Next week, some friends of ours (Ed and Leah from “Our Payneful Memories“) will be moving across the country. In a seminary or university environment, this happens frequently. In fact, friends of ours now live in different places around the world. This upcoming move has prompted several of us to have conversations dealing with maintaining relationships and fellowship over long distances.
Now, some people deal with friendships with the old adage “out of sight, out of mind”. They may not speak that outright, or admit that this is their view, but by their life they demonstrate that friendships are not maintained over long distances.
For our family, this has not always been the case. We have several friendships that have been maintained in spite of one or both parties moving – sometimes after several moves.
What is the relationship between long distance friendships and the church? Well, apparently, Paul and other New Testament authors were able to maintain their relationships with believers who were several thousand miles away. And, these relationships were maintained using first century communication methods. In fact, it seems that Paul, Timothy, Titus, Peter, and other New Testament figures not only maintained friendships with people over long distances, but they also expected these relationships to continue to grow and mature in Christ. They expected to see one another again and to continue in fellowship with one another when they did see one another.
In several passages, Paul referenced his relationships with believers who were far away from him. Yet, he not only maintained these relationships, but he continued to treasure them. He recognized the impact that he had on the lives of “long distance” friends, and the impact that they had on his life. Apparently, for Paul, God could work through the lives of individuals even when they were not face to face. But, there was still something special for Paul (and John) in communicating and interacting with these believers face to face.
There is an assumption that must be considered. If friends move away, we should not expect relationship to continue if they only existed on a surface level. It is possible to be acquainted with someone over a long stretch of time, but develop no real friendship. If there is no relationship to begin with, then we should not expect this to continue when the “friends” move away. Perhaps, when we have difficulty maintaining relationships over long distances, this difficulty says more about our relationships than it does about the distance.
For Paul, Peter, James, and other New Testament authors, fellowship between believers continued even when those believers were separated by thousands of miles. These relationships continued in spite of the limitations of first century communication methods. Today, when believers share this same type of fellowship which is created by the Spirit, maintaining that relationships should be much easier. If not, the distance is not the culprit, but the relationships itself.