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I have one more window to post before I will most likely be silent on the bonhoefferblog for a few days. German pastor, theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote an excellent section on “The Ministry of Meekness” within the context of a local church in the book, Life Together…
To forego self-conceit and to associate with the lowly means, in all soberness and without mincing the matter, to consider oneself the greatest of sinners. This arouses all the resistance of the natural man, but also that of the self-confident Christian…Brotherly love will find any number of extenuations for the sins of others; only for my sin is there no apology whatsoever. Therefore my sin is the worst. He who would serve his brother in the fellowship must sink all the way down to these depths of humility.
How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own? Would I not be putting myself above him, could I have any hope for him? Such service would be hypocritical (96-97).
Wow great comments that certainly apply to the twenty-first century church.
But not only my neighbor’s will, but also his honor is more important than mine (John 5.44). The desire for one’s own honor hinders faith. One who seeks his own honor is no longer seeking God and his neighbor. What does it matter if I suffer injustice? Would I not have deserved even worse punishment from God, if He had not dealt with me according to His mercy? Is not justice done to me a thousand times even in injustice? Must it not be wholesome and conducive to humility for me to learn to bear such evils silently and patiently?
Good day! I will have limited access with my laptop until July 3 or 4. So my posts until then will be fewer.
Let’s continue Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s words on the ministry of meekness…
Only he who lives by the forgiveness of his sin in Jesus Christ will rightly think little of himself. He will know that his own wisdom reached the end of its tether when Jesus forgave him…Because the Christian can no longer fancy that he is wise he will also have no high opinion of his won schemes and plans. He will know that it is good for his own will to be broken in the encounter with his neighbor. He will be ready to consider his neighbor’s will more important and urgent than his own.
What does it matter if our own plans are frustrated? Is it not better to serve our neighbor than to have our own way? (Life Together, 95).
What does it matter if others, for the sake of Jesus, are served and loved?
In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that within the context of a Christian fellowship, there is something known as “The Ministry of Meekness.” This ministry is necessary because there is always the temptation to exalt ourselves over others. Bonhoeffer began this section on pages 94 to 95 with these words…
He who would learn to serve must first learn to think little of himself. Let no man “think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). “This is the highest and most profitable lesson, truly to know and to despise ourselves. To have no opinion of ourselves, and to think always well and highly of others, is great wisdom and perfection (Thomas a Kempis). “Be not wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together that that every Christian community should be made up of Christ-followers who do not exert themselves over others through judging and condemning. Rather, we gather so we can not only rejoice in each other’s presence but also serve each other in love and humility…
Strong and weak, wise and foolish, gifted or ungifted, pious or impious, the diverse individuals in the community are no longer incentives for talking and judging and condemning, and thus, excuses for self-justification. They are rather cause for rejoicing in one another and serving one another. Each member of the community is given his particular place, but this is no longer the place in which he can most successfully assert himself, but the place where he can best perform his service.
In a Christian community everything depends upon whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain. Only when the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable. 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 the hours of doubt that he, too, is not useless and unusable. Every Christian 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 the fellowship.
Not self-justification, which means the use of domination and force, but justification by grace, and therefore service, should govern the Christian community. Once a man has experienced the mercy of God in his life he will henceforth aspire only to serve. The proud throne of the judge no longer lures him; he wants to down below with the lowly and the needy, because that is where God found him. “Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate” (Romans 12:16) (93-94).
We will look at “The Ministry of Meekness” next.
In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that even in the context of Christian fellowship, there is the temptation to be greater than our brothers and sisters in Jesus. One of the solutions is to do less talking. We began to look at this yesterday. Let us continue…
Where this discipline of the tongue is practiced right from the beginning, each individual will make a matchless discovery. He will be able to cease from constantly scrutinizing the other person, judging him, putting him in his particular place where he can gain ascendancy over him and thus doing violence to him as a person. Now he can allow his brother to exist as a completely free person, as God made him to be. His view expands and, to his amazement, for the first time he sees, shining above his brethren, the richness of God’s creative glory.
God did not make this person as I would have made him. He did not give him to me as a brother to dominate and control, but in order that I might find above him the Creator. Now the other person, in the freedom with which he was created, becomes the occasion of joy, whereas before he was only a nuisance and an affliction. God does not will that I should fashion the other person according to the image that seems good to me, that is, in my own image; rather in his very freedom from me God made this person in His image (92-93).
It is not our task to form people into our image or expect them to conform to our set of standards. Our role is to allow the Holy Spirit (through the process of sanctification) to form them into the image of Jesus. When we can let go our dominance through words, attitudes and actions, then and only then, will we enjoy true fellowship with others.
One of Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s remedies to combat our selfish desire to manipulate others in the context of fellowship is to exercise self-control over our tongues…
Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words. It is certain that the spirit of self-justification can be overcome only by the Spirit of grace; nevertheless, isolated thoughts of judgment can be cured and smothered by never allowing them the right to be uttered, except as confession of sin…He who holds his tongue in check controls both mind and body (James 3:2 ff).
Thus, it must be a decisive rule of every Christian fellowship that each individual is prohibited from saying that occurs to him. This prohibition does not include the personal word of advice and guidance…
…But to speak about a brother covertly is forbidden, even under the cloak of help and good will; for it precisely in this guise that the spirit of hatred among brothers creeps in when it is seeking to create mischief…
The point…is clear and Biblical (Psalm 50:20-21; James 4:11-12; Ephesians 4:29) (Life Together, 91-92).
The environment in which we fellowship in is greatly enhanced for the good when we begin to hold back words and statements that do not edify our brothers and sisters.
Good morning. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic book, Life Together, rightly points out that one of the dangers for any Christian community is that of self-assertion and taking control over others…
“There arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be the greatest” (Luke 9:46). 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 s 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.
Hence it is vitally necessary that every Christian community from the very outset face this dangerous enemy squarely, and eradicate it. 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 people and difficult people, devout and less devout, the sociable and the solitary. Does not the ungifted person have to take up a position just as well as the gifted person, the difficult one as well as the simple? And if I am not gifted, then perhaps I am devout anyhow; or if I am not devout it is only because I do want to be. May not the sociable individual carry the field before him and put the timid, solitary man to shame? Then may not the solitary person become the undying enemy and ultimate vanquisher of his sociable adversary? Where is there a person who does not with instinctive sureness find the spot where he can stand and defend himself, but which he will never give up to another, for which he will fight with all the drive of his instinct of self assertion?
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. 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 (90-91).
We will see how Bonhoeffer addresses this problem in later posts.
Last week, Cordell Schulten posted a great comment on this site about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and martyrdom…
Bonhoeffer was condemned to his death after being found guilty of high teason against the Third Reich. His decsision to participate in the conspiracy to assasinate Hilter was based upon his conviction that the will of God called him to oppose evil — to oppose those who were determined to destroy the Jews. His actions were thus an out-growth of and consistent with his faith in Christ as the Lord of all and Savior of the world.
To have done otherwise, would have been a denial of his faith in Christ and the call of God upon his life. He was seeking, by God’s grace, to live a responsible life and he threw himself upon the mercy of God. (See Ethics, pp. 220-250). It is by our actions and not just merely by our words that we either confess or deny the faith. Bonhoeffer confessed the faith by his words and his acts to the very last breath. There can be no greater testimony to Christ.
He was indeed an authentic martyr for Christ.
If you are reader to the bonhoefferblog, then you probably know why I created this blog site. Simply…
It is to share with my fellow pastors and preachers the impact that Dietrich Bonhoeffer can have on our preaching and our lives. There are six reasons why Bonhoeffer can make a difference in twenty-first century preaching:
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer placed a high premium on the meditation of the Scriptures (posted on 02/25/08).
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer stressed the importance of Christian fellowship (posted on 03/03/08).
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer emphasized a non-compromising faith (costly grace) (posted on 03/10/08).
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood against evil in society (posted on 03/17/08).
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer exemplifies serving Jesus in the severest of trials (posted on 03/24/08).
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer experienced the grace of living well and dying well (posted on 04/01/08).
The creation of this blog and the feedback I receive from those who visit it will help me in the completion of my Doctor of Ministry degree through Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. My D.Min. track is called “The Preacher & the Message“. It is under the leadership of Dr. Haddon Robinson (picture on the right).
It is important that I continue to receive feedback. You can click the “Evaluation Form” at the top of the page or leave a comment on any post. You may also e-mail me, if your desire, at firstname.lastname@example.org.