Editor’s Note: This week I welcome David Hundert on the blog. David is an MDiv student and member of Faith Church. He preaches for me 3-4 times each year when I am away, and this past week I was my denomination’s national conference. Thank you, David!
There is a story of a young man who went away to summer camp. While he was gone, he wrote to his dad, telling about all of the things that were going on and describing all of the drama taking place. At the very end of the letter he added, “No mon, no fun, your son.” His dad replied back with a very simple letter telling his son about all of the things he could be taking advantage of while he was there. The dad signed his letter, “Too bad, sooooo sad, your dad!”
I thought about that story as I wrestled with how to write a sermon about Colossians 4:7-18, Paul’s “PS” at the end of the letter. What I was really struggling with is this, “What is the overall theme to the end of this letter?” As I read and reread the passage, it finally sunk in. The passage is about relationship. How should we be relating to one another? In this particular case, Paul’s description of relationship within the body of Christ didn’t come in the form of instruction or explanation. Instead, Paul gives us a practical description of how the body of Christ should be and could be relating to one another.
In today’s society, Twitter limits the amount of characters that you can use to 280 which doubled from its initial count of 140. You’re limited to getting your point across to the Twitter-verse to 280 characters. When I was on social media, jokingly I competed with my kids to see who can get more “friends.” By the time I cancelled my Facebook account, I had somewhere around 1400! Now in all seriousness, if I would have died back then, I would have been fortunate if my own kids would have showed up for my funeral, let alone 1400 “friends!” However, the point is that we are built to communicate. We are designed to be social and to socialize. In his book, The DNA of Relationships, counselor Gary Smalley argues from countless hours of research and observation alongside the wisdom of the Bible that we are hardwired for relationship. This is one of the three main points of the book, relationship DNA. He shares an anecdote to describe this reality:
“The other day, I received a letter from a young man who had gotten back together with his girlfriend after a difficult conflict and a terrible fight. Eric had been working through some things at our counseling center, and it apparently had helped him and his girlfriend, and they got back together. Eric’s closing sentence was, “Sometimes I feel that I can’t live with her, and yet I know I can’t live without her.” How often do we hear that said?”
Well, there’s a reason for that. It’s in our DNA: We are made to need relationships. Even when they are hard, difficult, or just plain frustrating, we need relationships. It’s the way we are wired. We have a longing to belong to someone, to be wanted and cherished for the valued people we are.
Dr. Allan Schore of the UCLA Medical School has found that our basic genetic structure within the brain is hardwired to form emotionally based connected relationships right from birth. Relationships are not optional. From the moment we’re born, we’re in relationship with parents, siblings, and other relatives. Soon we’re in relationship with other children. Later we have relationships at school and in the workplace, and we develop relationships with close friends. Eventually, most people develop a relationship with someone they deeply love. When a relationship becomes difficult or painful, we tend to dismiss the relationship and may for a while try to abandon all relationships. But inevitably we come back and seek connection again.
Susan Pinker, the social science columnist for the Wall Street Journal, gave a TED talk in 2017 titled, “The Secret to Living Longer May Be Your Social Life.” In her research she discovered that the Italian island of Sardinia had ten times as many centenarians as North America. Why? It wasn’t the olive oil. It wasn’t the sunny climate. It wasn’t the gluten-free diet or personality types. It was the quality of close personal relationships and face-to-face interactions. She concluded her talk this way:
“Building in-person interaction into our cities, into our workplaces, into our agendas . . . sends feel-good hormones surging through the bloodstream and brain and helps us live longer. I call this building your village, and building it and sustaining it is a matter of life and death. It’s good for your health, it turns out, to be in rich communal relations with others.”
So, you might be asking yourselves, what does that have to do with Colossians? Here we are, centuries later, reading the Post Script that Paul himself adds to a letter, which gives us a glimpse into what life should look like within the body of Christ. If you were a part of this “upstart religion” in those days, there would have been a lot of isolation and ridicule, possibly even bigoted bias. So what Paul is doing here is sharing what was going on where he was, and sending others to gather information to report back to him.
We get a glimpse of this in Colossians 4, verses 7-9, where we read that Tychicus and Onesimus were sent to share what was going on with Paul and to encourage. This reminds me of when we have missionary guest speakers in worship services. When they are on home assignment, they share with us all of the great things that are taking place where they serve. It blesses and encourages me to hear all that God is doing there. Or when missionaries Skype with us, and share stories about the headway they’re making, networking with the churches in their country. It’s exciting! We recently learned about a young lady in Kijabe, Kenya, named Beatrice, who is trying to lift herself and her family out of poverty by getting her excavating license and starting a business. There is so much that we can share and learn to encourage one another.
Doesn’t this lift you up? What does this tell us about encouraging others? How can we encourage others? I think that the “prayer partner” ministry started by Faith Church’s Fellowship Serve Team is an awesome step in that direction. I’d like to add to that this question, “What can we do to encourage those that haven’t participated in the church family in a while?” Could you drop them a card in the mail? Could you make a phone call? Maybe send an email? You can let them know that they are not forgotten and that they are missed. Let them know, that if they aren’t here because they are struggling with something, maybe there is a way that you can be there for them. Maybe you can pray with them. If you can, don’t just tell them that you’ll pray for them. Do it! Right then and there. If you have them on the phone, pray with them. If you’re emailing, type out your prayer and send it. We all know that we have the best intentions to pray when we say, “I’ll pray for you,” but there’s an old expression that says, “The pathway to hell is paved with good intentions.” Don’t put it off… Pray then and there!