The Priority of Face to Face (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)


In 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, Paul, Silas, and Timothy offer three prayers:

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

The first prayer asks that God would overcome the distance that separates us from one another. We moderns take for granted how easily we can travel to and communicate with one another. In the course of a few hours, we can traverse distances that would’ve take the missionaries months to cover. And with the click of a mouse or the pushing of a few buttons, we can talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Nothing, however, substitutes for personal presence. May we recover the apostolic desire for personal presence above instantaneous but electronically mediated conversation!

The second prayer is that Jesus Christ would foster love in our relationships with one another. It is possible to be personally present but emotionally distant. You can hate the family member or friend sitting next to you at the dinner table, after all. The missionaries want the Thessalonians–and by extension, us–to be positively emotionally present with one another. And not in any minimal sense, either. Notice the verbs they use: increase and overflow. May we learn how to relate to one another in such a way that we always desire to relate to one another more, not less!

The third prayer is that Jesus Christ would overcome the sin that resides in our hearts, sin which separates us from God and from one another. At the end of the day, it is neither physical distance or emotional distance that is the problem in our relationships. It is distance between us and God in our thoughts, desires, and actions. To overcome the problems in our relationships, the problem in our hearts must be dealt with. And this can only happen when Christ strengthens our hearts in anticipation of the Judgment Day. May we be blameless on that day!

By way of application, let me suggest we take the following actions so that these prayers can become a reality:

The missionaries offer three prayers, addressing three different issues. Do we pray? Do we pray about our needs in a comprehensive way?
The missionaries focused on the problem of unholiness. Is that a focus of our prayers? Do we trust in Jesus Christ to make us holy on the Day of Judgment?
The missionaries focused on personal presence. In the era of Facebook, Twitter, texting, and ubiquitous “smart” devices, do we major on using our technology, or do we major on face-to-face skills?

May God sanctify our hearts and increase our love until we see him face to face!

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