Face to Face
In his second epistle, John’s closing remarks brings to light a truth that we at times forget as we travel through life.
Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full.
2 John 12
Face to face.
So that your joy may be full.
Few things can test faith like a long-distance relationship. One party is here; the other is there. What could go wrong?
It was the Roman poet Sextus Propertius who many credit with saying "absence makes the heart grow fonder." For some, this idiom may indeed hold true. But consider there is another twist to this adage. Instead of making the heart grow fonder, being apart can make the heart wander.
The pandemic of 2020 has separated people. For over a year, many of our interactions have been limited almost entirely to phone calls, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or some other virtual intermediary we've since grown weary of. This forced separation has impacted even those of the household of God. Doubts and insecurities can seep in. Faith that was once strong now seems to be shaken to its core. The less time we spend together, the easier it becomes for us to grow apart.
I fear that this individualistic culture we live in may tempt us to deliberate and decide privately about whether and when to return to assembling with the saints. But isolated thinking on important issues is rarely wise:
He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom.
Sometimes our hearts can take the wrong turn at the crossroads between commitment and comfort. If we’re not careful, some may grow comfortable with their no-commute, no-prep Sunday mornings at home. Or even do whatever they wanted on the weekend and watch a recorded service later.
We need to be reminded that God has called us into relationships filled with time together, spiritual conversation, mutual prayer, heart openness, and healthy accountability. We are embodied creatures meant to interact in person (Genesis 1.26- 27; 2.18) We are born with a longing deep inside to connect to something or someone who understands us completely. We have been adopted into God’s family, not as an only child but as a sibling with brothers and sisters. The local church is by definition an assembly—a physical gathering united by a spiritual identity. We’re a body, not a prosthetic warehouse; a pack, not a scattering of lone wolves; a temple, not a dispersion of loose stones.
This trial separation we all find ourselves in does not have to be in vain. Good can come of it. But extended isolation from the ones we love can have irreversible consequences. Isolation can cripple us. Weaken our bonds and relationships. It can even stagnate our faith. We rely on others throughout our lives: from nourishment and protection as infants to support when we're older. We all have an innate desire to maintain social connection and avoid social isolation. And thus, a lack of social interaction can create a craving similar to hunger and thirst.
Consider what the psalmist has to say about his craving for God:
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
What does it mean to truly long for someone?
It means that we are unsatisfied or even unfulfilled because there is someone we very much want to be near. To hear that certain voice. To experience that special presence. God wants us to long for Him because it is in that longing that we are fulfilled and overwhelmed by God and the reflection of His Son in our lives. We are never more fulfilled than when our longing for God is met by His presence in our daily lives. And our thirst can only be quenched when we go to meet God. This is the drive and aim of life. The psalmist wants to experience God, be with God, and spend time with God. That should be our goal. Our desire. Our longing.
But we need to be reminded that He has given us each other to help in our walk with Him. God has given to us all the spirit of true fellowship and has supplied the means of its full enjoyment. And so, saints should also long for each other. The creature yearning for the Creator. The redeemed sighing for the Redeemer. The good longing for the good. What was it that the apostle Paul said to the brethren at Philippi?
For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Do you long for your brethren? For more time with them? Craving the love and care that only comes from family?
Don’t overestimate your ability to run the Christian race—or make a difficult decision—in isolation. If we need spiritual encouragement from wise believers “every day” — and we do — then we certainly need outside insight as we navigate our own decision-making.
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
What the writer of Hebrews is telling us is that we need each other. Unfortunately, we have the tendency to not believe this. We think that we can be independent. We do not see the need for gathering for Bible studies. We do not see the need to gather for our worship times. We do not see the need to listen to sermons. We do not see the need to spend our time together as often as possible.
The emphasis it seems to me is that there is such a significant need to be together. It is not that we just get together. Notice that there is a purpose to our gathering together. So, we can encourage each other. So we can exhort each other. We are called to come along each other’s side and help each other. It ultimately is a salvation purpose. We need to look at ourselves as God-ordained encouragers who have been brought here today to encourage everyone else. You need to help others and they need to help you. You need to let people help you and you need to be involved enough to help others.
And we can’t fulfill that in isolation.
Our relationship with God is defined by Christ. And this new covenant grants us both privileges and responsibilities. One of those responsibilities (which is also a privilege) is to gather, worship, fellowship, and serve together.
and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
We can have a depth of love, trust and feelings that we've never realized before. The Bible can become alive and exciting. Your prayer life can be rich and intimate with the Lord. Our minds can be filled with spiritual thoughts that will guide us and shape our days. And through our relationship with Him, and with our brethren, our walk can be enriched by those who help encourage, edify, and instruct us in the holy writ.
So, let us consider "face to face."
There is great value in face-to-face conversations. It allows us to plead what is earnestly important. We all come from different backgrounds spiritually. Some are new converts. Others are third and fourth generation Christians. Being together helps us focus our eyes on the Lord and not become complacent. Brethren help shape our thoughts towards brotherly kindness and love. Brothers and sisters help each other love Him more deeply and strengthen our faith. In their zeal for God, they keep us from becoming apathetic. Being together keeps us connected and strengthens our souls. It's easier to consider and stimulate one another to love and good works when I see my fellow workers in the kingdom as family. As brothers and sisters who need encouragement and edification.
Face to face.
So that our joy may be full.