“As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.” (2 Timothy 1:4 ESV)
One of the greatest blessings of our faith, and indeed a non-negotiable component of being a Christian, is our togetherness. When a sinner repents and trusts in Christ, he is adopted by God the Father, made a joint-heir with Jesus, grafted into the heritage of the chosen people of God, and placed into the church, God’s family. The idea of a “lone ranger” Christian is foreign to the Bible, as chiefly inherent in the very essence of Christianity is unity with God and his people! If you are a believer, you know the blessedness of this treasure: sharing with one another, interceding for one another, encouraging one another, and meeting together regularly to worship God.
But what about times in which we cannot meet together? How do times of physical absence impact our faith? Surely, we are only beginning to feel the weight of this loss. As our church doors are currently closed due to the regulations given by the government to stop the spread of COVID-19, we have been unable to gather for corporate worship for a few weeks. We anticipate a few more weeks at minimum. Thankfully, modern technology has given us an opportunity our forebears did not have, namely that we can meet “face-to-face” on platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts. However, these things are no replacement for the real thing, and our lack of physically-present fellowship is hitting us hard.
This situation is not new. The Christian church has gone through many ebbs and flows in which the regular gathering of the saints was not possible: persecutions, dark ages, and other pandemics. We can learn from these experiences.
This Sunday, we intend to glean encouragement as we examine the relationship between the Apostle Paul and his disciple, Timothy. Paul wrote this letter from prison. He was physically separated from Timothy for circumstances beyond his control, much like we are physically separated from one another today. Paul remembers Timothy’s tears and longs to see him in order that he might be filled with joy (v4). This does not mean that Paul was completely joyless in his state; he, as much as anyone, knew how to be content with his circumstances. Rather, while Paul could find contentment in Christ, he was missing a vital component of his faith – the ability to be with the people he loved.
The same attitude should characterize us during this time. We should not feel as though all is lost, because as long as God is on the throne, we have everything we need. Like Paul, we should be content, even if we were in a dark, lonely prison cell. But at the same time, we, like Paul, should long for the day when we can be together in person.
While we long for that day, we are not to sit idly or wallow in pity. Paul writes his letter to Timothy to encourage him about things that do not change, regardless of the circumstances. There are truths about God that are to be trusted and actions to take. Paul tells Timothy to continue to fan the flame of God’s gift (v6), to share in suffering (v8), to remember the gospel (v9-11), and to guard the deposit of faith (v13-14), among other things. Circumstances may change, but these do not.
Brethren, these are challenging times. But just as Paul encourages Timothy to persevere in spite of physically being apart, so must we. And praise the Lord, we have timeless truths to help us do so!