I often refer to this particular chapter when friendships go sour or when it’s time to say goodbye to ones you once walked tightly with. Paul and Barnabas have been tearing up the evangelizing scene. This entire chapter is about disagreements: the main argument, a little extra flesh on the nether region. The chapter continues with a clean-up letter, so to say. Church leaders were making it clear that circumcision was not the most important thing to be saved. And all the Gentiles shouted hallelujah!
Towards the end of the chapter, Barnabas wants to revisit all the places they had preached to see how the new believers were doing. I love this. So many times, Evangelists blow in, blow up and blow out, but there was a true shepherd’s heart on Barnabas, and it’s about to be made known real fast. Barney boy wanted to bring along John Mark. The guy who abandoned them. Not much is said about Mark's exit. Only a brief mention in Acts 13:13 “Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem.”
But the verbiage is clear; John Mark left them. To be a preacher during this time of heated atmosphere and persecution is definitely being a soldier for the Lord. And you need to be able to depend on your battle buddies. My children are all military, and each one of them sees the importance of having someone who has your back. The ministry is no different. We must be able to depend on those we are running with and lean on them when the heat is turned up, and the persecution begins. But sadly, we have all experienced moments when the “John Mark’s left” Perhaps they withdrew, rejected, or became indifferent. You learned then, as Paul knew, we can’t always depend on men or women. But you also learn to be selective as to who you allow in your lane to run the race with, and they must be someone you feel secure with. And this is where the argument begins. “But Paul disagreed strongly since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work.” Acts of the Apostles 15:38
In chapter 13, John Mark left them, but it is made quite apparent John Mark deserted his battle buddies.
Paul did not trust John Mark. And a powerhouse tag team evangelizing duo parted ways.
“Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.”
Acts of the Apostles 15:39-41 NLT
I know we want to think it could have been resolved. Paul should have had more grace. He should have given John Mark a second chance. But remember, trust was broke in the thick of things. The comparison for Paul is a Mark is a deserter of war. And Paul could not bring John Mark on the team again. And his friend of the past year that he had been walking with, eating with, preaching with, and persecuted with, was suggesting they bring a defector of faith on the frontlines. Barnabas was an encourager and felt compelled to give John Mark a chance. But Paul had been pelted with stones, not Barnabas. And Paul’s heart was not at a place of reconciliation.
This verse guides me when I need to let go of relationships that no longer feel safe. Some don’t return the devotion of friendship. Barnabas chose the rebuilding of John Mark and, in doing so, tore down Paul's friendship. They parted ways. This is life. Friendships build, and some dissolve. Some are forever; some are for a season. Some end with hurt, some end with a gentle dissolve. We need to be big enough women of faith to take these punches. People will choose another over us. They will side with someone else. They will abandon you to go another direction. They will get bored or disinterested in the relationship. And it's okay. Paul let go of Barnabas, and it's why we have the stories of Paul and Silas. But if you read on, all of them continued in the mission of spreading the gospel. They didn’t quit the mission because a relationship didn’t work. They went separate ways on separate missions. And they were reaching different nations and different people. A divide done right can still bring increase if Christ is the focus and forgiveness is the action. Moving forward without reconciliation is still part of God's plan.