But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (ESV)
As I look at the way Paul interacted with the people in Thessalonica, I wonder how this would work out today. I don’t think younger readers wonder what life would be like without all the methods of instant communications that are available. Can they read 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 and really understand the emotional struggle Paul faced after leaving Thessalonica and being prevented from returning to visit the people he loved there? In Paul’s day, it would probably take weeks for a letter to arrive from them or to be sent to them. They had to trust other people traveling in the same direction to carry their correspondence. With social media, communication is often instantaneous. We can see each other face to face or we can instant message in a conversational manner. Some expect a response right away and can be upset if you don’t respond in the same way. Social media may be getting in the way of establishing relationships the way Paul did when he was in Thessalonica.
On the other hand, relationships are forged or maintained with others when they move even half way around the world. A couple of days ago I saw a young woman in Washington State talking to her mother in England and got to say hello also. The potential for spreading the Gospel and keeping in touch may take some of the heartache out when persecution or other events separate Christians from each other.
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Ps 63:1 NIV)
Does all this instant communication affect our relationship with God? We can connect to others instantaneously and even see each other in video or pictures. Is it possible to get so accustomed to that kind of communication that we somehow ignore God? It certainly seems to be a big distraction keeping up with texts, facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and whatever else is out there. These all promise things like, “every photo and video you share helps bring people closer to friends and interests, broadens perspectives and inspires a sense of wonder.” Do we get so involved in the sense and wonder of the posts of cats doing their thing that we don’t look for the awe and wonder of our God?
If we really want to know God, we have to seek Him earnestly. It is too easy to ignore Him when we are thirsting for entertainment or finding out what our friends are up to rather than taking some time to seek Him. Just reread what David said and check yourself. Ask these questions along with me. Does my soul thirst for God, for Jesus? If so, He will satisfy me (Matt 5:6). Does my body long for God? If so then am I yielding it to righteousness instead of ever-increasing wickedness (Rom 6:19). Do I feel I am in a dry and weary land? I should, because this is not our home (2 Cor 5:1; Phil 3:20). Social media would tell us all we need to do is get connected with other people and their posts leaving no time to seek God.
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. (Eph 6:11 NASU)
There are some groups within social media whose posts endeavor to encourage others to seek God. All social media isn’t bad. However, we need to be wary because some of these are misleading with great sounding quotes that are not Biblical. They are part of Satan’s schemes. One of Satan’s biggest schemes is to provide people with the allusion of community. Paul wanted that face to face contact. He wanted time with people to see if they were actually living the way they said instead of just talking. It’s easy for me to sit here and write about connecting with people and how that should look. It is quite another thing to demonstrate godly behavior and attitude while rubbing shoulders with other people.
Online dating must be one of Satan’s schemes. Yes, there have been some great marriages and relationships established online. However, it is easy for people to fake it in their correspondence. They have time to consider the right words to say in each situation. They can flatter because the other person can’t see their facial expressions (except on video connections) or body language. Online dating is not a good substitute for personal interactions and observing how a person treats other people. Many convicts have convinced people on the outside that they are “soul mates,” but when they get out, their true colors come out. Satan will hinder people from getting together while developing online relationships until the hook is set and the “fish” is caught. Too often, the victims are women or even young girls, though men and boys have also been trapped.
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. (Phil 2:1-2 NKJV)
Paul said that the Thessalonians would be his joy when Jesus comes back. An important part of having joy with people you’ve discipled is when they are able to continue the ministry and live godly lives. When writing to the Philippians, Paul emphasize that joy came from being like-minded. That includes the same understanding of how to love one another. It also includes being united and having the same goals. When I think about the direction some churches take, bending to the current social trends and morals, I get no joy. They are not like-minded with the Bible.
The same principle applies to families, especially to watching children follow Jesus instead of the world. Proverbs 23:15-16 states it well, “My child, if your heart is wise, my own heart will rejoice! Everything in me will celebrate when you speak what is right” (NLT). On the other hand many of us have experienced the opposite, “but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother” (Prov 10:1 RSV).
What is the application? Personally, it would be to develop the like-minded qualities that Paul sought, love and being of one accord. That would mean personal interaction with other instead of depending on social media. It would recognize that taking care of others is hard work, work that Satan doesn’t want us to do. It means being of like-mind with other Christians who are studying and living God’s Word in their lives. It means that putting self ahead of other is just another of Satan’s schemes.
Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. … Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Heb 13:7, 17 NASB)
It means that we need to imitate godly leaders of our churches. We need to be supportive of them and help them shepherd their flock without grumbling. It doesn’t mean that they are perfect, or that every aspect of the church is doing everything we think it should. But I am assuming that these leaders are in a solid Bible-believing church. It means being obedient to them and to what the Word of God says. It means being wary of leaders who are really wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15). That’s why the author of Hebrews said we need to consider the result of their conduct.
Quite frankly, it is really hard to do any of this when your only contact with your “church” is through a TV screen. All you see is their stage performance. You don’t see them in real life being part of the body of Christ. Certainly, there are many who have thriving, Christ-centered churches and provide good teaching. But there are others that are just like the fakes of social media who will bait you with promises and reel you in, or maybe just your money. Unless you are physically isolated with no means of attending a local church, TV church is a pale substitute for attending and being a part of a vibrant Christian fellowship.