Thursday, March 24, 2011

Encouragement - Barnabas - Second Chances

One thing I've observed in Christian circles is that we can be strong at giving people first chances, at believing in and encouraging people who are new to following Christ. But we are often very poor at giving people second chances, at forgiving and reaching out to people who have been Christians for a while and then mess up.

I'm not sure why that is. Sadly it's my experience is that it's often the people who preach 'grace' most strongly who are most likely to demonstrate 'ungrace' to fellow Christians who mess up. I'm not saying that we shouldn't take sin seriously, and we must never end up with 'cheap grace', where we just overlook sin and pretend it's OK to just carry on sinning with no desire to change. But where people genuinely recognise that they've messed up and are willing to repent and try to get back on track, then surely our duty as Christ followers is to seek to restore them.

The Bible is full of people getting second chances. To take two examples there is David after he commits adultery with Bathsheba (just take a look at Psalm 51 if you want to know what genuine repentance looks like), and Peter after he denies Christ three times. Both messed up big time, but both went on to be restored and to continue to life powerful lives for God.

Part of the gift of Barnabas's gift of encouragement is giving second chances. We see this when he and Paul fall out over Mark (the writer of the gospel of Mark). We read about this in Acts 15:36-40:

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.

The Bible doesn't comment on whether Paul or Barnabas were right in this situation, but my strong feeling is that Barnabas handled it better than Paul. Barnabas was willing to give a second chance to Mark, whereas Paul (who had been on the end of such a strong 'first chance' encouragement from Barnabas) wasn't willing to extend that same chance to Mark. Imagine how Mark would have felt if they'd both rejected him (would he have even ended up writing his gospel?), and imagine how encouraged he must have felt knowing that Barnabas so believed in him that he was willing to sacrifice his ministry partnership with Paul in order to express his belief in him. The issue here isn't whether or not Mark had messed up, he clearly had, but how people around him looked to restore him to community and to his ministry.

It does seem that later in life Paul comes to see the value of Mark's ministry, and that the two of them are reconciled, when he writes to Timothy "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Tim 4:11). I love those little details and glimpses of hope we get in the Bible!

Perhaps today you need a second chance. You've messed up, but need to get planted in a place with people who will still believe in you. I pray that you will find those encouragers who will give you that second chance, and that if you're part of Kerith you'll find us to be a community of the second chance. Or perhaps God is opening your eyes to people in your world who need a second chance. Then begin to reach out to those people and begin to restore them today.

Simon.

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