Have you ever known someone or perhaps even several people in your life for whom you held little regard? That lack of regard might have been due to any number of reasons. Perhaps it was because they showed some kind of incompetence. Maybe it was some hypocrisy being displayed. Perchance it was their personality. But for whatever reason, you did not click with them, you did not greatly respect them, you did not connect with them.
I’ve had that opinion of some down through the years and some have had that opinion of me. This was especially true when I was younger and “knew everything”. What I have learned over the years is that people change. They grow. They mature. This is a process of ongoing sanctification. If the gospel does anything, it changes those who are committed to it to continue to grow, progress, and (if I may use the word) evolve.
Paul experienced this dynamic in Mark. On his first missionary journey undertaken with Barnabas, Paul took Barnabas’ nephew, Mark, with them. In the text in Acts, we learn that Mark abruptly quits the team while they were in Pamphylia and returned home while Paul and Barnabas continued their journey, completed it, and returned to Antioch to report to the church.
After some time, a decision is made to embark on a second missionary journey. Barnabas again wants to take Mark with them. Perhaps Barnabas had perceived a change of heart in Mark or a growing maturity that led him to believe Mark would fare much better a second time around. But Paul did not think it wise to take with them again one who had abandoned them in the middle of the first journey. The disagreement was so sharp that Paul and Barnabas parted ways; Paul taking Silas on the next journey and Barnabas taking Mark to Cyprus (Acts 15:37-41).
But that was not the end of the story. Due to Barnabas’ encouraging discipleship of Mark, and Peter’s mentorship of him, Mark changes, grows, matures. He becomes such a dynamic leader that when Peter is moved to write down his gospel account, it is Mark’s name that is on it. Toward the end of his life, Paul is writing some final instructions in 2 Timothy. He says to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me soon…Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (vv. 9-11). Mark had so grown in Christ, that he whom Paul would not take with him on a second missionary journey, is now a required helper for Paul as he closes his life’s work.
I married into an unusual family. My wife, Michal, has four siblings, all sisters. All these five sisters graduated from the same Christian School and all married young men dedicating their lives to full time Christian service, which they have all maintained for these past forty some years. But I recall in the early days not having a great deal of esteem for some of my brothers-in-law due to an over evaluation of myself and an under evaluation of them. Some of my evaluation was based in theological or practical ministry positions taken by guys who were, like me, novices in the ministry. Some of it was perhaps jealousy on my part. All of it was due to my own arrogance.
After a number of years, in which God continued to grow and change me, I learned not to “freeze people in time”. That is, I learned that people change. They grow. They are not now that young, inexperienced, rash, young pastor/brother in law that I so lightly esteemed at one point. And, I think, my brothers in law no longer see me in that one time totally justified way. And even as I hope people would not continue to evaluate me today as the 25-year-old Terry just starting out in life, I can no longer freeze in time others and evaluate them on their youth.
We just celebrated a family wedding in which my niece, Tracy Gearhart, after 43 years of waiting, married the man God had always intended for her. What a delight! All my brothers in law were in attendance. As we talked, as well reminisced, as we fellowshipped, I realized what an extraordinary group of men this is. Each of them have carried out faithful and successful ministry for the past 40 years. Each of them having reared families who all love and serve the Lord to this day. Each continuing their service to the King even though the eldest of us has just turned 70. As I interacted with them I realized how much we had all changed. I appreciate each one for what they have become in their journey. I respect their long obedience in the same direction. I note the great wisdom and maturity God has developed in each of them. Once, I might not have held some of them in such esteem, but now, I would gladly invite their friendship, fellowship, advice, insight, and experience.
Let’s not freeze people in time. People change. They grow. I’m so grateful that people have not frozen me in time and do not evaluate me today on my youthful immaturity and inexperience. And while I make no claim to have “arrived”, I know that I am not the man I was when I began in the ministry nearly 40 years ago.
“Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry”