“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
What a beautiful picture of the gospel! Paul, Silas, and Timothy came to the Thessalonians promising not to compromise on the gospel message that was entrusted to them (v. 4). They refused to fall into any doctrinal error (v. 3). Their speech was not obsequious or motivated by personal gain. However, in the midst of sharing their message the apostles made sure to share themselves.
In reflecting on this passage I have come to understand a few things about genuine Christian community:
1. Christian community is gospel-centered. Christian community involves more than just gospel information but it does not involve less. There are plenty of groups to join if you want friends. You can find people that have similar interests (e.g., scrapbooking, MOPS, fantasy football). Shared interests, however, do not reinforce gospel community. The gospel breaks down external barriers. A gospel community is not concerned with external uniformity, but internal unity (Phil. 2:12-13) centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Most people are concerned with finding persons that look, think, feel, and act like them. People with similar interests and values will tend to confirm what you already believe. A gospel community is not bound by age, race, or political preference. A gospel community will challenge you to become like Christ rather than validate your own preferences.
“We often surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, thus forming a club or clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community” (Philip Yancey)
2. Christian community is participatory. The information of the gospel was not enough; the apostles humbly participated in the lives of the Thessalonians. It was not enough to teach a few truths about Christ, their genuine affection motivated participation. Getting involved in someone’s life is messy. It is easier to show up on Sunday morning, sing a few songs, smile and shake hands. It is much more difficult to sit on someone’s couch and listen to their struggles. It is uncomfortable to go to the hospital when someone is sick. It is terribly inconvenient to give your money to someone who is in need.
And that brings us back to the gospel. Think about how messy it was for Christ to become flesh, to endure temptation, and to experience pain. Sharing your life with others provides the only context to genuinely articulate and, more importantly, demonstrate the gospel.