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Romans 1:11 "For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established;"

Philip. 4:1 "Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved."

1 Thes. 3:6 "But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you,"

2 Tim. 1:4 "longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy." 

I don't mean to do any one of these verses a disservice by lumping them all together, because each of them carry a powerful meaning when they stand alone, but I wanted to read them together because I wanted for us to see the strength of Paul's longing to connect with fellow Christians. A longing God recognized when he created us. Throughout the creation narrative, God pauses to admire what He's done, several times he says, "It is good," or "it is very good." There is a predictable cadence to the narrative-a poetic pattern. But then Genesis 2:18 disrupts the pattern with God's declaration that something wasn't good-remember what it was? "It is not good for the man to be alone;" 

Have you ever been in a crowd, and yet still feel alone? I don't want to go into cliche overdrive here, but we are not islands-we need to be connected to others. People have three core yearnings-a longing to believe, a longing to become and a longing to belong. Desperately, disillusioned people want something they can believe it. Disappointed people want to become somebodies and disenfranchised people want to belong-they want to fit in.

Do you long to belong? Paul longed for the people even when he did belong. In Romans 1:11, Paul writes, "For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established;" Paul longed to be with the people so he could instruct them. There is a strange interdependence between a teacher and her students and between a Pastor and his congregation. There is a line in the movie "Widow Maker" that illustrates this interdependence. Harrison Ford's character is a captain of a Russian Submarine about to take the boat on its virgin voyage. He gathers his crew so he can address them before they head out to sea and says, "Without me, you are nothing." He pauses to let the impact of his words sink into the heart of his crew. About the time I was ready to write him off as arrogant and full of himself, he said, "Without you, I am nothing."

Though I'm not ready to apply those words literally to the relationship of a Pastor and a congregation, I pray that I fill a need in the life of this congregation and I do know that you fill a need in my life-a need to serve; a need to lead; a need to teach; a need to love; a need to Pastor. I long for you. I need you. 

There are churches where the relationship between Pastor and people is antagonistic, to say the least. He berates them from the pulpit and they belittle him behind his back. To that Pastor I'd say, learn to love your people, even when they are unlovely and to that congregation I'd say, learn to respect your Pastor, even when he makes mistakes. I don't believe God intended the Pastor/congregation relationship to be antagonistic, I believe he intended it to be interdependent. Before I move to the next scripture, have I told you lately how much I love you and how I feel I'm the luckiest Pastor in the world to get to serve you? Thank you for being the kind of congregation that a Pastor can "long for."

Paul had a healthy relationship-an interdependent relationship with these people and he longed to connect with them again so he could fulfill his calling among them.

In Philip. 4:1, Paul writes, "Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved." Here Paul longs to see the church in Philippi because they are his joy and his crown. What brings you joy? For Paul, it was fellowshiping with fellow believers. They brought him joy and his relationship with them was his greatest accomplishment-they were his crown-his reward. We talk a lot about changing the world and being on mission together-things we value. We know that there are things we are supposed to do and accomplish for the Kingdom of God. Our reward is not when we accomplish one of the things on our to do list of ministry-it is the fact that we get to do them together. That's why I urge you to get involved in a ministry team or serve on a committee with other members. You will get great satisfaction out accomplishing the work and knowing that you're helping to change the world, but you will get even greater satisfaction out of doing the work-in community with other people. Getting involved in ministry, with others is a key to connecting with people. The work itself becomes the reward.

The 1 Thes. 3:6 passage shows a different kind of longing. Paul longs to share in the fellowship of a people he loves. "But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you," He'd heard from Timothy how much the church missed him, so he writes to let them know how much he misses them too. He longed to share in their faith and their love, he longs to see them again. This passage reminds me of the Christmas letters that many of us send to family and friends that we're not in everyday contact with. Paul wanted to "catch-up" with people he loves. He was grateful for the report that Timothy gave him and I'm sure they were glad to hear back from Paul through this letter and the personal testimony Timothy would naturally give them when he returned. We long to be connected with people who will share our lives and whose lives we can share. To that end, I yearn to be with you-to share your joys and your sorrows and to have you share mine. I yearn for many of our people who've left to go to the four corners of the world. I miss them-I yearn to be with them again-I long to have the joy of sharing their lives.

The 2 Tim. 1:4 passage has quite a bit more emotion attached to it. In it, Paul writes, "longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy." Paul is entering the final phase of his ministry and will soon move on to his final reward. But before his life is poured out as a drink offering, he penned these words to his son in the ministry. I sense a maturing in his words here. He is not longing to be with Timothy because he wants to teach him something, or to have someone to pass the time with-he simply longs to be with someone he loves so he can rub souls with him. This is the longing that accompanies a mature relationship. It doesn't come until you've invested sweat, blood and tears into a relationship and benefitted from the investment of the same things from others. It is the reward of living in community.

Are you connected? Do you have real, significant relationships? You can, just as Paul did. As you think about these four passages of scripture, what do you see that they have in common? We've seen a yearning for interdependence, for passing time with others and sharing in their lives and allowing them to share in yours. There's the longing to "catch up" with significant people in your lives and to know they're OK and to let them know you're OK too, and then there is the yearning just for "being" with people you've shared life with.

These passage share several things in common. First, they reflect relationships were people were willing to risk in order to be in community. They were willing to risk being needed and needing someone else. Second, they involved sacrifice-the willingness to put the needs of the group before their own needs. And third, they involved stamina. These were not disposable relationships-they were lifelong connections.

Are you willing to risk, to sacrifice and to persevere? If so, you can reap the benefits of being connected with a community of believers, who are on mission to change the world.

 

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