Life Together (Bonhoeffer’s Meditations on Community)

Excerpts Quotes and Comments

Commenting on the early disciples arguing over which one of them was greatest in the Kingdom of God.

“We know who it is that sows this thought in the Christian community. But perhaps we do not bear in mind enough that no Christian community ever comes together without this thought immediately emerging as a seed of discord. Thus at the very beginning of Christian fellowship there is engendered an invisible, often unconscious, life-and-death contest. ‘There arose a reasoning among them’: this is enough to destroy a fellowship.”

p. 90

Secret meetings. Meetings after meetings. Factious fighting over petty differences. Political maneuvering for non-Kingdom objectives. Working against another rather than for the Kingdom. All these intrigues take place “behind the scenes” and destroy the sweetness of a congregations fellowship. I am currently working with 23 different pastors, seeking to encourage them, pray for them, support them, befriend them and everyone of them has a similar story from some point in their ministry. 

It is tragic. And none of it honors Christ.

But Bonhoeffer has more to say about the insidious tendency of men and women to look for personal gains over Kingdom gains in personal relationships. And what he has to say is not pretty.

“There is no time to lose here, for from the first moment when a man meets another person he is looking for a strategic position he can assume and hold over against that person. There are strong persons and weak ones. If a man is not strong , he immediately claims the right of the weak as his own and uses it against the strong. There are gifted and ungifted persons, simple people and difficult people, devout and less devout, the sociable and the solitary. . . . 
“All this can occur in the most polite or even pious environment. But the important thing is that a Christian community should know that somewhere in it there will certainly be ‘a reasoning among them, which of them should be the greatest.’ It is the struggle of the natural man for self-justification [1 Cor. 2:14]. He finds it only in comparing himself with others, in condemning and judging others. Self-justification and judging others go together, as justification by grace and serving others go together.”

p. 90-91

One of the things that is exciting about reading Bonhoeffer is his brutal honesty about the human condition and yet, even in the midst of the rise of Nazism in his own country, he remains hopeful. God always has a way through the darkness of life and is working history to His own end.

“A community which allows unemployed members to exist within it will perish because of them. It will be well, therefore, if every member receives a definite task to perform for the community, that he may know in hours of doubt that he, too, is not useless and unusable. Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of fellowship.”

p. 94

Bonhoeffer is writing here of the community of the church. Everyone should have a particular part to play, a definite task to perform in serving the community/congregation. But what is true in the church, I have always thought is also true in the larger society. A civilized society should strive for 100 percent employment. We live in a fallen world. 100 percent employment will never be achieved but it is a worthy goal to pursue. Work gives dignity to life. This particular quote was part of my own inspiration for the first book I ever wrote ( Devotions for Your Time of Need: Loss of a Job, [Broadman & Holman Press, 1994 ]). 

“The speaking of the Word is beset with infinite perils. If it is not accompanied by worthy listening, how can it really be the right word for the other person? If it is contradicted by one’s own lack of active helpfulness, how can it be a convincing and sincere word? If it issues, not from a spirit of bearing and forbearing, but from impatience and desire to force its acceptance, how can it be the liberating and healing word?”

p. 104

Thirty-five years ago I wrote in the margin of my copy:

Share with all budding preachers!

Bonhoeffer’s point is that preachers need to hear the word first for themselves before they can preach incisively to anyone else. Further, preachers need to have a life that expresses real concern for others if it is to arrive in their ears with real liberating power.

Preachers, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly before you preach to others that it (the word) dwell in them richly (Col. 3:16).

Final note: Devotions for Your Time of Need: Loss of a God has been revised and expanded and republished under the title:

Finding a Job in a Jobless Economy: The Bible Code for Finding a Job.

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