Bonhoeffer on Loving Your Enemies

Words and thoughts are not enough. Doing good involves all the things of daily life. “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink” (Romans 12:20) the same ways that brothers and sisters stand by each other in times of need, bind up each other’s wounds, ease each other’s pain, love of the enemy should do good to the enemy. Where in the world is there greater need, where are deeper wounds and pain than those of our enemies? Where is doing good more necessary and more blessed than for our enemies?

Here is the Lord’s most ignored commandment: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Luke 6:27-28 That figures; it’s directly related to The Great Commandment.

Most of us are fine with loving our brethren, and even our neighbors, but our enemies? Surely, God never meant me to love my enemies. My enemies are the worst ever, worse even than the guys who nailed Jesus to the cross. He was able to forgive them, so they couldn’t have been all that bad. They only humiliated, tortured, and murdered him.

Of course, that attitudinal description is hyperbole, but you get the point. Fact is, I’m blessed with having no enemies per se, although I have a couple of acquaintances whose company I don’t exactly seek out. Oh, I pray for God’s blessing upon them, but that’s awfully cheap love, if it’s love at all. So, as God convicts me of my rotten attitude, I pray for his love to flow through me to them, with my goal being to bless them with it. I know I can’t do it on my own, so I keep praying.

An unloving attitude isn’t just my own, unique sin. Lots of other Christ-followers struggle with the same thing, ’cause that’s the flesh fighting against God’s indwelling Spirit. But its commonality doesn’t excuse me one iota; I’m accountable for my sin, regardless how many others do the same thing, so my job is to confess it, repent of it, and praise God for his wonderful mercy toward me.

Have I made it clear enough? Refusing to love your enemies is sin! And who is your enemy? Anyone for whom prayer is the last thing you want to do for them. If anyone fits that description, your job is to confess your unloving attitude, and all other sin in your life, to your Lord Jesus, even though he already knows all about it. Then you must turn away from the sin, which in this case means turning toward your enemies with the love that only your Heavenly Father can give you. If that still isn’t clear enough, listen to the Lord Jesus:

Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ (44) But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (45) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (46) For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (47) And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (48) You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

“Perfection” here means completeness, which only God can give you. And he’ll only do that if you want it more than anything else … period.

Bonhoeffer on Living With Opposition

The Picture of a Christian Nazi

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in 1930′s Nazi Germany where the status quo became increasingly hostile toward Christ-followers. Then, as now, the church’s attitude of appeasement toward a potentially hostile regime cost its Christian witness and forced Christ-followers into the underground church. What follows is Bonhoeffer’s view of Christian life among enemies, based on his experience doing just that:

The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. In the end all his disciples abandoned him. On the cross he was all alone, surrounded by criminals and the jeering crowds. He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God. Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the midst of enemies. There they find their mission, their work.

I want to submit one caveat about the sentence: ” He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God.” While that is true in the sense of presenting them with the gospel of peace, Jesus said something different in Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” 

Is there a middle ground between Christian passivism and Christian activism? All Christian-isms represent human ideological substitutes for simply following Christ. They are human movements and institutions loosely based on New Testament ideas, and provide a setting for “Adjectival Christians.”

That multi-syllabic term is itself a modification of “Christian,” the Biblical word for Christ-followers. If I’ve lost you, an adjective is a word that modifies a noun. While the word “Christian” is a noun, it defies modification because Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And yes, there’s a fancy word for that, too: Immutability. Since Christ can’t change, and a follower simply follows, how can you modify the word for Christ-follower?

But I digress. Bonhoeffer saw no choice but to actively oppose Nazism, to the degree of participating in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. That’s about as active as you can get, but he wasn’t a “Christian activist.” Rather, he was a Christ-follower who felt conscience-bound to eradicate an evil leader. On the other hand, a “Christian passivist” avoids confrontation about his faith. As that goes against 1 Peter 3:15, the term “passive Christ-follower” is an oxymoron.

The problem with that conclusion is also the problem with today’s Christendom; most “Christians” passively live as Christians in name only. When real persecution attacks, such nominal Christians’ conformity to the world will exempt them from suffering for Christ. But check out Romans 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Barring a massive, worldwide revival, or Christ’s return, persecution will come, and the church will be tested. Those who stand for Christ will be saved, but those who don’t … well, Jesus said it best in Matthew 10:32-33 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Bonhoeffer on Intercessory Prayer

A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed. I can no longer condemn or hate other Christians for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they cause me. In intercessory prayer the face that may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed into the face of one for whom Christ died, the face of a pardoned sinner. That is a blessed discovery for the Christian who is beginning to offer intercessory prayer for others. As far as we are concerned, there is no dislike, no personal tension, no disunity or strife that cannot be overcome by intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the community must enter every day.

Bonhoeffer stated that mandate (yes, mandate!) more powerfully and succinctly than ever I could. I just wanted to offer a Bible passage that indeed turns his thoughts into a mandate:
Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.

Bonhoeffer on Guilt

 

Christians are persons who no longer seek their salvation, their deliverance, their justification in themselves, but in Jesus Christ alone. They know that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces them guilty, even when they feel nothing of their own guilt, and that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces them free and righteous even when they feel nothing of their own righteousness…

“It’s just not fair,” many people say, “Being pronounced guilty when we don’t even know of our offense.”

True enough, superficially, but think of it in terms of, “The Law of Unintended Consequences.” You certainly have no conscience-pangs, until you discover you’ve hurt someone without knowing. Once you find out, though, you feel like crawling into the nearest deep hole … if you’re at all socially responsible, that is.

I experienced that at least once, but a particular episode stands out in my mind: One night, I spotted a coworker exiting a bar. I only took note because I knew she was a recovering alcoholic. Without thinking, I mentioned my sighting to another coworker, but just in an offhand way. I didn’t think I was gossiping, which is one of my favorite sins to rag on. Of course, that offhand report reached the lady I had seen. The whole situation wouldn’t have been so awful if she hadn’t considered me a friend. Friends don’t gossip about friends, that’s an unwritten law of social behavior, so my ex-friend felt betrayed, hurt to the quick. Remember that deep hole I mentioned? I was Judas-in-residence for quite some time.

If you’re wondering about the unintended wrong that put you on God’s “bad” list, you don’t have to look very far: Just gaze into your heart-of-hearts. There is something there that you haven’t put to rights, even if it was the lie you told your parents when you were yet a kid. At first, you worried about it ’cause you knew lying was wrong. Even if you didn’t get away with it, you kept practicing until you became good at it, and after a while it didn’t seem so wrong, just expedient.

Okay, you may be the one exception to that history lesson; maybe you got caught and punished, and never ever lied to anyone again. Well, maybe your hidden sin was that item that found its way into your coat pocket, and never found its way back home. Or what about that bully who taunted you about the stupid-looking glasses you had to wear. Maybe you didn’t really mean he should go away and die, with you enjoying all the worms crawling out of his nose, but the idea sounded none-the-less appealing.

One sin, one stupid, piddling little sin, is all it takes to erect a barrier between you and your Creator, and nothing you can do will erase your guilt. That’s the job of God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Another of Bonhoeffer’s statements above caught my attention: “God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces them free and righteous even when they feel nothing of their own righteousness.” That’s exactly why I believe I am free of sin, and righteous in Christ Jesus. I certainly have no righteousness of my own to offer God, and I don’t feel righteous, even though I now have Christ’s righteousness. Jesus’ apostle Paul said it well:

Romans 3:21-25 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– (22) the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

There’s one sure way of knowing if you are in sin, and need Christ’s righteousness: if you already feel righteous. If you don’t need the Savior, you need him more than most. The converse is also true: If you don’t feel guilty of falling short of God’s perfection, you certainly have.

Bonhoeffer on the Ministry of Listening

Are you listening?

The first service one owes to others in the community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. … We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to “offer” something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening. But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either; they will always be talking even in the presence of God.

Today I so hoped to complete my daily time devoted exclusively to listening to God, when part of that listening involved Bible Gateway dot com‘s 40 Days With Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Do you think I could get past that without needing to comment? Never! My issue with passing up an opportunity to pitch in my two-cents is, if I fail to do it now, I’ll loose it.

Bonhoeffer opens this segment with an absolute statement that, simply because it is an absolute, will beg for nitpicking. Yet, he makes a great case for it; the first act of godly love is always to listen. How else will we know how to serve? God models that behavior by listening to our prayers, even though he knows our needs before we know them ourselves. But listening doesn’t mean listening quickly, then busily jumping into “Service Mode.” Listening itself is an act of service.

Personally, one of my great frustrations when I need to share something of myself, is the ear to which I’m speaking, refusing to listen. That is especially true of “professional” listeners, who have heard so much in their careers that they know all of what I have to say after my first few words. Sometimes that may be true, but I still feel ignored if they won’t hear me out.

The other side of this ministry equation is, listening requires a sharer; if everyone is listening, or sharing, who will fill the opposite chair? Get this: We all need someone to listen to us, and denying that need is simply an act of pride. You’ll never believe this, but I’m a sharer. Ideas, thoughts, Bible passages, feelings, it doesn’t matter, I’ll blabber it. So, for me to listen requires discipline, and a great deal of tongue-biting. I suppose that’s why Bonhoeffer’s words so directly struck me.

Uh … well … guess I didn’t stop at two-cents. So call it a bonus. But now, I’m listening. Like my “Comments” box says, “If you have something to say, say it.”

 

Bonhoeffer on Christian Community

There is probably no Christian to whom God has not given the uplifting and blissful experience of genuine Christian community at least once in her or his life. But in this world such experiences remain nothing but a gracious extra beyond the daily bread of Christian community life. We have no claim to such experiences, and we do not live with other Christians for the sake of gaining such experiences. It is not the experience of Christian community, but firm and certain faith within Christian community that holds us together. We hold fast in faith to God’s greatest gift, that God has acted for us all and wants to act for us all. This makes us joyful and happy, but it also makes us ready to forget all such experiences if at times God does not grant them. We are bound together by faith, not by experience.

Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial…

Contemporary Christ-followers imagine that our Christianity is somehow more real or vibrant than that of previous generations. Yet, Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood the sweetness of Christian community better than most of us. Perhaps that was because he spent the last two years of his life in a Nazi concentration camp, virtually devoid of the community he loved above all.

Today’s Christians grasp what he called Community by a different handle: Fellowship. Most of us do fellowship once, or maybe twice a week, living our lives independently the rest of the time. We protect our independence passionately, as autonomous believers, and when challenged about it, we defend ourselves on the basis of family priorities and the church’s urban structure—or rural structure, whichever applies.

Our general idea of faith-community is annual family camps and monthly potlucks, where men gather to discuss manly things and women gather to discuss womanly things, while the kids and youth run around doing kidly and youthly things. Once the preaching, seminars, committee meetings and classes recharge our spiritual batteries we pile into our cars or RVs and head home to the “real” world.

Bonhoeffer’s “real” world was his faith-community.

“Easy for you to say; he was a pastor,” someone might interject.

Okay, I’ll grant that life was different eighty years ago, but we aren’t. Separating our lives into the two discrete realms of sacred and secular handicaps both sides. We will only be effective in both realms when our walk in Christ’s Way salts our walk in the world. And it is truly reciprocal, in that a monastic life of faith benefits primarily the believer.

Bonhoeffer’s second paragraph above makes a strong point that I could never express so understandably: It’s kind of like being in love with love, and we all do it to some extent. With idealized preconceptions of Christian community life, we go into it with strong expectations of what it “should” be like. All Christian communities are comprised of fallible human beings who are lucky to get “it” right under the best of conditions, but the best of conditions seldom persist. Disillusionment is the inevitable, rotten fruit of all expectations but those we faithfully derive from Scripture.

Bottom line? Chuck all idealistic expectations about Christian community and fellowship, and replace them with the hope we have in Christ Jesus. Then mix in healthy portions of gratitude and praise, and our community experience will shine with the true, Godly love that he commands us to show all the brethren.

Bonhoeffer on Earthly Righteousness

Disciples live with not only renouncing their own rights, but even renouncing their own righteousness. They get no credit themselves for what they do and sacrifice.

The only righteousness they can have is in hungering and thirsting for it. They will have neither their own righteousness nor God’s righteousness on earth. At all times they look forward to God’s future righteousness, but they cannot bring it about by themselves. Those who follow Jesus will be hungry and thirsty along the way. They are filled with longing for forgiveness of all sins and for complete renewal; they long for the renewal of the earth and for God’s perfect justice.

This quote from Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s writings resonated with me because I’ve long known I have no righteousness of my own. That realization grew within me as a Catholic kid, about the time I took my First Confession and Communion. I didn’t care what the priest told me; I was guilty as charged, ‘cause I knew that as soon as I had swallowed the wafer and wine, it was life as usual.

Repentance? I knew that meant change, turning away from my sin, turning over a new leaf, but I wasn’t too good at leaf-turning. I’m still not. So Praise God for his marvelous grace!

While Bonhoeffer’s quote above resonated with me in part, he made one statement with which I have to take issue: “They will have neither their own righteousness nor God’s righteousness on earth.” Knowing what he suffered for righteousness’ sake, I couldn’t believe he meant exactly what he said, but I looked it up in the Bible and found these passages:

And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — Philippians 3:9

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. — Galatians 2:16

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, … — Romans 4:3-5

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” — Romans 1:17

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus … — Romans 3

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.— Romans 8:1-4

I could keep going, but the Scriptures have made the point for me: We have nothing to offer God but our sin-guilt. But Jesus died to take away that guilt, and he returned to life to give us new life: His life, the life of the only Son after God’s own kind. And what kind is that? Divine life, righteous life, separated from sin as far as the East is from the West.

Can you still sin? Unfortunately, yes, but if you’re committed to following in Christ’s Way you won’t want to. First John chapter one says: This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Biblically, “walking in darkness” is living the same lie, the same sin, that Satan successfully sold to Eve in the garden. It’s the same lie we swallow when we try to impress God with our own righteousness or religiosity. It’s the same lie as when, “we say we have not sinned,” and “we make him a liar,” because, “his word is not in us.”

If you’re convinced you’re good enough for God, without Jesus’ divine life residing within, think again. God does not easily bear with fools.

Bonhoeffer on Meekness

 

Their crime? Being born Jewish, or sympathizing with those who were.

Detrich Bonhoeffer knew of rights; he lost them all under the Nazis. Then they took his life.

No rights they might claim protect this community of strangers in the world. Nor do they claim any such rights, for they are the meek, who renounce all rights of their own for the sake of Jesus Christ. When they are berated, they are quiet. When violence is done to them, they endure it. When they are cast out, they yield. They do not sue for their rights; they do not make a scene when injustice is done to them. They do not want rights of their own.… But Jesus says, they will inherit the earth. The earth belongs to those who are without rights and power. Those who now possess the earth with violence and injustice will lose it, and those who renounce it here, who were meek unto the cross, will rule over the new earth.

The “community of strangers” of which he spoke is, of course, the church of Christ-followers. Strangers, because we are not of this world. I love his definition of ” the meek.” My own predigested summary is, “The meek are those who choose powerlessness in this world, relying instead on God’s power.”

I think if, with eyes wide open, you study humanity enough, you will discover that those who harp on their rights the most, understand them the least. Jesus never spoke of rights, human or otherwise. He was all about responsibility, or answering for our sins, but his love for us caused him to bear that responsibility upon his own body. It was the ultimate example of meekness because he is the power that holds the universe together. He never sought revenge for the Jews’ injustice. The Law of Sowing and Reaping takes care of that, the same law under which we live, and by which we destroy ourselves by our own liberties.

Meekness is a strictly divine trait, as it purely radiates God’s glorious love (Matthew 5:5).

Bonhoeffer on Poverty

Detrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Theologian, Author, Anti-Nazi Dissident, Martyr

The disciples are needy in every way. They are simply “poor” (Luke 6:20). They have no security, no property to call their own, no piece of earth they could call their home, no earthly community to which they might fully belong. But they also have neither spiritual power of their own, nor experience or knowledge they can refer to and which could comfort them. For his sake they have lost all that. When they followed him, they lost themselves and everything else which could have made them rich. Now they are so poor, so inexperienced, so foolish that they cannot hope for anything except him who called them.

As long as Jesus’ disciples depended upon him, they were anything but poor. Oh sure, they owned nothing but the clothes on their backs and the sandals on their feet, and to the casual observer they must have appeared as a small band of ne’er-do-wells. With that appearance, along with their Master’s proclivity for associating with “sinners,” polite society would never acknowledge them, let alone show them cordiality.

Most Americans can’t understand true poverty, with “po folks” depending on the national and state governments for their necessities. At one time, those with genuine need could count on churches or philanthropic wealthy people to help them. Now, the government punitively taxes the wealthy and middle-class to support welfare programs, and Christians have abdicated their charitable responsibilities to said government. The result is a new class of people who believe they are entitled to support, with few balancing responsibilities.

Bonhoeffer considered Jesus’ disciples’ abject poverty a good thing, as it made them completely dependent on their Master. I think he presented that idea as a desirable principle for today’s Christ-followers, not by literally descending into poverty, but by holding our property and possessions loosely, not as our own, but as a sort of trust fund upon which God may draw at will for his purposes.

Unrealistic? I think not. Most of us work to support our lifestyle, not God’s work. Many of us are slaves to our mortgages and credit cards, when a simpler lifestyle would eliminate all that debt. We wallow in materialism, which is antithetical to spirituality. How can we wonder why people don’t trust God’s church? It has become a byword, the butt of course jokes, because church-members ignore the most basic and essential principles of Christian living, with charity at the top of the list.

Unless we repent, we are in danger of finding ourselves among the “goats” at the Last Judgment. “Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity, I never knew you,” will not be music to our ears, as we listen to the pathetic, hopeless screams and wails, our own among them.