When a person is converted to Christ, he needs someone to take a serious interest in his spiritual development if he is to stay faithful and achieve his potential for the Lord. I believe that Barnabas was that special person in the lives of many first century Christians. Eternal gratitude is due to those who serve to encourage the babes in Christ and any disciples who are struggling. To provide this sort of encouragement is a vital gift that can never be repaid. As we mature as Christians, we must try to become that special someone in the lives of others. The Scriptures specifically reveal Barnabas as a special encourager to John Mark.
Barnabas played an important role in John Mark's life by helping to restore lost confidence. That's what encouragers do. In Acts 13:5, we learn that John Mark went with Paul and Barnabas on what's commonly referred to as their first missionary journey. He went to help them preach the gospel and save souls, which is certainly commendable. However, in 13:13, after traveling to only a few locations, John Mark left the group at Perga and returned to Jerusalem. Why did he quit? We simply don't know the answer to that question. But, we do know that Paul did not look favorably upon John Mark's departure.
Allow me to share a lengthy quote from Aubrey Johnson's book, The Barnabas Factor (pp. 126-127), pertaining to John Mark:
"Every Christian encounters his Perga at some point. Christianity is joyous but also rigorous, and there is a moment in every saint's life when he asks, 'Is it really worth it?' When a Christian feels like giving up, he is revisiting Perga. Those who throw in the towel of faith will not find the happiness they were looking for when they return to their personal Jerusalem. After arriving home, it appears that Mark was thoroughly miserable. Perhaps he was disappointed in himself for failing to complete what he started. It must have been painful knowing that he let down men who were counting on him. Greater yet would be the thought of disappointing God who had done so much to bless his life. Hanging out with the guys could not have been the same anymore. The comforts of home he sorely missed must now have seemed trivial. One can only imagine how his conscience troubled him and refused to be quieted. One gets the sense that this young man was eager to return to the mission field and the purpose for which he was created" (cf. Acts 15:37).
While planning the second missionary journey, Paul insisted on using men of proven character. Thus, he had no interest in taking John Mark along with them again. John Mark's ministry might have ended at this point had it not been for Barnabas. He considered it unfair to hold one mistake over a young man's head and brand him a quitter. Paul could not change Barnabas' mind no matter how hard he tried. Barnabas stuck by John Mark, offering forgiveness, acceptance, and confidence. He was willing to give him a second chance! To his credit, Barnabas didn't say: "Let's wait five or ten years and see if he proves himself first." Mark needed help right then, not at some point far into the future.
Tragically, some people refuse to forget the past even when sins were repented of long ago. Such an attitude can be so discouraging. We should thank God for men like Barnabas who help modern-day John Marks recover their confidence. In the end, Barnabas' efforts paid off. Even Paul acknowledged Mark's usefulness later (II Tim. 4:11). Ironically, the discouraged young man had become an encourager to Paul himself!
We need to make it our business to do all we can to assist others in fulfilling their spiritual potential, especially those who have struggled or failed in the past. We can, as encouragers, make a positive difference in the lives of others!