In Person for One Another
But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20
The verb Paul uses to describe Paul’s separation from the Thessalonians literally means to be made an orphan. “The word could be used of a parentless child or childless parents, and even in a general sense of any severe deprivation and desolation.” (Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament) The pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic led to many feeling torn away from their congregation and perhaps even feeling orphaned, especially hospital patients and nursing home residents. However, Paul continues by noting that they were separated from being in person, not from the heart or from thoughts. Throughout the pandemic, pastors and congregations remembered before the throne of God’s grace those who had been separated from the flock.
Paul’s impassioned concern for the Thessalonians is apparent in his letter. He writes that it is with great desire that he longs to see them face to face. New Testament scholar, Leon Morris writes, “The word…means a strong passion so that it is often translated ‘lust’ or ‘covetousness.’ This is one of the few places in the New Testament where it is used in a good sense.”
It begs the question, why is being together “in person” or “face to face” so important to Paul. Before answering the question, it is good to touch on the blessing that technology has provided to the saints in the last year. God fed and nourished His saints who were not able to attend worship “in person” through His Word. However, Paul makes clear that among the blessings of attending worship “in person” is our ability to encourage others and receive encouragement from them in return. Paul longs to see His beloved children so that might be blessed by mutual consolation of the saints. There will be times in the future where saints are unable to attend worship in person and will be blessed by receiving the Word of God through technology. But such separation is never the “goal” or “end.” We always long to be together as the saints of God gathered around Christ, blessed with a foretaste of the feast to come, and encouraging one another all the more as the day approaches. May God richly bless our congregations as we come together to encourage one another as our Lord Jesus Christ prepares to come again.
Prayer – Lord God, we thank You that You have taught us what You would have us believe and do. Help us by Your Holy Spirit, for the sake of Jesus Christ, to hold fast Your Word in hearts that you have cleansed that thereby we may be made strong in faith and perfect holiness and be comforted in life and death; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan