17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavoured the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you – 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I hope this finds you well. Last Sunday we live-streamed our service from the building. The only people present in the building were me, and a small team who enabled the live-stream to happen. Leading and preaching at this service gave me a mixture of emotions. On the one hand I was so thankful to God for the technology that he has given us and the way he has enabled us to use it to offer services each week. On the other hand, it felt strange and sad having only a few people in the building. Normally I see a much bigger group of you in front of me and it made me miss you even more than normal. This feeling of sadness reminded me of Paul’s words to the church in Thessaloniki. Paul went to this place, preaching the good news of Jesus. Thankfully, some people responded and became Christians. Others, however, didn’t like it and persecuted Paul and the new believers. The persecution was so bad that, after 3 weeks, Paul had to leave Thessaloniki because his life was in danger. (Acts 17:1-9) This is when Paul wrote his letter to the fledgling church. In the letter, he speaks of how he was “torn away” from them. For this reason, he “eagerly desired” the day when he could see them face to face again. This was certainly how I felt last Sunday.
Paul felt this way because he loved the Christians in Thessaloniki and he longed to help them in their new found faith. Being apart from them physically meant that he was hindered in this and, as helpful as his letter was, it was not the same as seeing them face to face. This reminds us that watching services online is a helpful thing to do; it’s something to give thanks to God for. But it’s not a substitute or a replacement for the real thing. Meeting in person, when we can and are able to do so, is far greater than any online experience. For example, it helps us live out the New Testament commands to serve and love one another. It gives us the opportunities to show practical acts of love and service as we welcome one another, as we make the refreshments, as we put out the chairs, as we help with SMY or Sunday Club, as we give people lifts to church. Physically meeting together helps us encourage one another spiritually as we join in with singing together, or as we show our concern for someone who has lost a loved one, or as we pray for someone who is struggling. Physically meeting together helps us be the people God wants us to be.
So, like Paul, I hope we can see the importance of physically meeting together and that we too are longing for that day when we can see each other face to face.
Yours in Christ