"But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because we had become very dear to us." 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8You see, that sharing of our own selves that Paul was speaking of in these verses aren't shallow attempts at maintaining face or checks in our internal holy to-do lists so that we feel like we are measuring up to who we believe God wants us to be–it is a righteous outpouring of our hearts through the gospel's transforming power. In the context of these verses, Paul is giving a defense for the accusations rolling in against him. He is declaring that his ministry to the Church of Thessalonica was not in vain, insisting that his motives were not impure hoping to obtain any measure of glory for himself. But his desire was birthed from an eagerness for the gospel that led to an eagerness to share even his own soul. He and Timothy showed their proven worth to the Thessalonians as they labored with all vigilance, night and day, to proclaim the gospel to them (1 Thess. 2:9). But this heaven-pleasing duo did not stop at just the words gospel–they shared themselves. All of the changing dispositions of our souls–fear, sorrow, joy, and more–are meant to be seen in our communities. It is a beautiful thing tonotkeep it in. The gospel has broken down the dividing walls between us the God of the universe, and it is meant to break down our hardness of heart towards others. "Where the gospel flourishes, people share their own souls."-John Piper Everything required for true biblical community to flourish is against our nature. We are self-sufficient and extraordinarily bent towards keeping our business to ourselves. We tell ourselves how humiliating it is to tell of our guilt from our previous or current sin. We can't fathom what others will think of us, so we contain it to the point that we feel in our hearts as if we are in a glass room screaming while the walls shatter around us. Yet outwardly, we are composed and put together. I recall some of the darkest days in my life as I hid an eating disorder as a teenager. I counted my actions at horrendously terrible, yet justified my actions by telling myself that I must appear a certain way before man. I feared people. More exactly, I fear my imperfections being see before people. So I sought to fix that. I held positions as class president, secretary of this and officer of that, winning awards for various achievements. I loved my youth group and the adults that surrounded it. Yet my home life that I would not openly share left me feeling out of control. Rather than surrendering this deep fear to the Lord and to a body of believers that surrounded me, I took dangerous actions to control another area of my life. Yet God never shied away from me. He convicted me of my sin and was tender toward me, underlining through his Word his kindness toward me in salvation (Romans 2:4) and keeping of me through sanctification (Phil. 1:6.) God guided me to confess my sin and seek the accountability I needed among family and friends. My embarrassment subsided as the wave of God's grace and love overtook my fragile heart. He revealed that I was susceptible to heinous sin, yet He stood firm as my rock and salvation (Psalm 18:2). Sisters, lay aside the weight of obligated friendships. God can help us strive to not be on either side–those not willing to be intentional and invest in others and those that are so broken yet unwilling to share their souls. It's tempting to come to our circle of believing friends as event-based, energetic and fun but withholding the murky heart stuff, lacking in transparency and light-hearted to avoid such difficulties. There is surely a difference between obligated friendships and real biblical community.
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Hebrews 10:23-25Often times, we can hardly lift our eyes from our own circumstances to notice what is going on in the lives of those around us. Or we can be so wrought in the dark nights of our own souls that we feel unable to share it with others. It requires far too much for us to care for, pray for, bear with, and cry with those in our lives orfor that to be reciprocated. But God (Ephesians 2:4).He who did not spare his own Son, but allowed Him to be delivered into the hands of sinful men, die on a cross, drink the full cup of wrath awaiting us, and rose victoriously for the praise of his glorious grace and salvation of his people loves you.Lay aside whatever may be keeping you from sharing your own soul or listening to the souls of others. It is for your joy and the joy others–run in it. By Melissa Dennis Originally Published in Be Still Magazine, Issue 3.