As we closed our previous article, it was with a heavy heart that we considered the solemn reality that although one can be fully repentant, forgiven and restored, there still can remain the possibility of lingering consequences for serious sin, especially where public service to God is involved. It is now the writer’s deep burden that, as fellow Christians, we never use these situations as a weapon to unnecessarily censor or suppress these precious individuals, or attempt to downgrade such to some second-class standing or position. This couldn’t be further from the mind of God in the demonstration of true forgiveness. In fact, we suggest that just as there is every effort made for restoration to assembly fellowship, there should also be accomplished, where at all possible, a return to service, even if modified in some way from prior labour. In this article, we desire to take up three instances where service was encouraged to continue, despite difficulties.
The Reception of Mark
While there are a number of NT examples, perhaps one of the most well known is the episode that developed between Paul and John Mark. Journeying with Paul through the book of the Acts is both enlightening and exhilarating. In chapter 13, Luke records for us what commentators often refer to as the first missionary journey of Paul. Partnering with Barnabas and taking with them young John Mark (the nephew of Barnabas), they set sail to Cyprus.
One of the first things the Holy Spirit desires to document is the insidious opposition of a false prophet named Barjesus. In the most dramatic of circumstances, and to the astonishment of those present, the mighty power of God was unleashed, resulting in the binding of satanic powers and the salvation of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. None of us really knows why, but after the difficulties of Cyprus, and possible hardships of the path looming, John Mark quit, departing from them at Pamphylia, heading home, no doubt to his mother in Jerusalem (Act 13:13).
Continuing the narrative, we find that as a direct consequence, Paul rejected Mark from being included in the public service of God (see 15:36-41). Uncle Barnabas, unwilling to accept this, “took” Mark, headed again to Cyprus, and sailed off the page of Scripture. Luke notes that Paul “chose” Silas and, with the commendation of the assembly in Antioch, continued on, led by the Holy Spirit. Was this the end for the service of Mark or the relationship between himself and Paul? Writing from his prison cell some 19 years later, Paul received Mark and exhorted the Colossian assembly to do the same, referring to him as a “fellow-labourer.” What an example to these believers! Paul had written in the same letter that they were to put off “anger, wrath, malice,” and to put on, “as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Col 3:8,12-13). After all that had taken place, Paul proved he was a man who lived what he taught. If that wasn’t enough, 21 years after his departure in Acts 13, Paul recommended Mark, stating emphatically, “Mark … is profitable to me for the ministry” (2Ti 4:11). How delightful to see the recovery of an erring servant.
The road had been long, but with lessons learned, Mark’s restoration to the ministry was complete. He was now the restored servant, ready to lift his pen and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, leave for us the indelible record of the Perfect Servant. What a God we have!
The Respect of Peter
Reading through the NT, there is no doubt that Peter was regarded by Paul (1Co 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Gal 1:18; 2:7-9). None of us likes to be publicly admonished, so in turning to Galatians 2:11, let us spare a thought for Peter on the occasion of being rightly rebuked by Paul. Peter was a man with apostolic authority, well known among the saints, writing, “Ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder” (1Pe 5:5). But that day, he was withstood to the face and publicly corrected by a brother younger in the faith, and a man with a shameful past. This would be enough to arouse the hackles on any carnal neck, but not so Peter. He wrote, “Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (v5). Peter not only wrote about humility, but he practiced it.
Unforgiveness is the breeding ground for pride and bitterness, which leads to maliciousness, and Peter would have none of it. Desiring that the work of God proceed unhindered, Peter publicly respected Paul, lifting his pen before he died to make known to the millions of readers of the NT that Paul was indeed a “beloved brother” (2Pe 3:15). I am challenged to ask myself if I could be as equally magnanimous.
The Rejoicing of Paul
It’s of no coincidence that Paul’s letter to the Philippians opens in the first chapter with the apostle’s exhibiting the spirit of forgiveness to those who were glad to see him imprisoned. Paul was completely aware that there were preachers of the gospel who were actors, insincere and swanning about assemblies, envious of the apostle, possibly because of the blessing he saw and the people he helped. They stirred strife wherever they went under the guise of “preaching,” men who used the platform and Scriptures as weapons, not sincere, hoping to rub salt into the already wounded apostle (Php 1:15-16). Tragically, such men are still with us in the 21st century.
What was Paul’s reaction? “Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (v18). He was delighted to see the work of God continue, even at the cost of personal hurt. Unsurprisingly, he instructed the saints in chapter 2 as to being like Christ. Beloved, how would we respond to such treatment amid difficult circumstances? Would I harbour thoughts of resentment, a determination never to shake these men’s hands again? Someone has well said that unforgiveness is akin to swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die. It eats at our character like cancer.
As we close this segment on the forgiveness of fellow saints, let us learn lessons from these NT examples, and in humility, make every provision possible for the work of God to flourish. Indeed, we say with Paul, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (2:3-4).
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.