“Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in ministry.” II Timothy 4:11
It confounds me what we Christians allow to distract us, even scripture. What do I mean by scripture distracting us? How can scripture distract us if God’s word doesn’t return void?
Scripture distracts us when it draws us into debates, arguments, pious ramblings that, frankly, are vain. Scripture distracts us when we miss the point of what is being said and use it to prove we are “right” when it’s overarching message is reconciliation and restoration.
II Timothy 4:11 is one of those verses that brings us back to reconciliation. Let me press the rewind button…
Sometime earlier the same Mark mentioned above “deserted” (Acts 15:38; Acts 13:13 uses the term “left”) Paul and Barnabas. In Acts 15:36-41there arose a “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas about Mark, who was also known as John, rejoining them. Barnabas said “yes”; Paul said “no.” Here is where the distracting question of scripture rears its ugly head. Who was right and who was wrong. Some contend that Barnabas was wrong because he didn’t submit to Paul’s apostolic authority. Yet, in Acts 14:14 both Paul and Barnabas are referred to as apostles, so that argument is tenuous at best. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Barnabas was politicking for his cousin.)
On the other hand, when Paul and Silas departed for their missionary journey the were “committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.” This certainly lends credence to Paul’s apostolic authority. In addition, scripture is replete with testimony to the effectiveness of Paul in ministry and is rather quiet about Barnabas. Seeing that scripture is divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit there must be some reason that we’re told of Paul’s effectiveness and not Barnabas’.
And, of course, the arguments could continue in support of both. But that continues the distraction of what really happened. That would be like saying that the point of God coming to earth was to die on the cross and stopping there. Was Jesus’ death on the cross a necessity? Yes! But only to the point that it led to His resurrection. The point of Jesus on earth isn’t His death; it’s His resurrection. Simply dying on the cross would make Him a martyr. Coming back to life reveals Himself as Savior.
The biblical story of what happened between Paul and Barnabas is similar in a microcosm. When we flippantly proclaim, “I know who was right” and dropping a one liner to support our position is, at best, ending the story early. It certainly risks intellectually bankruptcy. The narrative is much more complex than that. To understand the central message of any story we must follow it to its conclusion.
Please notice that there is no animosity recorded between Paul and Barnabas. There is no mention of “he said/he said” and no mention of the argument continuing. Paul himself cautions against any such distractions when he says in I Corinthians 3:3-7, “You are still worldly. For since there is still jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men. What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? … neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
The point of the Paul vs. Barnabas narrative (and I hesitatingly use versus at the risk of continuing the pointless argument) is not who was right and who was wrong. The point all scripture isn’t about who is right, it’s about reconciliation. That brings us to II Timothy 4:11. Paul and John Mark are reconciled. I suppose that Paul and Barnabas were reconciled, as well…strike that, I contend that they were never divided. They may have gone their separate ways physically, but spiritually were united and undivided. It’s not unreasonable to contend that both Paul and Barnabas would scold us for being distracted by contention that didn’t exist.
The narrative isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. The narrative is about reconciliation. It’s a reflection of the redemption story. Jesus, the one “who makes things grow,” is the only one that is “right” and He chose to be “wrong” on our behalf so that we can be reconciled to God.
That’s why worship.