Relationships are the heartbeats of our lives. They keep us moving, thinking, loving. A severed relationship– as evidenced by the wide success of gut-wrenching break-up songs– is one of the toughest experiences we face in our time on earth. And bridges aren’t always burned by choice. Circumstances, distance, time– if we don’t fight their effects, they wear on our connections with one another.
Because of my age, my faith, and the paths I’ve chosen, I have friends sprinkled across the country and even the world. It’s a consequence of the many transitions I’ve gone through in the past few years: attending a college far from home, graduating, moving back home, working camp. It’s definitely one of my post-grad pains.
Sometimes I get really bummed that many of my closest friends are far away. Or that distance has caused me to lose contact with someone who was special to me. And I know a lot of people, even my age, who are in the same boat.
If you read Romans 16, you’ll find that most of the chapter is a list of greetings from Paul to people in or near Rome. In fact, Paul greets around 30 specific people and households in this chapter. He’s not just bragging on his Facebook friends or listing anyone within a 50 mile radius that he’s ever known. No. These are people he cares about. Paul had never been to Rome before he sent this letter, but he knew plenty of the Christians there. He’d seen some of them come to know Christ and grow in their faith. He’d labored with them in spreading the gospel. He’d spent good times, had meaningful conversations, and shared laughs with these people.
Paul knew what it’s like to have your spiritual family scattered. And he didn’t have texting or the Internet or even the Pony Express to keep in touch. He used hand-delivered letters that traveled miles and miles in the hands of missionaries who lived on the edge and faced perilous situations day after day. His only Facebook was a face-to-face book.
Just a guess– but I bet Paul knew what it was like to go through people withdrawals, just like we do. I think it’s fitting what he wrote in the chapter before this, Romans 15:
Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up… For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice.
Even a list of greetings in Romans 16 was written for our endurance and encouragement. It’s not easy to be separated from those you care about. Paul knew that full well. But he also believed that we should live in hope for the life to come and in harmony with our neighbors, with those who are near. We’re all in this together. The Church may be spread far and wide, but we’re united by the blood of Jesus as his body. God has a role for us to play, as a part of that body, where we are. We may be apart for a short time in this life, but one day we will all “walk upon the streets of gold.”
COMMENT: What unlikely passage of Scripture have you drawn comfort from?