Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Badge of a Believer

(Note: Except where noted, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 updated edition.)

He had washed out.  Sure, he was just a rookie; and he had started out with the usual dreams and high hopes.  Everything had gone well for the first week or so, and the future looked bright.  After all, he had joined up with two veterans who were conducting a missionary tour of the Middle East and Eastern Europe.  He couldn't have asked for better mentors.  They had started out from Jerusalem, moved up the coast to a town in western Syria, then crossed the Mediterranean to Cyprus.  They toured the island from east to west until they came to a town called Paphos on the west coast.  There they faced some serious opposition.  And when the heat was applied, the rookie buckled and ran.

            Two years later, the same two veterans planned a return trip covering the same itinerary.  And there was the rookie raring to go with them again.  Only this time the veterans argued over whether to take him.  Barney said yes.  Paul said no.  The disagreement became so sharp they split.  Paul took Silas and set out for Cicilia.  Barney took John Mark and sailed back to Cyprus.

            In Barnabas, we see fleshed out the command of Jesus to "love one another, even as I have loved you." (John 13.34)  When, for instance, Paul came to Jerusalem claiming to have become a Christian, the disciples refused to believe him.  No one trusted him.  Only Barnabas reached out to him as a brother and stood by him while the rest of the disciples stood their distance.  Through the persistent support of Barnabas, Paul came to be accepted by the other disciples.  Now the love of Jesus in Barnabas did the same for John Mark  as well.  We don't know what happened on the return trip to Cyprus or where they went from there.  We know nothing of the manner in which Barnabas mentored John Mark.  But we do know that he restored Paul's faith in the lad, because when Paul wrote to Timothy from prison in Rome toward the end of his ministry, he asked him to "Take Mark, and bring him with thee:  for he is profitable to me for the ministry." (2 Timothy 4.11, KJV)

            Early in his ministry, Paul seemed intolerant of those who failed or those who stumbled and fell along the way.  He had to learn that  Christians, too, are fallen people.  He had to learn to show compassion for a brother who failed and acceptance for those not so strong as he.  He had to learn to love them as Christ loved them.  It was a hard lesson for this stubborn old Pharisee turned Christian.  When he began to write letters to the churches, however, Paul not only taught love for the brethren, he explained how to show it.  For example, to the Romans, he wrote, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love." (Romans 12.10)  To the Galatians, he wrote, "through love serve one another." (Galatians 5.13)  And he prayed for the Thessalonians that the Lord would "cause [them] to increase and abound in love for one another." (1 Thessalonians 3.12)  And Paul increased in that love himself, demonstrating it in his relationships with Timothy, Luke, Trophimus, Acquila, Priscilla, many others, and, of course, John Mark.

            Why was all this so important?  Because Jesus told us that our love for one another is the badge of the believer.  He said, "By this all men will know you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13.35)  The operative word here is "My."  There were many disciples in Jesus's world, for there were many teachers.  Who knows what distinguished them from one another?  But Jesus said His disciples would be distinguished by their love for one another.  Not by their love for the lost as important as that is, but their love for one another.  "Christ's unique plan," says Dr. Gene Getz, "was that non-Christians come to know of His love through Christians in proper relationship with one another.... loving one another in the presence of non-Christians we can communicate God's love to them."  If we claim to be Christians and are not concerned about other Christians --- their needs, their hurts, their joys, their sorrows, then what do we communicate to the lost?

            Real love, God's love, the kind of love Jesus Himself had is just like that.  It is a love that always gives.  And gives sacrificially.  After all, isn't that what Jesus meant when He said to "love one another, even  as I have loved you"?

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