The Opportunities of Youth
At Perga the apostle Paul suffered from an experience that left a deep impression upon his mind and heart, the true depths of which may be learned by the reading of Acts 15:36-41. It was an experience that determined Paul’s course of action at a later date, and resulted in a sad breach of fellowship between himself and the man with whom he had laboured so fruitfully, Barnabas. This experience is simply stated, “And John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.” The result of John Mark’s action at this time was very extensive.
It is readily conceded that youth is the season of greatest opportunity, and while it is not true that opportunity never knocks twice, it is true that opportunity never knocks with greater zest than when knocking on the heart door of youth. Opportunity is a favour not to be greeted as one would a passing neighbour, but rather to be lovingly embraced as an intimate friend.
Opportunity knocked one day on the heart door of young John Mark. His uncle Barnabas had been serving the Lord in company with Paul the Apostle, and because of this there came to him the privilege to join them in their missionary work, and to go with them into Galatia. There are three chapters in the history of the early days of this young man which require careful consideration; the opportunity he accepted, the objection he adopted, and the offence he allowed.
The Opportunity He Accepted (Acts 13:5):
“They had also John to their minister.” It would be difficult to fully evaluate the importance of this great privilege granted John Mark. It was an occasion in which there was every possibility:
First, to deepen particular knowledge of the Word of God. Job said, “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). Jeremiah also said, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jer. 15:16). The Word of God is of vital importance to the Christian. No greater opportunity could ever have come to John Mark than to have been with the Apostle Paul whose special ministry, through Inspiration, was to complete the Word of God (Col. 1:25). Paul, through Divine revelation, completed the doctrines of Holy Scripture. John could have acquired a great knowledge of the Bible, particularly as it bears upon Church life and testimony.
Second, to diligently participate in service for Christ. It is true that he was with these two brethren in the lesser capacity of an attendant, but was that in itself not a wonderful opportunity to serve the Lord? He entered with them upon an effort in pioneer work which was to stretch into a period of some three years, and which was to result in the spread of the gospel throughout the Province of Galatia. It was also to climax in the founding of four apostolic churches. In that time, three years, and in that variety of activities: gospel preaching, ministry of the Word, establishing of churches, there was much room for an ever increasing service for Christ.
Third, to develop personal experience in the work of the Lord. Experience is a wonderful teacher, and all theory needs to be supplemented by practice. What wonderful experiences Paul and Barnabas had during this, their first missionary tour! There were trials and triumphs, miracles and malignity, the palace of the proconsul and the persecution of the populace. There was a Timothy to meet and a Gauis with whom to get acquainted. What experiences indeed!
Fourth, to delightfully practise fellowship with the brethren. There was Christian fellowship with the two servants of Christ, and there was church fellowship with the young assemblies.
What a wonderful opportunity came to John! By it he could have deepened his own spiritual life, expanded his usefulness and sphere in the ways of God, and laid up for himself a recompense in Glory. These would more than have compensated for any sacrifice he might have made.
The Objection He Adopted (Acts 13:13):
“John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.” How gracious of God, and how considerate of Luke to treat with such delicate silence so affecting a scene as the one depicted in this terse statement. There have been many conjectures made as to what John’s reasons were; these probably could have been based on:
First, cowardice: The trials of the way could have been too adverse. The temptation to seek an easier path could have induced him to leave the path of duty, and, had John returned to the shelter and fellowship of the more congenial atmosphere at Antioch this might be the more plausible explanation. He might have gone back to Antioch and possibly have saved his face before the brethren at Jerusalem, instead he did not return to Antioch; he returned home to Jerusalem.
This therefore could lead to the conclusion that his second reason for leaving was possibly based upon
Prejudice: John Mark was brought up in Jerusalem where James was so important a figure, and his relationship with Peter was most intimate (1 Peter 5:13). It could have been prejudice against Paul’s broader vision, and his teaching relative to the Body of Christ. Paul’s attitude and teaching may have created a conflict with the more exclusive conception of John. Which ever was the true reason, the result was sad in every way. Let us give heed to the sad aftermath.
The Offence Allowed (Acts 15:37-41) :
“They departed asunder one from the other.” The extensive consequence of John Mark’s action can only be appraised as we view it in the manner it affected all three persons involved.
John Mark: Much has been made of the two references by Paul to this younger brother in latter years. Both of these should be carefully investigated in order to ascertain their full import. The first is found in Colossians 4:10 where Mark is in company with Paul and is called a fellow-worker unto the Kingdom of God, but the remark concerning his reception at Colosse, should he visit there, is thought provoking. It is evident that special instruction had been sent by which assembly action was to be governed. Fourteen years had passed since John had left Perga for Jerusalem. Is there here a refinement and a reserve which veils misspent years, a love that covers and yet would endeavour to restore confidence? It appears so. Paul’s second reference is found in 2 Timothy 4:11, here we have the highest word of commendation. “Take Mark, and bring him with thee; for he is profitable to me for the ministry.” He has now the appreciation and confidence of the Apostle, but twenty years have elapsed since he forsook the opportunity of serving with Paul. It is always difficult to regain confidence when this has once been forfeited.
Barnabas: We never read of Barnabas sharing any of the further labours of Paul. Barnabas took Mark and sailed unto Cyprus. A comparison with Acts 4:36 will reveal that Barnabas actually returned home. It is true that Paul mentions him once (1 Cor. 9:6) some six years later, but we never definitely read of their being together in service again. There is a grave silence over the movements of Barnabas in early Church history. The man who was such a comfort at Jerusalem, and who had been so useful in Antioch, and so extremely kind to Paul vanishes from public view because of the unwarranted action of John Mark.
Paul: From what has already been stated some conception of the personality of Paul has been obtained. He was sensitive, and felt keenly what happened at Paphos; nevertheless, he was forgiving and did not hold any grudge against either Barnabas or John. He was sympathetic and considerate, and was ever ready to help recover a loss sustained even by foolish action; notwithstanding, he was firm and of a strong character. When a man made a wrong decision, and rejected a God given opportunity, and when these affected the work of God, he remained unmoveable. His attitude to the offender was an intelligent sympathy; he regretted that a mistake had been made, but he was spiritually minded enough to see that the work of God did not suffer.
He that knows nothing knows enough if he knows how to hold his tongue.
Conversion is a deep work, a heart work. It goes throughout the man, throughout the mind, throughout the members, throughout the entire life.