasion to violent explosions. If the incident in Gal. 2:11-21 had already taken place, there was a sore place already that could be easily rubbed. And if Mark also joined with Peter and Barnabas on that occasion, Paul had fresh ground for irritation about him. But there is no way to settle differences about men and we can only agree to disagree as Paul and Barnabas did. So that they parted asunder from one another (hoœste apochoœristheœnai autous ap’ alleœloœn). Actual result here stated by hoœste and the first aorist passive infinitive of apochoœrizoœ, old verb to sever, to separate, here only and Rev. 6:4 in the N.T. […]. This is the last glimpse that Luke gives us of Barnabas, one of the noblest figures in the New Testament. Paul has a kindly reference to him in 1 Cor. 9:6. No one can rightly blame Barnabas for giving his cousin John Mark a second chance nor Paul for fearing to risk him again. One’s judgment may go with Paul, but one’s heart goes with Barnabas […]. Paul and Barnabas parted in anger and both in sorrow. Paul owed more to Barnabas than to any other man. Barnabas was leaving the greatest spirit of the time and of all times. (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament) 

Passing Blame

When situations such as these happen it is not helpful to work to assign blame. What God had joined together was now being put asunder. That is where our vexation should focus. The Holy Spirit had separated these two men for the ministry and now they have gone their separate ways. What a travesty. A chorus of a thousand theologians could not convince me that this was God’s will. Both men should have focused on the ministry they were both utterly devoted too and not become incensed at the situation at hand. Their separation had greater consequences than anything John Mark would have caused. But what was done was done and they had to find a way to go forward.

We know that Paul changed his opinion of John Mark as Colossians 4:10 clearly demonstrates. At some point Mark had changed his conduct and was “profitable” for the ministry. Paul told Timothy, “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.” Where once Paul suggested he was “unworthy” now he is “profitable.” As A.T. Robertson puts it, “Most assuredly Now Paul longs to have the man that he once scornfully rejected (Acts 15:37ff.)”

Moving Forward

When Paul reached the end of his life he looked around and some of the people he had trusted to the end had forsaken him. Yet here is John Mark still being faithful after all these years. God even used him to pen the Gospel of Mark if tradition is to be believed. That is a profound demonstration of God’s grace. 

Sometimes we think that men like Paul are too great to make mistakes — if we want to call it that. It’s not true. It wasn’t true then and it’s not true now. One thing we can say is that Paul changed his mind about Mark. The embrace wherewith he desired him in the end exceeded the rejection he felt for him in the beginning. Unworthy? Nay verily, “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus. The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” If the order of words indicates Paul’s emphasis he placed John Mark ahead of everything. He wanted to see him one last time before he died. Undoubtedly he wanted to confirm his love towards him.

I like happy endings. This was a happy ending. No loose ends to tie up. Everything made right. This is how it ought to be. Matters that seem so important in the moment often do not stand the test of time. It’s easy to talk tough when you have your whole life ahead of you. But oh how feelings change when you have time to really think about things. Paul thought about it. I don’t think myself a blasphemer to say that there was probably not a day that went by that Paul did not feel regret. It’s not too bad a word, regret. Have you ever felt it? It just means we feel sad and disappointed about something that happened in the past that we cant go back and change. We have to live with it. But what we do with regret is what matters. The anger he felt that day he and Barnabas separated transitioned into a slow burn of an aching sadness that undoubtedly taught him much about what it means to truly love. This is love in shoe leather. Had Paul lived to be a hundred years old he would have still sought out this man John Mark. He had to make sure 100% that John Mark knew that he accepted him as a legitimate man of God and fellow worker in the Gospel. 

“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”” (1 Peter 4:8 NKJV)  


Help Them Up

Help Them Up
Robert Wurtz II

Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11) 

Demas having forsaken Paul, he now longs to have Mark, the young man that he once rejected (Acts 15:37ff) brought to him. John Mark had once forsaken Paul and Barnabas (son of encouragement) as he went back while on a mission. Barnabas determined to take John Mark again, but Paul refused. They both stood their ground and ended up dividing asunder from one another. Barnabas went his way and took John Mark. Paul went another way and took Silas. John Mark deserved to be rejected in this situation because he was not proven for such a difficult mission. Rejection is a terrible feeling. Do you recall a time when maybe you wanted to go somewhere with your parents and they left you behind? That feeling of rejection never improves. Perhaps we could say that Barnabas was also right to give John Mark a break as well. In my view, both Paul and Barnabas were right from each point of view. John Mark was ‘down’, but will Paul keep him down? 

A helping hand

I shall never forget as a child seeing a younger boy slipping into the river- near to be swept away by the rushing water. The look on his face is forever etched into my mind. He was in desperate need of help. The other boy that was with us just laughed as if it were funny. At once we pulled him to safety. I have reflected on this very picture from time to time. Imagine a brother or sister almost swallowed up in some sin or scandal and that desperate look of hopelessness and fear is on their face (as it were). And the only thing standing between them and certain destruction is the mercy of their fellow man. Will we toss them a life preserver or will we throw them the anchor? How would we want to be treated?  

Not Let Up

Have you ever known of a person to make a mistake or suffer some failure and people (in a general sense) just won’t let them live it down? They make a mistake at school and suddenly they are identified with that one mistake or failure for the rest of their lives. Forget the fact that they have lived and accomplished all sorts of things; they have a failure and now they are marked for life. Convicted felons deal with this phenomena every day of their life. Having paid their debt to society, often society is not satisfied. Professional athletes make one mistake and suddenly they are identified with that mistake. It is obscene. But there it is. Fallen man loves to get a person down and then refuse to let them up. Perhaps it gives a sense of greatness to the one looking down at their fallen neighbor. Whatever the reasoning one thing is sure, we always offer a hand up to the people we love. 

A Changed Opinion

Sometimes when ministers teach or preach on the life of John Mark we are left with the impression that it was not until 2 Timothy 4:11 that Paul finally saw some usefulness in John Mark. But this is not the case at all. Paul had long ago changed his opinion of John Mark as we see in Colossians 4:10. Acts 15 took place circa 50-54 CE and the writing of Colossians took place ca. 60-64 CE. 

Apparently Mark had matured and made good in his ministry. We have this description by Marvin Vincent, “John Mark is mentioned in Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24 and 1 Peter 5:13. Probably the same John Mark as in Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37. He is called the “cousin of Barnabas” (Colossians 4:10). The first mention of him since the separation from Paul in Acts 15:39 occurs in Colossians and Philemon. He is commended to the church at Colossae. In 1Peter 5:13 he sends salutations to Asia (Marcus ‘my son’). In both Colossians and Philemon his name appears along with that of Demas. In Colossians he is named shortly before Luke and along with Aristarchus. He (Mark) is about to come to Asia where 2nd Timothy finds him. The appearance in Colossians of Aristarchus with Mark and of Demas with Luke is probably the point of connection with the representation in 2 Timothy.” These occurrences leave little doubt that John Mark had been fully restored to the ministry by both Peter and Paul by 60-64 CE. This means his hiatus was no longer than 10 years and could be as short as 7 years (if not shorter).

Profitable for the Ministry 

Profitable for the ministry is euchreston diakonian (εὔχρηστος εἰς διακονίαν). Εὔχρηστος (euchreston) means profitable and is found here, chapter 2:21 and Philemon 1:11. (A.T. Robinson) This is the same word as is used when Paul writes Philemon concerning the runaway slave Onesimus; Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me (Philemon 11). Here we have Paul pleading with Philemon to restore the man. This was the established pattern of Paul’s life. In fact, in the case of Onesimus Paul told his slave holder that if Onesimus had caused any financial loss he (Paul) would repay it. This is how convinced Paul was of change in the man, and how willing he was to restore when he identified the change. 

Modern Attitudes Contrasted

Christians today may remember John Mark as the young guy that abandoned Paul and Barnabas, but by the time his life ran its course it is plausible that the people didn’t care anymore. They took their eyes off the past failure and placed it on a present reality. It is the world’s business to get people down and hold them down (as the masses laugh and jeer). Its what they do. They love to laugh at and mock people. But it ought not so to be in the churches of God. We need to let them up. Not ‘just’ let them up, but help them up. We need to let people get past their past. We need to forget those things which are behind; not just our own failures, but the failures of others. The Golden Rule is in play. None of us would like to be remembered for something that happened 1, 5, 10, 20, 30 years ago. We ought to convey to others the same mercy we would want for ourselves.    

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