I’m a Paul.
Not because I’m a brilliant theologian, or a courageous adventurer, or a single missionary. It’s because I write people off too soon.
This weekend Matt preached on Paul and Barnabas and their first journey with Mark in Acts 13. Mark abandons them part way through, so later (Acts 15) when Barnabas suggests including him in a second trip, Paul “disagrees strongly” and the two part company. Barnabas takes Mark to Cyprus and that’s all we know of the story for a while.
However, in the book of Colossions, Paul tells the church in Colossi to welcome Mark if he comes to visit them, and in his second letter to Timothy Paul writes, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (4:11).
Mark began as a quitter but grew into a Gospel author and a friend so valuable that Paul requested him by name during difficult times—because Barnabas, the “son of encouragement,” didn’t give up on him.
I am not a Barnabas. Like Paul, when people disappoint me or make a bad decision that burns me, I am reluctant to give them a second chance. This is understandable as self-protection—some people are not safe, to use the psychology terminology, and it’s foolish to give them opportunity after opportunity to hurt you, lie to you or let you down. But many others are not “unsafe”—they’re just immature or (gasp!) imperfect. We don’t know all the details of Mark’s story; did he ever apologize to Paul? What paces did Barnabas put him through in Cyprus? And why did he desert them, anyway? We don’t know the answers, but Mark’s transformation suggests Barnabas saw his potential despite an early mistake.
A few weeks ago I blogged about whether people change. When I posed the question on Facebook, one friend wrote, “People do change, but someone always pays the price.” He meant that there must always be a Barnabas. People like Mark (and people like me) can grow, develop our gifts, and become more like Jesus, but someone else must be willing to sacrifice.
For a long time I’ve been benefiting from the work of other Barnabases (Barnabi?), both those who have invested in the family and friends I go through life with and those who have poured into me. Like Paul, I prefer knowing people who already have it together. But it’s time for me to stop wishing people would get there on their own. It’s time for me to identify a few Marks in my own life and pay the price to help them grow.
How about you—are you a Paul or a Barnabas? Do you need to change?