God’s Word to our church on Sunday was about the benefit of community life taught in Galatians 6:1-10. To help us to continue to think about the privilege of Christian community, I have recorded five quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together for our reflection.
1. “God has put this Word [of Jesus Christ] into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged… He needs his brother…as a… proclaimer of the divine word of salvation… his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.” (pp. 22-23)
2. “… a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. Among men there is strife. ‘He is our peace,’ says Paul of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:14)… Without Christ we should not know God… .But without Christ we also would not know our brother, nor could we come to him. The way is blocked by our own ego. Christ opened up the way to God and to our brother.” (p. 23)
3. “Not what a man is in himself as a Christian, his spirituality and piety, constitutes the basis of our community. What determines our brotherhood is what that man is by reason of Christ. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us.” (p. 25)
4. “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality.” (p. 26)
5. “Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream… By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world… Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” (pp. 26-27)
Bonhoeffer reminds us of the basis, benefits, and even dangerous blindness of community life. The basis of our fellowship is the work and Word of Jesus Christ applied by the Spirit of God. The benefits of this Christ-bought, Spirit-wrought fellowship are the edification and encouragement that come from the shared Word of Christ. And the blindness to be avoided comes from the glare of our shimmering ideals of what church life should be over and against a love for the church itself.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
(Quotations taken from Life Together, written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and published by Harper & Row, 1954)
Recently, with my youngest daughter, I read Mark’s account of the feeding of the 4000 recorded in chapter 8. It has stayed with me. I am reminded that Jesus cared about feeding the gathered multitude. They were far from home, hungry, and going to “faint on the way” unless they were fed and nourished. So, Jesus took a whopping seven loaves of bread and a few small fish and sufficiently fed the whole crowd! There were even left-overs! Presumably in the strength of the supplied meal, they made it safely to their homes.
And think about the diverse make-up of the crowd that day. Men and women, married and single, employed and unemployed, smart and… not so smart, the elderly and the young; “And they ate and were satisfied.” (Mk 8:8) All of them. Even the children were included in the Master’s meal plan.
This encourages my heart, for each week we who are far from home and hungry gather together. We must be fed or we will faint on the way. But the Good Shepherd is there and He wants to, even will, feed us. He will take the seemingly paltry loaves and fishes of a pastor’s sermon to sufficiently nourish His own sheep. All of them; even the children! Jesus loves to feed His own.
So let us come hungry so that we may leave full.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” Psalm 23:1-3a.
In Jeremiah 32 the prophet finds himself in undesirable, even discouraging circumstances. Jerusalem is under siege by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, and Jeremiah is being held captive in the palace by his own king Zedekiah. And the king is not happy with him. Jeremiah had faithfully delivered the hard word of the Lord that Judah was going into exile and that Zedekiah would not succeed in battle against Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah was imprisoned for his faithfulness to the word of God.
Not only was the Lord’s word hard for Jeremiah to deliver and the result discouraging, but then the Lord commanded Jeremiah to do something odd, almost contradictory to the message he had proclaimed. God told Jeremiah to buy a field in the land of Benjamin. “What! You want me to buy a field in a land that You are sending us out of? I’m telling people to get ready to leave and to settle down in Babylon (Jer 29:1-9), but you want me to invest my money in a land we won’t be in? Doesn’t that seem a little foolish? What will the king think now?”
Even though Jeremiah readily obeyed the Lord’s word (he bought the field; Jer 32:6-15), he still struggled with the Lord’s way (Jer 32:24-25). He didn’t understand what the Lord was up to. God’s way just wasn’t making sense to him.
So, he turns to God in prayer (Jer 32:16-25). And the prayer is good. He adores God for who He is and what He has done. He praises God for the gospel of redemption experienced in Egypt. He confesses God’s faithfulness to His word and the sins of the people. He even declares, “Nothing is too hard for you.” (v. 17) But, he still doesn’t understand why God has commanded him to buy the forsaken field.
In a display of condescending kindness, God replies to Jeremiah. And notice what God asks him: “Is anything too hard for me?” (v. 27) Now, why did God pose that question to Jeremiah? Jeremiah had just said, “Nothing is too hard for you.” So why did God turn around and ask him, “Is anything too hard for me?”
Well, I think it was because Jeremiah was a lot like us. It is so easy to pray the right words. It’s easy to confess the right truths. Words, even words that we mean, can roll off of our lips so easy. But, if we are honest, sometimes it’s hard to believe and cherish those words we confess. Jeremiah had it in his head, but he also needed it in his heart. And the only One who could get it into his heart was the Almighty God. That’s why God responded to his discouraged and confused prophet.
Aren’t you joyfully thankful that God understands us. He hears our words, sees our hearts, and responds in just the way we need to strengthen our faith. To get us to not just say but to see and savor that “nothing is to hard for the Lord.” The Lord who delivered Israel out of Egypt, could certainly deliver Judah out of exile. The land investment wasn’t a waste of purchase but a word of promise. God would bring them back (Jer 32:36-44).
We need to hear this message and trust the word and way of the Lord. Nothing is to hard for the God of our redemption. Nothing. Not a prodigal child. Not a difficult marriage. Not a challenging vocation. Not a seemingly impossible situation. Not even our own sanctification and perseverance in the faith. Nothing!
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Rom 8:32
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.