Life’s challenges, including in ministry, have a way of revealing the true character of people. It’s human nature to make assumptions about people based on how we see them behave in certain situations. Then there can be times our assumptions about people have to be reevaluated when they pleasantly surprise us or unexpectedly disappoint us just when we thought we had them figured out.
The apostle Paul experienced this as he traveled the world sharing the gospel and ministering. Even with his spiritual maturity and honed spiritual gift of discernment, two people involved in his ministry ended up shocking him. The first one was John Mark. He was Barnabas’s cousin and traveled with Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey for a short time in Acts 13 before he abandoned them in Acts 13:13.
Many months later after they finished their first missionary journey, John Mark’s desertion became a point of contention between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15 when Barnabas wanted to take his cousin again for their second missionary journey. It sparked such a heated argument between Paul and Barnabas that they split their ministry. Fast forward to many years later, we find that Paul somewhere along the way was pleasantly surprised by John Mark’s commitment to ministry. They reconciled and as Paul was preparing for his impending martyrdom in 2 Timothy 4:11, he asked that Mark be sent to him because Paul found him to be very helpful to his ministry.
The other individual who shocked Paul was Demas. He was mentioned in both Colossians and Philemon as someone who seemed to be a constant fixture in Paul’s ministry. Demas must have been such an important part of that ministry that in Colossians 4:14 he was named alongside Luke, the writer of the gospel and Acts. However, in 2 Timothy 4 prior to John Mark being named, we find out the shocking revelation that Demas, to Paul’s disappointment, forsook the ministry and went back to the world. And to think this happened to a man like Paul who had the spiritual gifts of prophecy, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, and discernment.
Based on Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:10, we can gather he was hurt and concerned by Demas’s actions. Nevertheless, we can learn a lot by how Paul dealt with Demas and John Mark. In John Mark’s case, we see how humble and forgiving Paul was. I imagine he must have even apologized to Mark at some point over the heated argument in Acts 15. In Demas’s case he clearly felt the sting of betrayal, but he was still determined to carry out his mission to its deadly end in spite of those who forsook him. This shows me the importance of staying focused when God calls us to carry out his works. We don’t have to let the actions of people around us steer us off course even if they shock us.