Two boys, really, chosen to accompany the most famous man (next to Jesus) in Christian history. Did their mothers see who Paul was going to be? Did these young men sense the significance of their service…or did they view it as a big adventure?
It makes sense for a group of men to invite an assistant/intern/gopher on a long trip. He could have carried things, stepped out for coffee or sandwiches, even gone ahead for lodgings if necessary. Paul had plenty of people to meet, sermons to prepare, and letters to write. An assistant for the mundane tasks was a perfect addition to their small band.
You can see the contrast between the two in Acts 15:36-16:5.
John, also called Mark
John Mark’s mother was Mary. We don’t know anything about his father. They had a good-sized house in Jerusalem where believers often gathered. When Peter walked out of prison, he went straight to Mary’s house (Acts 12:12), knowing he would find friends there. Saul/Paul and Barnabas were in town at the same time, delivering a gift for the poor (See Antioch: First Church, part 1). Who knows? Maybe they were at Mary’s house that night too.
When Saul/Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch from Jerusalem, they took John Mark back with them (Acts 12:25). Then, when the Holy Spirit sent them out to share the Good News, John Mark tagged along “as their helper” (Acts 13:5). They started in Cyprus, then went to Perga, on the coast of Pamphylia. At that point, John Mark left for Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). We don’t know why John Mark left, but Paul wasn’t happy about his departure. When they started preparing for their second journey, Luke puts it like this:
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. –Acts 15:38
He had deserted them.
Paul’s distaste for Mark was so strong that he and Barnabas parted ways. Paul and Silas headed north out of Antioch while Barnabas and John Mark went south (Acts 15:39-40). But at some later point, Paul saw that John Mark had matured. It’s clear from Paul’s letters that he and Mark grew close toward the end of Paul’s life.
Paul mentions John Mark three times in his letters:
- He was there when Paul was imprisoned in Rome the first time (Colossians 4:10), around ad60. Here, we finally learn Mark was Barnabas’ cousin! That changes things, doesn’t it?
- In the same time period, Paul included John Mark’s name on the list of those who greet Philemon at the end of Paul’s brief letter by the same name (Philemon 24).
- When Paul was imprisoned again (probably ad64), he asked Timothy to come to him quickly and to bring John Mark with him, saying Mark was “helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
Tradition holds that John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark based on Peter’s recollections of Jesus. Indeed, Mark was also very close to Peter, who called him “my son” (1 Peter 5:13).
Paul probably met Timothy the first time he visited Timothy’s hometown of Lystra, midway through the first missionary journey. Lystra was the place where a crowd tried to stone Paul, leaving him for dead outside the city gate (See my recent post, 3 Strikes But Not Out).
I wonder how much Timothy saw. Was he in the crowd stoning Paul? Or was he already a disciple, and did he gather around Paul when the apostle lay close to death outside the city?
Then, early in the second missionary journey, Paul (now with Silas, ad49) stopped in Lystra again. There’s a sense in Luke’s narrative that maybe Paul went there on purpose to get Timothy, but we can’t know for sure. Timothy and his Jewish mother were already Christ-followers, but his father was a Greek, that is, not Jewish (Acts 16:1) and not, based on the wording, a disciple. Paul invited Timothy to continue the journey with them, and apparently his father didn’t object.
Paul then circumcised Timothy “because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:3). This is troublesome for me. One of the purposes of this entire trip was to deliver the letter from the Jerusalem council which clearly stated circumcision wasn’t necessary for salvation (Acts 16:4). Paul was the main one arguing against requiring circumcision (See Acts 15), yet he felt it important that Timothy conform to Jewish custom. Is it because the Jews is this region were so adamantly against him on his first journey? Was it because Timothy was bi-racial, and Paul was trying to avoid extra scrutiny for the boy? I don’t know, but it seems Paul was practicing the “all things to all people” he would later write (c. ad55) to the Corinthian church: “To those under the law I became like one under the law… all this for the sake of the gospel” (see 1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Timothy accompanied Paul through the second and third missionary journeys. They stayed in Corinth for over eighteen months (Bible Atlas, 230) on the second journey and in Ephesus for more than two years on the third journey (Acts 19:10). By then, too, Timothy had become a leader, going with Erastus over to Macedonia (Europe) while Paul “stayed in the province of Asia a little longer” (Acts 19:22).
After the third journey, we don’t hear from Timothy for about six years. By that time, he was the leader of the Ephesian church. Even then however, Paul still thought of Timothy as a young man.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example of the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. –1 Timothy 4:12
I’m certain Paul’s discipling relationships were intentional, but I wonder if Paul purposefully chose these two young men because their fathers weren’t influencing them toward Christ. I wonder if Paul knew the men these boys would become. After all, Mark wrote one of the Gospels and both became leaders in the early church.
The “kids” of Acts: John Mark and Timothy. More than just gophers for the adults, did Paul foresee the influence he would have on their young lives? My #influence is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)Tweet
Have you invited a young believer to walk alongside you as you “do life”? If so, how has God blessed you through that discipling/mentoring relationship?