As we go through life, we usually encounter some opportunities. Typically, when we think of the word “opportunity,” we think of it as a positive term. It is a word that conveys the idea of possibility and progress, something that holds the potential to make our life better in some way. Some opportunities are sought – a person takes the initiative and pursues them. Others seem to find us with little effort on our part. In some instances, circumstances appear to create them. There are also times when other people seem to be instrumental in bringing opportunities about. Opportunities can be found in many spheres of life. For example, a person may have an opportunity to further their education, or they may be given a chance to take a better paying job. In Christian ministry, too, there are opportunities. A young man or woman may be given a chance to gain practical experience in a particular kind of ministry. Or, they may be able to work with, or be mentored by, a more experienced minister.
However, every opportunity also contains an element of risk. It could work out and be a great blessing to an individual, or it could fail. If it fails, it could be the fault of the individual, or it could be due to the actions or decisions of others. In the remainder of this article, we are going to look at one New Testament character and his experience with opportunities: his name is John Mark.
This man is mentioned a number of times in the New Testament. However, he is probably best known because of his association with Paul and Barnabas. We do not know exactly how he came to be associated with them, because it is not spelled out for us in Scripture. One possible explanation is that Barnabas helped him get this opportunity. Though this is a guess, it seems to me to be a reasonable one, because some scholars believe that Barnabas was related to him (Col 4:10). We first read of John Mark being with Paul and Barnabas in Acts 12:25. We learn more about him in Acts 13:13; in this verse we learn that he travelled with Barnabas and Paul when they were on a ministry journey.
What a privilege he had to work with such highly respected ministers. What a great opportunity! Barnabas was known to be generous (Acts 4:36–37). And when the church in Jerusalem heard that people in Antioch were turning to the Lord, they sent Barnabas to see what was taking place there (Acts 11:22). Paul had a great testimony: he had seen the Lord on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3-6) and preached in both Damascus (Acts 9:20) and Jerusalem (Acts 9:28). When he was in Damascus, we are told that he “grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 9:22 NIV). In Jerusalem he spoke “boldly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9:28 NIV). And as if their individual credits were not enough, Paul and Barnabas had worked together for a year teaching the growing church in Antioch (Acts 11:21, 24-26). Certainly, many Christians would have loved the opportunity to work with these two significant leaders of the Christian church.
In Acts 13:13 we also read that John Mark left Paul and Barnabas during the course of their travels. We are not given any reason why he did this. Later, in Acts 15:38, we are told that he “deserted them”. Once he did that, he cut himself off from some of the opportunities he could have had travelling, and working with, Paul and Barnabas. This door of opportunity closed because of his actions. It was his decision. He was not dismissed, he left of his own accord. Sometimes we can do the same thing, we can close a door of an opportunity because of our decisions or actions. We forfeit what we could have had because of our choices. There are consequences and at times these can cause regret.
In Acts 15 we read that Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another opportunity to travel with the two missionaries (Acts 15:36-39). Paul was not in favour of this (Acts 15:38). He evidently was quite firm about his position on it because we read that Barnabas and Paul had a serious disagreement about this and separated from each other (Acts 15:39). In this situation it seems as though John Mark had an opportunity taken away from him, or blocked by, another individual, the apostle Paul. Paul’s “no” meant that John Mark did not go. John Mark forfeited this potential opportunity. At times we too may feel as though we are being held back by the decisions or actions of another person. And at times we may be. However, in the case of John Mark, he bore some responsibility for Paul’s decision. It was John Mark’s previous leaving of the team that influenced Paul’s decision about him travelling again with the missionaries. Our actions do have consequences; sometimes they are good, and sometimes, as in John Mark’s experience, they are not good. He was prohibited from travelling with the two men at this time. The door was closed.
This may have been a disappointment to John Mark. It may also have been painful for him to know that two close friends who had laboured together for Christ had separated from each other because of a disagreement about him. But fortunately, there is more to the story. John Mark’s experience, which may have been painful, did not cause him to become so discouraged that he left the ministry. Though he was not permitted to minister with Paul at this time, Barnabas took him out ministering. So, while he missed some experiences being with Paul, he gained others as he journeyed with Barnabas. The good news is that in many cases, if a Christian fails at some point in ministry, or proves to be a disappointment to a leader, or a door closes, that does not mean that God is through with that person, or that they will never have another ministry opportunity. The Lord still has need of each of us. He will find someone who will give us a chance, another opportunity. There is too much work to be done and too few workers (Matt 9:37–38) to have labourers sitting on the sidelines. When the Lord provides an opportunity, let us take it. If an opportunity does not immediately present itself, wait for it. Opportunities can help us gain experience, be mentored, and grow spiritually.