A few passages about Mark (or John; cf. Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37) teach us a lesson about failure in ministry and then serving again thereafter.
As a young man, Mark’s home was used by the church for prayer and possibly worship (Acts 12:12). With a home large enough for a church gathering, complete with at least one servant (Acts 12:13), his family enjoyed both physical and spiritual blessings. Unsurprisingly, he was recruited for missionary ministry by Barnabas and Saul (not yet Paul) in Acts 12:25.
However, shortly after joining their missionary journey, “John left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13). Though “they had John to assist them” (Acts 13:5), he became “one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work” (Acts 15:38). Thus, Paul distrusted him and split from Barnabas who desired Mark to join them on a later journey (Acts 15:36–41).
Why did mark abandon the work? Perhaps he did not like the team’s leadership shift from “Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 13:2) to “Paul and his companions” (Acts 13:13). Perhaps the salvation of Gentiles was hard for him to accept as a Jew. Perhaps he did not enjoy the travel, threat of persecution, or distance away from home. We do not know why he abandoned the work, but we know his abandonment was a negative thing.
Thankfully, Mark made a quick recovery. If he deserted in AD 46 in Acts 13:13 but was serving with Barnabas in Acts 15:35–41 in AD 48, his failure did not last long. However, consequences remained. Paul distrusted him and refused to travel with him again.
As time went on, Paul wrote the Colossians about a dozen years later (AD 60 or 61), speaking this of Mark: “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him)” (Col 4:10). As told by Paul, Mark was to serve and be welcomed by this congregation, implying a reconciliation between Mark and Paul.
Yet later, we Mark serving with Peter (1 Pet 5:13), likely during the mid-60s AD when he wrote his Gospel. Paul’s last letter in AD 66 requested of Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Tim 4:11).
Mark’s desertion was disappointing and brought about the distrust of Paul and likely others. Over time, however, he persisted and regained a reputation for faithfulness. In the end, he was very useful to many and certainly the imprisoned Paul in his final days of ministry.
We all fail from time to time, and our consequences vary according to our failures. Not everyone is so fortunate as Mark to be completely restored over time to a previous position. Nonetheless, whatever our failure may be, God forgives the repentant sinner, and we can serve Him and be faithful again. May God help us towards this end.
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.