Five metres inside the main entrance of Westminster Abbey in London and set into the floor, is a large block of black marble. Cut into the marble and picked out in gold leaf are these words: “Beneath this stone lies the body of a British Warrior unknown by name or rank. Brought from France to lie among the most illustrious of the land and buried here on Armistice Day 11th November 1920 in the presence of his majesty King George IV, his ministers of State, the chiefs of his forces and a vast concourse of the nation. Thus are commemorated the many multitudes who during the Great War of 1914-1918 gave the most that man can give, life itself for God, for King and country, for loved ones, home and empire, for the sacred cause of justice and the freedom of the world.” That is the grave of what has become known as the Unknown Warrior which represents the many who fought in the cause of justice and whose names are entirely lost to history. They were not always unknown. Somewhere they had a mother, father, doting grandparents and friends. Then they went off to war. Soon no one knew them; they were nothing more than unnamed broken bodies on a battlefield. There are many unknown warriors in the NT. Sometimes all we have is a name and a sentence or two but it is enough for us ordinary people to be encouraged and challenged. This week we will have a look at a few of these people. It is to Christians like these – millions across the globe – that we owe the expansion of the true church of Jesus Christ.
ONESIPHORUS – 2 TIMOTHY 1:16-18; 4:19
Onesiphorus is one of these unknown soldiers and is only mentioned in these two passages. Coincidentally his name means “bringer of help.” His parents could not have known how their son would live up to his name. From 4:19 we see that he lived in Ephesus. In 1:18 Paul simply mentions how Onesiphorus had proved immensely useful to him when he had visited Ephesus. Reading between the lines it would appear as if the church at Ephesus had sent Onesiphorus to encourage Paul in his second imprisonment in Rome. We can learn a few encouraging lessons from Onesiphorus.
- He was not ashamed of Paul’s chains. This letter is the last known written letter of Paul. He had been released from house arrest (where he wrote Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians) and ministered for a period before being re-arrested again and imprisoned (not under house arrest but in the Mamertine dungeon). The great fire of Rome started on 18 June AD 64 and a difficult season started for Christians. Cornelius Tacitus relates the popular rumour that the Emperor Nero had deliberately started the fire to create space for his architectural projects, and then put the blame on Christians. As a result Christians were arrested and endured unspeakable atrocities. Tacitus says that they were covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. In prison Paul lamented the impact persecution had on so called believers. In 1:15 he says; you know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. In 2:17, 18 Paul grieves that Hymenaeus and Philetus, . . . have wandered away from the truth. In 4:10 he weeps that Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Not easy days for Christians to nail their colours to the mast, or openly identify themselves as Christians. Onesiphorus was made of sterner stuff. In 1:17 Paul says; on the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. Here was a man who would not easily give up. He searched and searched until he found Paul. Paul says Onesiphorus was not ashamed of Paul’s chains or of openly acknowledging to soldiers at the prison that he was a believer.
- Secondly, he was used as an instrument of refreshment in Paul’s life. In vrs 16 we read he often refreshed me. He was a breath of fresh air. Why are some people so draining and other so refreshing? It appears that all some people want to talk about is their problems minor though they are (their aches and pains and family woes). I am sure that Onesiphorus had struggles but when he was with Paul he far preferred to talk about the gospel and the glory of Christ. When Paul despondently spoke about those who were deserting the church Onesiphorus would have spoken about how the church was thriving elsewhere in the empire. He was a breath of fresh air. Onesiphorus no doubt exercised the spiritual gift of encouragement. The Greek word for encouragement is the same one as used to describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is described as the paraclete (one called alongside). The Onesiphorus’ of local churches who encourage others are doing the Holy Spirit’s work. They must be more highly regarded. In 4:19 Paul refers to the time he was in Ephesus (AD 55-57). It is nearly ten years later and Onesiphorus was still proving very helpful to Paul. He was consistently helpful and refreshing. In 1 Corinthians 16:18 Paul speaks of other unknown soldiers and says for they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition. Indeed they do.
Yesterday we noted that the Kingdom of God expands not only because of well- known Christian leaders but also because of the number of faithful foot soldiers. Some of them are better known than others. One of the most delightful couples in the NT is Aquila and Priscilla. Every local church today is blessed with husbands and wives who serve the Lord side by side.
AQUILA & PRISCILLA (ACTS 18:2, 18, 19; ROMANS 16:3; 1 CORINTHIANS 16:19; 2 TIMOTHY 4:19)
As we piece together the few references that we have of them it would appear that they got used to uprooting and moving home. It would be useful to have a simple map and trace their movements around the Roman Empire. In Acts 18:2 we are told that Aquila was from Pontus (North Eastern Turkey) a town on the Black Sea. He was a leather-worker. He may well have been converted when people returned home following the Day of Pentecost bringing the gospel with them (Acts 2:9). For some reason he and Priscilla left their homes and took up residence in Rome. When the emperor Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome in AD 49 they made their way to Corinth. The apostle Paul arrived shortly after this and spent 18 months in their home. When Paul left to go to Ephesus he took this couple with him and left them there. It seems likely that following Claudius’ death in AD 54 they returned to Rome (Romans 16:3). It was not long however before they were back in Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:19). Wherever they went they served the Lord together. Piecing all of the above references together we can make the following observations.
- They used their home as a guest house. None of us mind having Christian guests staying with us for a weekend but can you imagine joyfully sharing your home with a Christian worker for 18 months! This couple had Paul stay in their home for his season of ministry in Corinth. When Paul wrote to the church at Rome from Corinth around AD 57 he sent special greetings to this godly couple in Romans 16:3, 4 greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Let us not gloss over those words they risked their lives for me. When we read the book of Acts we notice that wherever Paul went trouble erupted (Acts 16:22; 17:5, 6, 13). By hosting Paul they really were risking their lives – but they gladly did it for the sake of the gospel. Corrie Ten Boom once asked a visiting preacher to shelter a mom and an infant from the Germans during the Second World War. The response she got was; “No! We could lose our lives for this Jewish child.” Corrie’s father took the child and said “you say we could lose our lives for the child. I would consider this as the greatest honour that could come to my family.” If you know the Ten Boom story you will know that both her father and sister ultimately died for hiding Jews in their homes. Paul commends Aquila and Priscilla for risking their lives.
- In Acts 18:24-26 we see that they used their home as a teaching centre. An Alexandrian Jew called Apollos arrived in Ephesus. He was a learned man. As vrs 25, 26 says; he had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. Quite clearly this educated man’s grasp of Christian doctrine was defective. If we had been in that congregation and heard Apollos preach we would have said; “we had better send out an SOS for Paul.” Not this godly couple. They invited him to their home for a meal and taught him what was lacking. He needed to hear about the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the place of the church. We can safely say that Apollos’ success as a preacher was due more to what he learned in Aquila’s and Priscilla’s home than what he learned from the professors in Alexandria. Perhaps married couples should be looking around the church for more people who they can positively impact with the Scriptures.
- They used their home as a venue for church services in the cities of Ephesus and Rome (1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:3-5). Even though they did not stay in their various homes for very long they quickly made their homes available to believers as a gathering point for worship. In most parts of the west we have the blessing of church buildings to congregate in. Of course in some Middle Eastern and Eastern countries house churches are the norm and many unknown modern day Aquila’s and Priscilla’s are offering their homes as a worship venue. The very least we can do is to open our homes as bible study venues. I know a lot of ink has been wasted on wondering why Priscilla’s name is mentioned first in four out of the six references to this. There are many reasons why this could have been the case. One reason is that she came from a higher social class. Aquila was a Jew from Pontus whereas Priscilla was from a noble Roman family. I have a more intriguing suggestion. Paul had stayed in this couple’s house for so long. Who cooked his meals, washed his clothes and performed all other domestic duties. Perhaps the only reason Paul mentioned her first was to honour her for her service to him.
There is a long tradition in the British army that an officer who is particularly commended for courage in action and who is mentioned in dispatches by his commanding officer can wear a small bronze oak leaf on his right breast or on his campaign medal. The majority of these men are unknown to us. The NT is full of rather obscure names – unknown soldiers. Only eternity will reveal how much the church owes to such people. Churches thrive on good biblical teaching but also due to the presence of faithful foot soldiers. Today we will have a look at another attractive individual.
EPAPHRAS (COLOSSIANS 1:7; 4:12, 13)
Where was Colossae? If you go to modern day Turkey and go about 150 km inland from the Aegean Sea you will come to the Lycus valley. In that valley were three towns which are all mentioned in this letter. In the south of the valley was Colossae. About ten miles north was Laodicea and a further six miles north was Hierapolis. A few hundred years before this letter was written Colossae was a great city – the greatest city in the region because all of the trade going from east to west passed through it. Colossae was bubbling with wealth and commerce. But by the first century the trade route had been re-routed through Laodicea and Colossae was much smaller than it once was. What can we learn about Epaphras from these few references.
- We first of all are encouraged by his love for the bride of Christ – the
church. When Paul ministered in Ephesus in 52 AD a man from the Lycus valley called Epaphras came to hear his lectures and was converted. He returned to plant a church in Colossae and most probably also Laodicea and Hierapolis. In 1:6 Paul can say; all over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. The church at Colossae was ten years old by this time. From the main body of this letter to the Colossians we can infer that false teachers had arrived. Epaphras was so concerned about the potential impact of this false teaching that he travelled all the way to Rome to get wisdom from Paul who was under house arrest. In responding to what Epaphras had reported Paul commends this faithful foot soldier by reminding the church that you learned it (the gospel) from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit. When we look at Epaphras we must ask ourselves some searching questions. Is our love for the church as great as his? Does the spiritual health of the church burden us as much as it did him? He was prepared to travel as far as Rome to ask Paul’s counsel to deal with some of the doctrinal problems he was facing. In 4:13 Paul can say; I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.
- The second challenge from Epaphras’ life concerns his prayer life. In 4:12 Paul has high praise for this foot soldier. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. The Greek word for wrestling is (agonizomai) from which we get our English word agonise. As Paul prayed with Epaphras and heard his powerful entreaties he knew that this man really cared deeply about his fellow church members. The American evangelist DL Moody once gave his impressions after being exposed to Charles Spurgeon’s ministry that “to hear Spurgeon preach was a blessing, but to hear Spurgeon pray was even more impressive.” During this time of lockdown as MUC prayer lists are circularised on a daily basis we would do well to allow Epaphras to challenge our own prayer lives. Often times when we pray we are at a loss for words as to what to pray for. Once again Epaphras is most helpful. Notice how Paul highlighted the specificity of Epaphras’ prayers. That you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. He prayed first of all that his fellow church members would stand firm in God’s will. There were false teachers on the prowl and he was concerned that the church members would not stumble. Then he prayed that they would mature in their most holy faith. He prayed that they would grow in grace and the increasing knowledge of Christ. Lastly he prayed that his brothers and sisters would be fully assured in what they had been taught. The best defence against error is a firm grasp of the truth. What a wonderfully well rounded prayer to pray for our church family.
I am sure if we review our Christian lives and are asked to identify people who have impacted us greatly we may identify a pastor under whose ministry we grew in leaps and bounds. I am absolutely persuaded however that we would also choose some ordinary church member who had an extraordinary influence on us. Perhaps it was a Sunday School teacher or youth leader whose life spoke volumes. Perhaps it was a couple who in your university days invited you home for Sunday lunch and spoke into your lives. Perhaps it was a retired couple whose love for Jesus had not waned with advancing years. Their love for Jesus was infectious and you found yourself saying “I want to finish the Christian life just like them.” The book of Philippians introduces us to yet another ordinary Christian foot soldier.
EPAPHRODITUS (PHILIPPIANS 2:25-27; 4:18)
In vrs 25-27 we are introduced to a man called Epaphroditus. His name means good looking and is taken from the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Presumably his parents had dedicated him to Aphrodite after his birth. What does this mean teach us?
- First notice how eager he was to serve. In vrs 25 Paul describes him as follows; but I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier. In their earlier days Paul a strict Pharisee and Epaphroditus a pagan would have had nothing in common. Then they both got converted – Christ came into their lives and they could call each other brother. That’s not all. Paul goes on to describe Epaphroditus as my fellow worker. The church at Philippi knew that Paul was under house arrest in Rome. The church in Philippi was understandably concerned about Paul. Who would run errands for him and see to his daily needs. Obviously Epaphroditus must have had a good reputation because everyone turned to him. And so according to vrs 25 Epaphroditus became their messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. He carried gifts to Paul – no doubt cash but certainly other necessities. Later in 4:18 Paul will refer to the Philippians church gift and messenger by saying; I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.
- Secondly, notice how Epaphroditus did not want to be the focus of attention. It is clear that at some time during Epaphroditus’ stay in Rome he became critically ill. We don’t know much more than this. Perhaps he was struck by the notorious Roman fever which frequently swept the city. Whatever it was he nearly died. But God had mercy on him and he recovered. Quite understandably when the church at Philippi heard this news they were alarmed. This is where Epaphroditus’ great character started to show itself. In vrs 26 Paul says; for he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. The word distressed is a strong word. It is the word used in Matthew 26:37 to describe Jesus’ anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane. Epaphroditus was gravely ill but was more distressed that his church back home was distressed about him. You do get two groups in churches don’t you? On the one hand there are those who suffer from a sore thumb and expect everyone to dance around them (visit, call, provide meals). On the other hand there are the Epaphroditus’. They just don’t want people to worry. Perhaps a balance needs to be struck between these two extremes.
- Thirdly, he was a man who was quite prepared to lose his life for the gospel. In 2:25 Paul will go on to describe Epaphroditus as my fellow soldier. In the early part of the 20th century CT Studd served as a missionary to China, India. He wrote a pamphlet entitled “the chocolate soldier.” He referred to many fellow Christians as chocolate soldiers. They melt away as soon as the heat is turned on. They love to sing songs about warfare but don’t live as though they are in a war. The moment there is opposition, the call for sacrifice or some kind of inconvenience they melt away.” CT Studd said “God was never a chocolate manufacturer and he never will be.” Epaphroditus was no chocolate soldier. Paul gives him a glowing report in vrs 29, 30 welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me. The Greek word for risked is parabaleuomai. It is a gambling term and means to roll the dice. There was a group of people in the ancient world who took their name from Epaphroditus. They were called the parabolani who risked their lives for the gospel. They agreed to move into any place of danger or risk, to serve and help others. They were often called “the reckless ones.” In AD 252 the city of Carthage was hit with a devastating plague. Bodies piled up and there was no one prepared to bury them for fear of catching the deadly disease. Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, cried out to the parabolani to help his city and also challenged Christians in his city to become parabolani and bury the dead and care for the dying. Christians responded. They buried the dead in the name of Jesus and told everyone that would listen why they were doing it. Some of the believers who stayed to help were infected and paid for their compassion with their lives. Two things happened as a result of their ministry. Firstly, the plague was stopped in its tracks and secondly it led to one of the most significant revivals in the early church. Epaphroditus would have wholeheartedly approved because he was cut from the same cloth.
Someone once said “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” This morning we are going to look at a scoundrel who met Christ and whose life was turned right side up.
ONESIMUS (COLOSSIANS 4:9; PHILEMON)
In the short letter to Philemon we can deduce that Onesimus was a slave in the household of Philemon. It would appear from vrs 18 that he had stolen something of value from Philemon and then run away. For a slave to run away in the Roman Empire was a major crime. Captured slaves were tortured and could even be crucified. At the very least the authorities would burn a “F” into their head which stood for Latin word for fugitive (fugitivus). Onesimus could not afford to get caught. He had to find a place that was big enough for him to get lost in the crowd. Rome, with its population of 870 000 people was the ideal place to go to ground. Somehow through an amazing providence of God, Onesimus came into contact with Paul and got converted. Notice what Paul says in vrs 10; I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. What can we learn from Onesimus?
- The first thing we learn from him is that as soon as he was converted he sought to serve the Lord. In vrs 11, 12 Paul speaks of him with great affection; formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. Onesimus’ name means useful and there is a play on words vrs 11. The Greek word for useless is achrestos and the word for useful is euchrestos. Prisons in our day are bad but at least you get food and clothes. In Paul’s day if family and friends did not provide food and clothes you starved and froze to death. No doubt Onesimus ran errands for Paul, got him food etc. I could paraphrase Paul’s words as follows. “When Onesimus was in your service, Philemon he was no doubt a slacker and a thoroughly useless individual. Yes he wronged you in stealing from you and running away. But he has now come to Jesus Christ. He is truly sorry for what he has done. He has changed. He is now beginning to live up to his name. He is very useful. I am sorry to lose him here in Rome. I feel like my heart has been ripped out now that he is leaving me.” It does not matter how long or short you have been a Christian you can be an Onesimus and make yourself useful.
- The second truth we learn from Onesimus is the importance that reconciliation and restitution take place. If Paul benefited so much from Onesimus’ help why did he say in vrs 12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you? As a new Christian Onesimus knew that he had wronged his master, Philemon. He had some unfinished business in Colossae to attend to. In Matthew 5:23,24 Jesus says; therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave the gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to you brother; then come and offer your gift. Notice that Jesus considers this matter of reconciliation to be so important that it takes precedence over worship and there is nothing more important than worship. For a runaway slave to return to their master was a great risk. I think it is safe to say that Onesimus was probably the only slave in the ancient world to return voluntarily. To encourage Onesimus, Paul does two things. He sends Tychicus as a travelling companion. In Colossians 4:9 we read he is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. Tychicus also carried the letter we call Philemon with him. This was an open letter (the pronouns in vrs 3, 22, 25) are plural. In other words if Philemon was unwilling to forgive the rest of the church could encourage him in the process. The lesson from Onesimus is that if we have wronged someone we need to take concrete steps to seek reconciliation.
- There are some people who accuse Paul of not speaking out more forth-rightly against slavery. Geoffrey Wilson; says the following; if this letter presented no revolutionary challenge to the social structures of the day the implications of its teaching were bound to prove fatal to slavery in the end. Paul’s letter to the Colossians which was read to the church at the same time as Philemon provides the first nail in the coffin. In 3:11 here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. This truth that we are all one in Christ was a ticking time bomb that would explode with William Wilberforce. The second nail in the coffin of slavery is found in Philemon itself. In vrs 16 Paul tells Philemon that a converted Onesimus was now both a slave and a brother in the Lord. This was revolutionary teaching. In vrs 17 Paul continues by saying; welcome him as you would welcome me. Maybe Paul did not outrightly condemn slavery but the seeds were there which would ultimately undermine it. Paul dissolves the slave/master relationship, and erects in its place a brother/brother relationship, in which the former slave is treated with all the dignity with which the apostle himself would be treated. Thus, even before the actual institution of slavery is abolished, the work of the gospel abolishes the assumptions and prejudices that make slavery possible.
A few decades later Ignatius, one of the great Christian martyrs was being take from Antioch to Rome to be executed. As he went he wrote some letters many of which still survive to the churches in Asia Minor. He stopped at Smyrna and wrote to the Church at Ephesus, and he had much to say about their wonderful bishop. What was the bishop’s name? It was Onesimus; and Ignatius made exactly the same pun as Paul did – he is Onesimus by name and Onesimus by nature. It is certainly not improbable that this runaway slave who came to faith in Christ and returned to Asia Minor and had grown in his faith to such an extent that he ended up as the bishop of the church of Ephesus.
The bible as well as church history are full of examples that prove that failure need never be the last word in our lives. John Mark in the New Testament is a great example of someone who failed in his early years but was spiritually restored and went on to become immensely useful to the apostles.
JOHN MARK (Acts 13; 15:37-39; Colossians 4:10, 11; 2 Timothy 4:11)
John Mark, often just called Mark, is the author of the gospel of Mark. He is first mentioned in Acts 12:12 as the son of a woman called Mary (there are six Mary’s mentioned in the NT). Some scholars suggest that since the incident of a young man fleeing naked into the night following Jesus’ arrest is only mentioned in Mark’s gospel (Mark 14:51–52) that the young man in question was Mark himself. He would then have been in his teens.
- Firstly, we can consider his early years. In Acts 12:12 we are told that his mother’s house (his father may well have died) was used as a place for early believers to gather and pray. Some speculate that it was the same house that Christians gathered in when the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost. Mark clearly came from a wealthy family. In Colossians 4:10 we are told that Mark was the cousin of Barnabas, the son of encouragement. In Acts 12:25 we are told when Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. It was AD 44 (the year James was martyred) and Mark would have been in his early thirties. In Acts 13:5 as soon as the church at Antioch were challenged by the Holy Spirit to release Paul and Barnabas to missionary service they took John Mark along with them as their helper. They went to Cyprus which was where Barnabas came from (Acts 4:36). As we read Acts 13 the mission to Cyprus was exciting – a sorcerer, Elymas was beaten in spiritual combat which was used of the Lord to bring the Roman proconsul (Sergius Paulus) to faith in Christ (Acts 13:12). What a triumph of the gospel. Mark must have thought that with such a promising beginning things could only get better. Sadly this was not so!! From the happy isle of Cyprus the team sailed to Perga (13:13). No ministry is recorded in this cosmopolitan city. In 13:14 we simply read that Paul had climbed to Pisidian Antioch. Why did Paul not stay and minister in Perga? A few years later when he wrote his letter to the Galatians he said in Galatians 4:13 as you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you . . . even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn . . . if you could have done so you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Paul got sick in Perga, a sickness that badly disfigured his face in some way. It also explains the need to climb 3500 feet above sea level to Pisidian Antioch and the cool air of the Taurus Plateau. Scholars suggest that he may well have contracted malaria. It was at this point when Paul needed John Mark the most that the young man chose to abandon the team and sail home (Acts 15:38). Until Perga the missionary party had been riding the crest of a wave. The gospel was conquering all before it. Now in Perga things suddenly got a lot tougher. Perhaps this is why John Mark abandoned the journey.
- Secondly, in Acts 15 we are told that a few years later Paul and Barnabas decided wanted to revisit the churches planted during their first missionary journey. In vrs 37-39 we read Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus. Clearly, Paul felt John Mark’s desertion very keenly and did not forget but Barnabas the master encourager saw potential in Mark. He felt so strongly about the issue that he was prepared to split up their missionary partnership. Barnabas took John Mark to Cyprus and we don’t hear anything about John Mark until around the year AD 62. Clearly these were important years in Mark’s spiritual maturing and development.
- Thirdly, in Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; 1 Peter 5:13 and 2 Timothy 4:11 we have the last references to John Mark in the NT and they are all exemplary. Paul wrote Colossians and Philemon around AD 62 and with him in Rome was John Mark. Paul sent Mark’s greetings to Colossae and then says you have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him. I am sure those instructions were as follows; “listen, I know Mark deserted us some years back, but he is a different man now. If he comes, forget his past and welcome him – you will be glad you did.” Then in Colossians 4:11 Paul says that Mark along with a man called Justus have proved a comfort to me. A year or so later when Paul was nearing the end of his life he wrote to Timothy and said in 2 Timothy 4:11 get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. What a wonderful transformation of a missionary failure to one Paul can describe as a comfort and a helper. The lesson is never to give up on someone who fails. That might not be the last word in their Christian story. Mark did not just have close ties with Paul but he also was a companion of Peter. In 1 Peter 5:13 we see that Mark was with Peter in Rome. Papias, a Christian leader writing in AD 140 said that Mark was the person who wrote down all of Peter’s remembrance of his time with Jesus. The result of this collaboration is of course the Gospel of Mark. We need to be encouraged that the Lord could use Mark, a spiritual failure, and turn him around to become someone who was a blessing to both Peter and Paul. If he could do it for Mark he could do it for anyone.