Haven of Truth Article – A Very Hopeful Verse
By Pastor Barry Black
“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast.” Hebrews 6.19
The Bible is a living book filled with truth for daily living. Sometimes a single verse can speak volumes. However, as with all scripture, we must interpret scripture with and by scripture, and not build a doctrine around a single verse (known as “prooftexting”). With that in mind, let us take a look at the passages of scripture concerning Mark. At the end of his life, the Apostle Paul told Timothy: “Bring Mark with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry.” (2 Timothy 4.10) (See also our article “A Very Sad Verse”in the “Haven of Truth” section.) First though, let us back up to earlier references to Mark.
All in the Family
We know a little of the man named Mark. He is mentioned several times in the New Testament, sometimes he is called “John” (Acts 13.5,13) (but not to be confused with John the Apostle), sometimes“John Mark” (Acts 12.25), sometimes he is called “Marcus” (Colossians 4.10; Philemon 24). His mother’s name was Mary. Mary lived in Jerusalem, and quite possibly Mark lived with her. It is possible that Mary was a widow since nothing is mentioned of John’s father. The scripture tells us in Acts 12.12:
“…he (Peter) came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.
Apparently John Mark had the spiritual heritage of a Christian mother that believed in prayer, and was willing to open her home for believers to gather for prayer (Acts 12.5, 12).
Mark was the nephew of Barnabas: Colossians 4.10 “Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)
Mark is also mentioned in the book of Philemon along with three other of Paul’s friends in ministry; one of which was Demas:“Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow-labourers.” (Philemon vs. 24)
The influence of the Apostle Peter
1 Peter 5.13 “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.”
It is quite possible that Mark had been converted through Peter’s personal influence. If not, it is evident that he was at least mentored or discipled by the Apostle Peter. Peter was a “spiritual Father” to Mark, much the same way Paul was to Timothy (see 2 Timothy 1.2). At the opening of Acts 12, Simon Peter is in prison and awaiting execution, as commanded by Herod (see Acts 12.1-6). While Peter was in prison, the Bible tells us that at Mary’s house “many were gathered together praying” for Peter’s release. It is very possible that Mark was in the prayer meeting that took place in his mother’s home when Peter was in prison (Acts 12.5,12). Imagine the impact made on young Mark when Peter was miraculously released from prison, and thus escaping execution (Acts 12.13-17)! I can just imagine him saying, “Hey Pete, tell me again about that angel…did it hurt when he hit you on your side to wake you up?” “How were you able to sleep so soundly when you were about to be executed?” “What did you think when that gate just swung open on its own?” Many writers and commentators believe that Simon’s influence can be greatly seen in the writing of Mark’s Gospel.
A helper on the mission field
In 12.25 we read that John Mark accompanied Paul (still called“Saul” until Acts 13.9) and Barnabas on their first missionary journey.
“And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister. Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.”
It is uncertain as to why John Mark (referred to as “John” in Acts 13.5,13 and as “Mark” in Acts 15.39) departed from Paul and Barnabas and went back to Jerusalem. Possibly he was homesick. Maybe it was because of the difficulties that they faced in Paphos when they confronted a false prophet and sorcerer named “Barjesus”– the (Acts 13.6-12). It could be that he felt that he was not equipped mentally or spiritually for the journey. Another possibility is that he did not like the idea that Gentiles were saved by simple faith alone. Whatever the case, he left and went back home to Jerusalem.
No way, not him!
“And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.”
In this passage, Paul is about to embark on his second missionary journey. As he begins talking to Barnabas about traveling with him, Barnabas wanted to take Mark along with them. Perhaps Mark had matured, and Barnabas was able to see it. However, Paul did not think that he could trust John Mark. It is apparent that Paul had strong feelings about it – just as strong as Barnabas was convinced that Mark was ready for the trip: “the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other” (Acts 15.39).
This was no minor disagreement. It was a major rift of two co-laborers in ministry – two friends. It could have been that Paul was in the wrong, or maybe it was Barnabas. However, it is obvious that God’s providential hand was upon John Mark; and that Barnabas was there to motivate Mark toward spiritual maturity, and to help Mark to prepare for usefulness in the furtherance of the gospel.
Enter the Encourager
Somewhere between the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas as recorded in Acts 15.39, and Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4.11, the influence of Barnabas encouraged Mark and helped him to grow in grace. In Acts 4.36, Barnabas is called “the son of consolation” – meaning, “encouragement”. It may have partly been his influence as Mark’s uncle, but Barnabas ministry of encouragement made a difference in Mark’s life. Perhaps it was during that time that John Mark penned the gospel of Mark.
Time can be a great healer
In another article entitled, “A Very Sad Verse”, we talked about the Apostle Paul at the end of his life. We see in the closing statements of his last letter included in Scripture, various greetings and comments, and requests. In 2 Timothy 4.10, Paul mentions a former co-laborer who had quit serving and ministering, quite possibly to never return:
“For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica…”
However, in the very next verse, he now mentions one who had once left ministering, but was about to return:
2 Timothy 4.11, “Take Mark and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”
This young man that Paul once saw as a “deserter” is now described as “profitable”. The particular greek word for “profitable” (euchrestos – meaning: “easy to make use of, useful”) found here in 2 Timothy 4.11, is used only two other times in the New Testament (source: blueletterbible.org). It is translated in 2 Timothy 2.21 “meet for (i.e.“profitable for”) the master’s use”. In the context, Paul is talking about being a believer that is a useful, clean vessel (2 Timothy 2.20).
This same greek word is also found in Philemon verse 11 where, interestingly enough, Paul writes concerning another individual named Onesimus (a runaway slave), who was also once unprofitable, but later proved to be “profitable” (greek – euchrestos). We are not sure as to how the Lord did it, but we do know that Paul knew that Mark was now profitable for the ministry. I believe that “the ministry” (2 Timothy 4.11) in this passage refers to ministry in any form that honors the Lord and is for the furtherance of the gospel; it may refer to pastoring, youth ministry, missions ministry, deacon, etc.
I don’t know about you, but I find the life story of John Mark quite hopeful. For whatever reason, it is quite possible for a believer to walk away from serving the Lord in their life and works (John 6.66). Unfortunately, I have known a few people over the years that fit the description of no longer “profitable” for the ministry, and sadly they may never be. However, I hope that some day they will follow the example of John Mark rather than the example of Demas.