Sometimes we hear about “a human-interest story.” To the Lord, each person is a human-interest story. Every Bible character, in fact, each person in history, is a “major” person in God’s sight.
Studying “John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 12:12), is an interesting undertaking. Let us make some observations from a number of Bible verses.
Acts 12:12 – John was the son of Mary, a woman who hosted a prayer meeting at her house. That means John’s family had enough financial power to have a house big enough to host many people. His family was a family with faith: they prayed. And, his family opened the doors of their dwelling place for spiritual activities. John was blessed to be in such a family.
Acts 12:25 – John was a companion of Barnabas and Saul. He was blessed to be with such godly men. Joint participation/sharing in an activity with faithful brethren in the Lord is a wonderful thing! We also are reminded that our choice of companions is extremely important. Being with the righteous reaps great benefits, but we also recall this truth: “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Acts 13:5 – John was an assistant/minister to Barnabas and Saul. The word “ὑπηρέτης/hupēretēs” means “servant; an underrower, subordinate rower; anyone who serves with hands: a servant; in the NT of the officers and attendants of magistrates as – of the officer who executes penalties; of the attendants of a king . . . the soldiers of a king, of the attendant of a synagogue; of anyone ministering or rendering service; anyone who aids another in any work; an assistant” [Thayer, word no. 5257 via e-Sword]. As a servant, John may have done things “behind the scenes,” such as taking care of material needs, which would free up Barnabas and Saul to focus on teaching the gospel. There is always room for servants among God’s people! (Mark 9:35). On a trip to Southeast Asia, one young brother and his wife graciously showed us hospitality. When we thanked them for it, he said, “When we were kids, we saw others doing it. Now it is time for my generation to step up and do it.”
Acts 13:13 – In the midst of a teaching trip, John departed from Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem. It would be sad if this is the only thing a person remembers about John Mark. Was John a quitter? Well, the Bible does not tell us how long of a commitment he made before beginning his work with Barnabas and Saul. Was John just immature? Was he just ready to move on to the next adventure? Was he homesick? Did he miss his mama’s cooking or a fiancé? Did he prefer a dentist back home? It is obvious that Paul was not happy about John’s choice to go back home mid-journey, but let us be hesitant to speculate about matters that the Bible does not reveal. Note: This would not be John’s final teaching trip.
Acts 15:36-39 – John Mark was the center of disagreement between two good men. When Paul suggested that he and Barnabas return to visit brethren in cities where they previously had preached, Barnabas agreed. But, when Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them, Paul insisted that they should not do such. That is when Paul and Barnabas had a temporary falling out. As a result, Paul took Silas to go preach in one area, while Barnabas and John went elsewhere. It was unfortunate that there was a strong disagreement, but it doubled the number of teams going out to spread the gospel.
Acts 15:39 – John went with Barnabas to the island of Cyprus. Give John Mark some credit. He was not done doing the Lord’s work. He had not turned his back on the Lord (Hebrews 3:13). He had not quit. Lost folks everywhere need the gospel and all saints in all places need to be built up, so going with Barnabas to Cyprus was not a bad thing.
Colossians 4:10 – About 7-9 years after Paul insisted that John Mark not go with him and Barnabas on a second preaching trip, Paul wrote this about John: “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him).” So, John Mark was a relative of Barnabas, which may give us some insight into why Barnabas was willing to give Mark a second opportunity. What a blessing to have family members who are in God’s family! And, notice that Paul encouraged the saints in Colosse to welcome John Mark. It is obvious that Paul’s outlook about his former co-worker had changed.
2 Timothy 4:11 – Paul told Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.” This message from Paul, which was written around twenty years after that first journey when John Mark had left the apostle and Barnabas to go back to Jerusalem, shows that by that point in time, Paul thought highly of John. There had been a positive transformation in John’s life: he had gone from unprofitable to profitable/useful.
It is fair for each disciple of Jesus to ask himself: Am I useful salt or good for nothing? (Matthew 5:13). Am I a fruitful branch, or a barren one that needs to be cut off? (John 15:1-6). As a vessel in the Potter’s hands, am I a vessel of honor or dishonor? There is much to learn from the biblical record of John Mark.
— Roger D. Campbell