Regular Christians (Part 12): John Mark

Regular Christians

John Mark was one who departed, but returned to faithfulness. We can read about his failing during the first preaching tour of Paul and Barnabas.

Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).

We are not told the reason why John Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas. He could have left them due to some sinful attitude. He might have been immature and could not continue on the journey with them for that reason. Or he may have simply changed his mind and thought his presence and work would be better in Jerusalem. Regardless of the reason, the bottom line is that he proved to be unreliable and undependable. Yet he later demonstrated in some way that he was faithful and could be depended upon. This was why Paul was able to tell Timothy, “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Timothy 4:11). Previously, he could not be relied upon for faithful service; but by this time he proved reliable for the Lord’s work.

His example shares some similarities with Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24). For the sake of space, I will just include a summary of the parable rather than a full reproduction of the text: the younger son asked his father for his portion of the inheritance; upon receiving it, he went to a faraway country and squandered everything; after he hit rock bottom, he came to his senses and returned to his father with a willingness to be nothing more than a servant; and when he returned, his father welcomed him with open arms. The reason John Mark left Paul and Barnabas may not have been the same reason why the prodigal son left home, but the point is the same. Those who will humble themselves and return can be welcomed back.

As we think about the example of John Mark – especially when we consider the application of those who desert not just their brethren, but the Lord – there are a few points we need to remember:

  • Do not think that you cannot fall away – Though some believe in the false Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverance of the saints (sometimes referred to as “once saved, always saved”), the Scriptures teach that it is possible for Christians to fall away. Paul warned, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Numerous passages warn about the danger of apostasy (Romans 11:22; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 5:4; et al.).
  • Do not think that you cannot return – If, through our own unfaithfulness, we desert the Lord and let down our brethren, we can come back. God is faithful to forgive us: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Even though John Mark let down Paul, he was able to be “useful” to him once again (2 Timothy 4:11). However, we must not just say we will do better; we must prove to be dependable. As the wise man said, “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?” (Proverbs 20:6).

In terms of how this applies specifically to our relationship with the Lord, if we fall away we must be willing to make things right with Him. When Simon sinned after he obeyed the gospel, Peter told him, “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). We have the responsibility to do this. When it is necessary, it is urgent that we repent and return to the Lord because the longer we remain separated from Him, the more difficult it is to return. We may become so hardened by sin that repentance becomes increasingly difficult. The Hebrew writer warned, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13). Paul told Timothy of the possibility of becoming “seared in [our] own conscience” (1 Timothy 4:2) so that we no longer feel guilt for sin. It is incredibly dangerous to depart this far from the Lord.

John Mark proved to be unfaithful when he deserted Paul and Barnabas – possibly unfaithful to the Lord, but certainly unfaithful (untrustworthy/unreliable) to his brethren. When he wanted to do the right thing later and Paul refused to welcome him on the next journey (Acts 15:36-39), he did not become bitter against Paul and, therefore, stop trying to labor for the Lord; instead he went to work with Barnabas in Cyprus. If we fall away, we must return to the Lord and resume working for Him as we had done previously. Some brethren may be slow to trust us to faithfully continue (sometimes understandably, sometimes unfairly); but let us serve the Lord anyway and, through our labors, prove to be useful to Him and to others.

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