Travel in the world of the first century was demanding and difficult. Perhaps it would be helpful to put travel then into a current day perspective. How would you like to travel by walking on dusty, unpaved roads (which were muddy roads when it rained)? How would you like to travel on a small boat, with no power but wind, on a rolling sea? How important is familiar food to you? How particular are you in matters of cleanliness? How essential to you is having your own bathroom? It is amazing how many of us are affected by situations that are just "different." Often we are powerfully affected by our "first time" experiences!
In the first century, travel was commonly dangerous rather than convenient. Perhaps the best insight in scripture is provided by Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:26, 27. In describing the experiences he endured in his journeys, he spoke of river dangers (from the experience, untrustworthy crew, and strangers who took advantage of the ignorant traveler), robbery dangers (people had to travel with cash and/or valuables), fellow Jews who meant Paul harm, gentiles who saw Paul and his company as opportunity produced by vulnerability, strange city dangers, wilderness dangers, sea dangers, dangers created by false brethren, hard work, sleepless nights, being hungry, being thirsty, being cold, and being exposed to the elements. To travel far in the first century commonly involved risks that could take your life, especially if you were an ordinary person with limited funds and limited power. Sounds like fun, does it not?
I do not know what age John Mark was when he left his Jerusalem home to travel with Paul and Barnabas (both of whom had traveled some) to be their "helper." Since his mother's home was large enough to be a point of assembly, contained a courtyard, and had at least one servant, I suspect John Mark had it better physically than many as he grew up. It is possible that he was accustomed to being served rather than being a servant.
Even today doing mission work seems to some to be a romantic adventure in wonderful new places surrounded by people who appreciate your being there and adore you for your sacrifices. That is what it may be--as long as you are a well-financed tourist. After about a month, mission work in an unfamiliar place suddenly becomes hard work that is not filled with a support cast of people who appreciate your situation. In fact, one of your jobs is to "fit in" with your new world rather than your new world adjusting to you. You easily can become the unappreciated intruder who possesses strange ideas.
Whatever the situation was with John Mark, he soon "had enough" and went home, and the most difficult part of the trip had not yet begun. (It is reasonable to say in light of future events that Barnabas understood John Mark's decision, and Paul did not.) Do not be too hard on John Mark. The commitment was likely bigger than he realized, and he was not prepared for the life and role he adopted.
After the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15, Paul wanted to visit all the congregations they established on the first trip. Paul made that suggestion to Barnabas who was in agreement. There is no recorded disagreement between the two men on (a) the need or (b) the methodology that they should use in addressing the need. There seems to be no disagreement on the "what" or the "how." In fact, everything that was done was very consistent with Paul's way of doing missions. Paul commonly left someone with the new congregation, checked on them, sent a letter to them, or talked to someone from there.
The disagreement was focused on personnel, not on need or methodology. Barnabas continued to be who he was--the rescuer who saw potential, who helped people in need. John Mark had potential, and his potential needed opportunity for development. Paul continued to be who he was, the task-oriented person. The task demanded that the gentiles hear about Jesus, and the Jewish people understood God's salvation acceptance of the gentiles. Please see the disagreement was the result of personality and immediate focus, not love for and commitment to Jesus Christ.
The confrontation between Paul and Barnabas was intense! (Those dedicated to that type of missions work usually are strong personalities.) The confrontation was so intense that "best friends" parted ways. Remember, Barnabas took Paul to the apostles (Acts 9:27) and brought Paul to Antioch (Acts 11:25, 26). Paul owed Barnabas a lot! This must have been some confrontation fueled by the two different perspectives!
Who was at the center of this controversy? John Mark! There is no indication that John Mark said anything. However, there is sufficient indication to say that the "quitting experience" taught John Mark a lot. At that time, in Barnabas there was room for learning through mistakes. In Paul, there was no time for mistakes.
John Mark evidently learned many things about himself through his "quitting experience." He did not let his failure define him! He did not let the fact that he divided close friends define him! Instead, he let what he learned about himself in an undesirable situation help him become a better, more mature him!
Will you make mistakes? Most likely. The issue is not will you make mistakes, but the issue is how will you let your mistakes impact you. Refuse to let your mistakes define you. Refuse to let the impact of your mistakes on others define you. Instead, allow your mistakes to teach you something about yourself. Allow the lessons you learn from your mistakes to help you become a better, more mature you in Jesus Christ.
For Thought and Discussion
Link to Teacher's Guide
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