July 25

Paul Learns a Lesson

II Timothy 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.

The story of Mark (see yesterday’s devotional) is one of the most powerful, subtle, and encouraging secondary stories of the New Testament. But it’s not just Mark’s story. It’s part of Paul’s story as well.

Paul had been on a successful missionary trip with Barnabas, the great “encourager” of the early church. It’s understandable, perhaps, that he didn’t want to have John Mark go along for the second trip when he had left them during the first trip. Perhaps he was thinking of Proverbs 25:19: “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint.” But we’ll never know for sure, as the Scriptures don’t tell us.

Was Paul too harsh? Was he just a bottom-line kind of guy? Was he trying to avoid further inconvenience on a challenging trip? Was he not very forgiving? Did he perhaps miss John Mark’s spiritual potential and need for a mentor?

We don’t know his thinking, but we do know that Paul loved the Lord, and eventually, his heart softened toward John Mark. But what about his attitude toward Barnabas? One might think from Acts 15 that their relationship was irretrievably broken. Reading Galatians 2:13 only seems to highlight the continuing tension between the two: “And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with [Peter], so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.”

But as he did with John Mark, Paul seems to have softened toward Barnabas. By the time we get to I Corinthians 9:5-6 (written perhaps about a half-dozen years after Galatians), Paul says this: “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas [Peter]? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?” Barnabas is now considered a fellow minister, an equal, a man of respect that Paul can turn to as an example of godly ministry.

We don’t know exactly what changed. Perhaps Paul remembered that it was Barnabas who introduced him to the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 9), and who helped remove the stain from his earlier reputation as an enemy of the church. Perhaps God was simply able to work over time to bring forgiveness and understanding (or even repentance) to Paul. How good to know that two great ministers eventually reconnected, even if just in heart, and that differences didn’t finally win over spiritual unity and common ministry.

Are you presently disconnected with anyone you used to serve with? Can the Lord touch that situation without a negative reaction from you? Are you open to the moving of His Spirit in that area? And one last question: Since you’ve changed over time, is it possible that they have too?

Prayer: Father, help me to have fresh, spiritual eyes to those that have separated from me. Help me to see what You are doing now, not just what the enemy might have done in the past. Since You changed Paul’s heart, I pray You’d change mine.

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