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. (John in 2 John v. 12)
John had a lot on his heart that he wanted to share with the recipients of this letter, but he didn’t want to do it with pen and paper. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We’re sending a text, email, or making a call and we just can’t find the right words—or we realize it isn’t simply a matter of the right words. It’s eye contact, facial expression, and everything else. We realize that sometimes, at important times, there is no substitute for being there!
John is saying a lot when he speaks of his desire to visit them. Travel in the first century wasn’t as simple as jumping in the car or hopping on a plane. It was walking, riding (camel, horse), being part of a caravan, or getting on a ship (not to be confused with a cruise ship). It was uncertain and could be dangerous. Then there was John’s status with the Roman government. When he writes Revelation he has presumably been banned to the Island of Patmos (1:9). Most scholars think these letters were written before that time but it’s possible that John was already a “person of interest” for Rome which would make his travel more restrictive.
But he isn’t concerned about any of this. Whatever inconveniences or hardships were involved, all he can think about is the benefit of being face to face with brothers and sisters. There’s something heartwarming and deeply right about that, isn’t there?
God made us for relationships. “It is not good for . . . man to be alone,” was written about Adam and his need for Eve, but it’s also a general principle that speaks to our need for relationship beyond marriage. That’s why no one comes into Christ as an isolated individual, we are baptized into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), where we have ready made spiritual family to connect with.
And when Johns speaks of the face-to-face connection, he is speaking of ultimate and intimate relationships. We see this desire expressed throughout the letters of the NT (Romans 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Timothy 1:4). It is a God-given longing we have to love and be loved and there is no substitute for it.
I came across this on the Reformation Scotland website:
In our digital world, relationships have also become digital. Sometimes this brings the benefit of making those who are far away near but it can also have the disbenefit of making those who are near, far away. Sometimes we see people in the same physical space but they are in their own digital worlds. It can also be easier to use electronic forms of communication when personal interaction would be possible. Why meet up with one friend when you can chat to multiple friends by simultaneous text conversations? But we miss tone, expression, body language, touch and presence. Some studies have concluded that technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because we’re speaking about a biblical priority.
It’s significant that right before John speaks of his desire to see his brothers and sisters face to face in v. 12, he deals with the Gnostic heresy that maintained that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh in v. 7-11. These are not unrelated issues. God so loved the world that He didn’t download a file, share a link, or set up a Zoom meeting. He sent His Son who became one of us.
He left His face-to-face relationship with the Father (see the Greek on John 1:1), to have a face-to-face relationship with us. He knew hunger, thirst, fatigue, anger, joy, sorrow, and laughter. He was crucified during a religious festival. His mother and disciples watched as his hands and feet with pierced with nails and He was lifted up on a cross. He was born among us and died among us. To deny His humanity was to deny the intimacy of His life among us and the basis for our intimacy with each other.
All of this should make us think about our relationships. Let’s take advantage of technology and some of the wonderful things it can do (study the Bible online with people from all over the world, livestream services for those unable to physically be there, use online platforms to publicize our meetings, etc.). But we won’t be defined by these! We’ll use our “pen and ink” as John did, but they will always be means to the end of face-to-face relationships.
There is no substitute!