The coming of…

There are, of course, some people who just irritate. There are others who cause problems. And there are those who are the “Debbie Downer” (yes, that was a SNL reference) who just smother everyone with their pessimism and gloom. Fortunately, though, all of these combine to form a minority of all the people there are, and for the most part, hanging out with people results in a net gain for our spirits. In other words, being with people increases our joy. St. Paul understood this and even wrote about it in 1 Corinthians 16. There, in verses 17 and 18, he said, “I am pleased” – rejoice in the NASB – “to have Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus present, because these men have made up for your absence. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore recognize such people” (HCSB). In other words, these three men showed up and hung out with Paul, and everyone went away from the meeting with a little more joy. But why?

I think the answer to that question is found right here in these words. And the key wasn’t that these three guys were extraordinary men. It wasn’t even that they were “characters” that made everyone want to jump up and down with joy. They didn’t have some sort of supernatural power or anything like that. Rather, there were three keys that I see.

First of all, Paul rejoiced because they were present. Now, this wasn’t just that they were physically there. Indeed, in our culture especially, we mistake being present physically with actually being present. So I have a tendency to take a call on my cell. Or I’m checking my email. Or <insert social networking service of your choice here>. How many times am I in the same room with a person, physically, but one or both of us is absolutely not present. I am ashamed to admit that it happens far too often at my home. So that’s one thing I need to work on. I need to put away the computer, phone, and work and just be present. Because when a person is really present, they are giving their undivided attention to the person(s) they are with. And that, in and of itself, communicates volumes. For example, it says that you are the most important person and event going on right now. It conveys that I find you, what you have going on, and what you have to say valuable enough that I will sit down and converse with you. And it proclaims that, whatever you’re going through, even though I may not be able to pick it up and take it off your shoulders, I am still in this with you. I find myself wondering now if one could do a correlation between the rise of cell phone – and especially smart phone – use and depression rates. Because there might be a striking relationship there. I need to be present to bring people joy and get some for myself.

The second thing I see in these two verses that Stephanas and co. did was that they “made up for your absence.” Simply put, these three men formed for Paul a connection to the Corinthian church that he couldn’t visit just now. So even though there were only three of them, it was as though the entire church had actually made the trip to visit. They could catch up on news. They could hear how so-and-so was doing. They could reminisce about some of the good times they had all had. These three men, then, formed for Paul and his colleagues something of a tether to the rest of the world and kept them connected even to people who couldn’t make the trip with them. And I don’t know about you, but sometimes, it just feels good to know that there is a world outside my own little corner of reality. It reminds me that my problems aren’t that big in the grand scheme of things. It shows me that God is indeed up to something grand somewhere. And it challenges me to keep doing my part to advance the Kingdom because others elsewhere – people I may never see in my life – are doing theirs.

And the third thing that I catch here is that “they have refreshed my spirit and yours.” Like a tall glass of ice water on a sweltering day, these three men showed up, and their smiles, energy, and spiritual growth reinvigorated Paul. As crazy as things were at that moment in Paul’s life, after spending a little time with these guys, he felt encouraged and rejuvenated so that when they left, he could reset his sites on the work he had and press on a little while longer.

You know, all this reminds me of a couple of other passages. For instance, Genesis 2:18, where God says, “It’s not good for the man to be alone.” And so He makes Eve, the first woman, and presents her to Adam as his perfect helpmate. The writer of Ecclesiastes said that two are better than one. The author to the Hebrews encouraged believers to not miss meeting with other people for worship and fellowship. Even James encouraged believers to get together and pray for one another in a wide variety of situations for a wide variety of needs. And Jesus, when He provided the Lord’s prayer as a pattern for our prayers, started off with “Our Father,” and declared that, wherever two or three [or four] would gather in His name He would be there with them.

Simply put, God designed us to be social creatures. And so it makes sense that socializing with other people like ourselves would bring joy. The thing is, now I actually need to do it.


2 Responses to “The coming of…”

  1. 1 J S February 27, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    Also, when Jesus sent out his disciples, he sent them out two by two.

  2. 2 jgeerdes February 28, 2012 at 12:22 am

    Another prime example!

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