There is No Substitute for Face-to-Face: 2 John 1:12-13

digital-relationships

2 John 1:12-13:

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings.

Several years back, when I worked on the staff of Anne Graham Lotz and sat under her teaching daily, I learned to study Scripture verse-by-verse, one paragraph at a time. I learned to never skip over the verses that seem “extra.” Whatever the next paragraph was, those were the verses up for that day. I approach each day’s study with the same simple prayer, “Holy Spirit, please open my mind and heart to understand your Word, and use these verses to change me to be more like yourself.” Over the last 7 years of this practice, I cannot tell you how many times I have been blessed and clearly instructed by verses I know I would have otherwise skimmed right over had I not been disciplined to simply study “the next paragraph.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Some of the Scripture is useful? No. All Scripture is useful … so that we will be equipped for everything. And “all Scripture” includes the genealogies, and the lists, and Leviticus and Numbers, and the greetings and the closings of the letters.

This is how I came to the two closing verses of 2 John in the waning pages of the New Testament.

It is Not Good to be Alone

12 – I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

We were created to be relational. We were designed for face-to-face interaction. There is no substitute for in-person communication. All other forms of communication are lacking and incomplete, and will leave us wanting more.

I find it absolutely fascinating that John found paper and ink to be an incomplete source of relationship communication, much like we experience today when our relationships seem primarily fed by texting, social media, and email. Why is that? I hypothesize that it is because our Creator intentionally designed us to be personally relational.

In Genesis 2, Moses records this account:

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being … The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” … So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

Humankind was intentionally created to be in close, personal relationship with one another – to share work and responsibility and life and trouble and joy and happiness and sorrow together. It is not good for [us] to be alone.

13 – The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings.

Verse 13, then, shows us the purpose and appropriate use of intermediary communication devices: relationship maintenance. We send greetings. We check in on someone. We let them know we miss them and we’re coming to visit soon. But, as John has shown us in the preceding verse, sending our “greetings” is not a substitute for relationship growth. Nothing is an adequate substitute for face-to-face interaction in a relationship that is growing.

What Then?

The book of 2 John is an instructive letter. John’s intention in writing it was to help grow those who would read it. In so doing, he would also strengthen and increase his relationship with them. In closing the letter, he acknowledges the insufficiency of anything other than face-to-face interaction in having complete joy and satisfaction in their relationship.

John’s frustration with the “technology” of his day being a poor substitute for face-to-face relationship is both comforting and informative. It’s comforting because we didn’t invent this problem; it’s clearly been around much longer than iPhones and Macbooks and Facebook and Snapchat.

And also comforting because God knows. This verse isn’t “extra.” It didn’t accidentally end up in the final edit of the Scriptures. He intended for us to have it and let it instruct our relationships. He created us to have close, in-person relationship with others. And whenever we try to substitute something “other” in place of God’s perfect design for us, we are left lacking.

These two simple verses are also informative because here we learn that one antidote to feeling incomplete joy in our relationships is really quite simple and, evidently, has not changed for several millennia: put down your [phone, laptop, pen] and go invest in a face-to-face relationship. Have a cup of coffee together. Go for a walk. Sit on the couch. Go for a drive. This relationship might be in your home (a child, a spouse, a parent), in your office (a boss, a coworker, a direct report, a client), or in your community (a neighbor, a friend, a person in need).

Where are you lacking face-to-face relationships? Which relationships are you maintaining with “greetings,” and which relationships are you intentionally growing? How can you be more intentional about pursuing your relationships and growing them, face-to-face?

All of Scripture

In closing, one final thought goes back to 2 Timothy’s admonition that all of Scripture is God-breathed and useful for our instruction, etc. Yes, this means don’t skip verses in your study; there are pearls of wisdom for rebuking and training in each one. But, I have also come to learn that this verse also means to take all of Scripture together – the whole context of God’s Word – for our “training in righteousness.”

There are many other verses in the Bible that instruct us about how we ought to care for our relationships. A few that come to mind immediately are: John 13:35; Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Corinthians 13; John 15:13; Hebrews 10:24-25; Matthew 5:23-24; Ephesians 4:2-3. So, when you consider the care and feeding of each of your relationships, do take these simple closing verses from 2 John in context of the whole of Scripture. And especially if you are navigating a particularly difficult relationship, pray often and seek God’s wisdom (through Scripture) about how to apply all of His Word to that situation.

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