Face-to-Face Talk in a Remote World

This morning we’ll be turning to the tiny letter called Third John, which has a remarkable pair of verses at the end that speak into a growing dilemma in our day.

It has never been easier to keep other people at arm’s length through remote communication. Mediating our interactions through our devices is not wrong — and often helpful — but it’s not the ideal. Face to face is the priority. Here’s 3 John 13–14:

I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink [or pixels?]. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.

It’s similar to what we saw a couple weeks ago in 2 John 12:

Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink [or smartphone or laptop]. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

John writes it twice so we don’t miss it. He is not angling to erode our appreciation for paper and ink — or any other of our many good tools for remote communication today — but he is celebrating the priority and essentiality of relating face to face.

John knew that remote communication meant a greater possibility of being misunderstood, or minimized — since he wasn’t there in person to hold his hearers accountable. And being more easily misunderstood is doubtless a drawback we experience today with phone calls, emails, text messages, video chats, and social media.

However, perhaps an even greater danger for us, with the countless tools we have for remote communication at our fingertips, is how our sinful hearts love to hide behind a carefully constructed fortress of remote control.

Surely, we find instances when remote communication is preferable, and wisely so. A carefully crafted letter can serve some difficult and long-overdue message of love, explanation, or repentance. Perhaps putting it in writing gets a conversation started that otherwise would never begin. But all this is within the context of a relationship that can, and will be, face to face.

As we pour an increasing amount of our time and energy into remote friendships, we lose a corresponding amount of accountability. As Christians, it will not do to have all our communication mediated, and all best friends at a distance, rather than embedded in our locality, in our everyday lives, able to know and engage with the real me in real time and space. This is crucial in our fight against sin.

So my exhortation today is let’s seek to live the truth that while talking face to face isn’t always possible, it is usually preferable — and often essential. Which is one reason why it’s critical that we do not give up our meeting together face to face in Community Group and Life Groups, as is the habit of some, but that we encourage one another, face to face, and all the more as we see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24–25).

Let’s pray together.

Prayer of Consecration and Confession

Father in heaven,

At some level, we have all felt the safety and comfort and control behind the electronic fortress. We can carefully select our most flattering headshot, and painstakingly craft our status updates, texts, and emails to give our “friends” the precise impression of us we want. We feel ourselves to be in greater control, better able to keep our sin and shortcomings out of view. Instead of responding in real time to a hard comment or awkward conversation, we respond on our timetable from our digital bunker, when we’ve had the chance to mull it over and adeptly slide ourselves off the hot seat.

Father, in a day when remote communication is easier than ever, and hiding from real relationships face to face is easier than ever, give us the courage for real conversations and real accountability in real time and real space. Help us to trust your promises and be willing to give up control and be ready to walk by your Spirit to prioritize face to face relationships.

This reminds us of our need to confess our sins, which we do now in silence. . . .