One of, if not the most remarkable shifts that has taken place over the last century has to do with the way we communicate. Not what we communicate, but the way we communicate. As best we know the telephone – or the earliest version of it – wasn’t invented by Alexander Bell, but by Antonio Meucci, though Bell would be the first to successfully file for a patent on a working model.
I’m sure it’s an estimated figure, but I’d read that around 73% of communication in America is conducted from a distance, through some form other than face-to-face conversation. Whether through phone calls, emails, text messages, FaceTime videos, handwritten letters, or any number of other ways, nearly 3/4’s of everything we’re saying to each other is happening without us being in the same place.
And this was interesting to me for two reasons:
- 1. There’s a profound difference in the way we communicate when we are at a distance versus when we are face to face.
- 2. John’s 3rd letter indicates that even before cell phones and email there were things that needed to be said in person, but the challenge was actually being in person.
I was reminded of the first issue just this week as I was trying to have a serious and sensitive conversation with Karsten, but I was forced to do it over the phone. She’d been through a bit of a struggle a bit earlier in the day and we’d talked about it, but then she texted me after we were apart and I realized I needed to talk more with her. So I called her. And in that conversation, as I have experienced numerous times before, I knew I wouldn’t be able to actually share my heart with her in the way I needed to because we weren’t physically together.
Had we been together I’d have put my hand on her shoulder as a point of contact, and by the end of it I’d have gathered her in my arms to hug her so she could not only hear that she wasn’t alone, but physically experience my commitment to be with her in difficult times.
But I had to settle for a phone call, where I know that my words were heard but my tone and presence had to be interpreted rather than experienced.
And as I read 3rd John today I was confronted with this same thing in John’s letter to his friends. He said:
“I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face.”3 John 13-14
He knew he had more to say, but he also knew that pen and ink weren’t adequate to communicate what he wanted, needed, them to know. He’s dealing with conflict in the like of Diotrephes, who refuses to submit to authority. And as difficult as church conflict is to handle in person, it’s nearly impossible from a distance. But that’s not all. John also wants to commend a man named Demetrius, an imitator of good who is held up as an example of the antidote for the toxicity of the spirit of Diotrephes. But here again, John understands that honoring someone is different in a letter compared to a handshake and hug.
One of the things about this that was truly fascinating to me was the fact that John was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when he said, “these words in ink aren’t adequate, I need to see you face to face to truly communicate what you need to hear.” I mean truly, if there has ever been a collection of words that should be adequate by themselves it would have to be the infallible, God-breathed Text, right? But for John, the leading of the Holy Spirit was to write these very words. See this? God himself, speaking through John’s pen, says, some things should only be communicated face to face.
And it hit me, what if that is true of all the Scriptures?
Yes the Text is sufficient to accomplish all that God has anointed it to do. But maybe there are some things that the Father wants to say to us “in person.” Maybe God isn’t just looking for a people who read the Bible, but a people who allow the Bible to lead them into a personal and intimate conversation with Him so we can start hearing what He has been waiting to tell us “face to face.”
And while I am in no way saying the Scriptures aren’t enough, I am suggesting that the way we define “enough” needs to be handled with care. Because God didn’t inspire this Text to be the end of a journey, but the beginning of a relationship.
- Are we giving God enough time to not only understand His word but also be in His presence?
- Are we satisfied with letters and writings to the extent that we aren’t prioritizing the face to face moments?
- Do we even think God wants to have a “face to face” conversation with us?