This past Sunday we put the cherry on top of our study of 2 Timothy. Our sermon series leading all the way back to Jan. 23 has had us diving into and dissecting this letter from Paul to his protege Timothy and to us.
When I was a young Christian, I remember reading through Paul's Epistles and thinking that I really didn't have to pay that much attention at the end. There was almost always a blessing, a few shoutouts to people in the congregation that would receive the letter, a short missionary update on the people who were with Paul at the time he wrote, but after all the people he was talking about were long since dead.
As I've grown, at least in age but hopefully in maturity, the words saying all Scripture is God breathed and useful for us has made me pay closer attention, even to the parts that aren't the easiest to read. It's amazing the places you'll discover that golden nugget of truth that you would have breezed over when you slow down and give scripture the attention it deserves.
This past week as we looked at chapter 4, verses 6 to the end of 2 Timothy, this proved true! As I read through these final verses there were three significant ideas that jumped out at me. You can go back to the worship page and watch the sermon in its entirety to hear about all three of these ideas, but there was one that I wanted to use this week's blog to dig just a bit deeper on. Why this point? Because I've already had several people contact me for more information, clarification, and with questions.
This idea comes out of 2 Timothy 4:11b where Paul says, "Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry." In the sermon I referenced Acts 13:13 & 15:36-40 as well which I encourage you to go back and look at.
The basic idea we find when we look at all these scriptures together is that Paul and his Ministry partner Barnabas had been traveling and working together. John Mark (called Mark in 2 Tim 4:11) was supposed to be going with them, but he ducked out. When Paul and Barnabas got ready to go on their next trip, Barnabas wanted to give John Mark a 2nd chance, but Paul wasn't having any of it. He didn't trust John Mark, and it actually caused a huge rift between Paul and Barnabas, to the point where the two split and went separate ways.
So, when we get back to 2 Timothy, and suddenly Paul is telling Timothy to bring John Mark with him because he's helpful for ministry, we all kind of scratch our heads!!! Paul what you thinking? Why are you letting this guy back in?
And that's where the teaching point comes in. Whatever the reason that John Mark ran, whatever transpired in his life for him to once again be trustworthy, Paul had to be open to seeing the change that had occurred. All too often as Christians, we're not open to the fact that God can bring change in the lives of people who hurt us.
I shared in the Sermon, this is not an easy concept for me. When someone hurts me, I want to put up a wall, I want to say never again. I don't want to see, hear, or talk to that person and give them a second chance to hurt me again. Wash my hands and walk away... and I really don't think I'm alone in that boat. Here's the problem, if you're in the boat with me, we're both wrong.
What we see with Paul is that he was open to the fact that God could change, could redeem John Mark from someone who wasn't trustworthy, to someone who was awesome and needed. And I'll let you in on a secret, it's not that there was anything special about John Mark except that he allowed God to work on his heart. That means whoever has hurt you, whoever has disappointed you, has the same opportunity to be changed and transformed by God as John Mark had!
I know, I know...that's not what you and I wanted to hear! We want to be patted on the head, told we gave them a chance, and that its okay to be done with them. Yeah, not what we're seeing here. Paul already had to deal with this idea in his two letters to the church at Corinth ( 1 Cor 5:1; 4-5, 2 Cor 2: 6-8). There was a young man sleeping with his dad's wife, Paul told the church to put him out of the fellowship so he could see the error of his ways. They put him out, he saw the error, made a change, but then the church didn't want to let him back in. Ohhhhhh no...you're that sinner!
So, Paul has to write back and say, hey we put him out so he would change, if he changed, let him back in. God's been working on the boy! This is where we mess up, this is where I mess up ALL THE TIME!
I either want to 1: be done with them so I don't have an opportunity to see a change
2: disbelieve the change (cause let's face it they stink and it can't be
real, if anything it's just an act)
3: sometimes I want to undermine the change so they'll slip up and I
can still be self-righteous and right because look how bad they are
(Yes, I know how bad that sounds. I hate it when God points out my flaws and makes me look at my ugly side in the mirror! - Which means I really, really need him to do it more often!)
Notice what Paul does though. He sees John Mark for who and what he has become. He doesn't hold on to the grudge about past wrongs. He moves on and accepts what God has helped transform John Mark into, a huge blessing.
What does this mean for our lives? Does it mean we just toss away every hurt, every betrayal? Do we let someone over and over beat us up, beat us down, walk over top of us and trudge us into the ground?
No. We've already seen back in chapters 2 & 3 of 2 Timothy how Paul tells us to be discerning, careful and smart about who we let into our inner circle of believers. Scripture tells us that we are to examine the fruit in a person's life. The same is true here.
If John Mark had not changed, if fear and love for this world had continued to drive him away from serving the Lord, I doubt in Paul's final letter that he would have asked for him to come help with ministry. But what Paul had seen and heard about the life of John Mark was fruit that didn't look like the scared guy that ran and hid from Pamphylia. He had become a force for Christ.
Thus, Paul judged John Mark by the man he had become and not who he once was. That's what we have to be open to doing in the lives of people who have hurt us as well. What fruit do we see? Do we believe that God can change the heart of a man or woman? Do we see evidence that God has brought transformation and restoration in their lives?
If the answer is yes. If they have changed and I choose to refuse to see it, I refuse to accept them for who God has made them and not who they used to be, then I become the one in the wrong. Just as, if I am in Christ, I believe God has changed me from the creature I once was, I have to be the kind of person who believes he can do that for others too!