Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mistakes, Second Chances, and Grace

"Perhaps one of the lessons is that we need Pauls who lead the army into battle. And, we need Barnabases who care for the wounded and shell shocked and get them back into the war." ~ The Christian Curmudgeon, "I Don't Believe in Second Chances"

In the article linked above, the Christian Curmudgeon talks about the grace of second (and third and fourth and fifth...) chances using the story of John Mark as an example. If you do not know what happened there, John Mark was a companion of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Ac. 12:25). However, something happened (no one knows exactly what happened) and John Mark left prematurely (Ac. 13:48). When Paul and Barnabas were starting out their second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark but Paul would not allow it. Apparently John Mark's departure on the first missionary journey made Paul feel he was not suited for their work anymore. The disagreement was so sharp between the two of them that they split: Barnabas with John Mark and Paul with Silas (Ac. 15:36-40).

Now, think about that. Paul--the man who used to be Saul, persecuted Christians, and murdered who knows how many believers--would not extend grace to John Mark for his mistake (whatever it was). Paul--the man who championed absolutely free grace, wrote things like "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Ti. 1:15), and gave us nearly half the NT--would not give John Mark a second chance. This would shock me, if I was not so much like Paul. Given Paul's background he should have been the first to give John Mark another chance. In fact, I can imagine Barnabas saying something like this to Paul: "Don't you remember that no one in the church would trust you until I took a chance on you? [Ac. 9:26-27] Don't you remember Who sought you out and stopped you on the road to Damascus when you were trying to kill us? [Ac. 9:1-19] Why won't you give John Mark another opportunity?" But, whatever Barnabas said obviously did not work... at least not at first.

When we read Paul's later letters, however, we realize that somewhere along the line he had a change of heart about John Mark. During his first imprisonment, perhaps as much as 15 years after he and Barnabas split, Paul wrote that he was sending John Mark to the Colossians and that they should welcome him (Col. 4:10), and he names John Mark as a fellow worker in his letter to Philemon (Phm. 24). Furthermore, during his second and last imprisonment in Rome, when Paul was writing his final words to his protege Timothy, he said, "Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.... Do your best to come before winter..." (2 Ti. 4:11, 21) So many years after Barnabas tried to convince Paul that John Mark deserved another chance, Paul realized it and John Mark became a valuable companion, so valuable that when he was facing his impending martyrdom Paul wanted to see two men: Timothy and John Mark.

So what is the point of saying all this? Well, it is similar to what the Christian Curmudgeon wrote, which I quoted above. The Church needs Pauls because Pauls are willing to speak harshly when necessary in order to protect the sheep from wolves. However, the Church also desperately needs Barnabases to check the Pauls and make sure that the grace Christ gave us is given to others. I fear we have many more Pauls than Barnabases these days. I can say that because if I take an honest look at myself, I am more like Paul than Barnabas. I am too quick to say, "He is no longer useful." But, what if I acted like Barnabas? What if I remembered how much grace Jesus has given me? What if I remembered how many times I have returned to Him to repent of the same sins over and over again and that He has taken me back every single time? What if I gave second, third, fourth, fifth, and so on chances, just like Jesus has given me? Perhaps I would find someone like John Mark who would become one of the last men I would want to see before I died. Perhaps such a story of grace would be seen by the world and it would say, "Huh? What is going on there?"

Look, I know we need to protect the purity of the Church. I know we need to get the wolves out before they destroy the flock. Those of you who know me personally know how concerned I am with that. But, what would happen if someone who had the potential to be a wolf received grace from us instead of estrangement? Perhaps the Spirit would use that grace to bring them to repentance (cf. Ro. 2:4) and make them useful to us, just like John Mark became useful to Paul. The Spirit did it with me, so I am pretty sure He can do it with anyone else out there.

I pray daily for the grace and compassion of men like Barnabas. I am not there yet, but I am also thankful every day that God is not finished with me yet.

By His Grace,

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