Blogging through Bonhoeffer 4

6 Jul

Chapter 4 “Ministry”

The disciples of Jesus, those closest to the incarnate Christ, those who knew the his message most clearly, missed the point sometimes. In the Gospel accounts we see them arguing with each other over who was the greatest among them. It is firmly within human nature to size each other up. I find myself wondering if I could beat random strangers in a fist fight. The guy sitting in the booth beside me at Kickstand is in no way threatening me. He hasn’t said one word to me. Why do I find myself having these thoughts? Girls size each other up in different ways. Condescending looks abound. This is us at our most primal. We quickly dismiss these thoughts. But the truly insidious thing is when this carnal comparison creeps its way into our spiritual life. You find yourself thinking, “I am so much more mature than that person. I am far smarter than that person. If that person could only achieve my level of spirituality. Woe to that poor soul who isn’t me.” Bonhoeffer starts off chapter 4 warning us against this type of behavior. “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.” There is no room for comparison in the Kingdom. We are the body of Christ. The heart is no more important than the brain. We all work individually for a corporate purpose. There is no jostling for position in the Kingdom. Our only posture is that of Jesus in kneeled service, washing the feet of brothers. We are all co-laborers in this Kingdom task.

Bonhoeffer outlines several ministries that are often overlooked in Christian ministry. The first is the ministry of holding one’s tongue. “Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words.” The Proverbs speak to this issue. “Where words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). I feel like John Mayer’s “My Stupid Mouth” is my theme song sometimes. I am a verbal processor so I have a very thin filter for my thoughts. God is working with me in this area. Sometimes the best thing to do is shut up. When anger rises, it feels good to let our tongues rip impulsively. This is of no benefit for ourselves and others. But impulsive angry yelling is rarely the biggest issue. We have all become quite good at cloaking our anger in passive aggressive gossip. Bonhoeffer’s advice hit me in the gut. “He who holds his tongue in check controls both his mind and body. Thus each individual is prohibited from saying much that occurs to him.”

The next ministry is the ministry of meekness. Paul reminds us in Romans to not think of ourselves too highly. The Christ-follow is keenly aware that he/she is not the center of the universe. Jesus said that the meek will inherit the earth. So much is shoved down our throats about authoritative leadership–that in order to “succeed” we must be strong and dominate. Jesus flips that and shows us the way of the Kingdom. Tender meekness is strong. Domination by force is weak. We are to love and serve our neighbor in humble meekness of heart. “He who would serve his brother in the fellowship must sink all the way down to the depths of humility.”

This ministry of holding the tongue and ministry of meekness will lead to the ministry of listening. We are often quite thrilled with what we have to say. We half-heartedly put up with what our brother or sister has to say so that we can get on with our own thoughts. This is a grievous sin. This lack of listening to our neighbor will lead to the same posture with God. “But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.”

The ministry of listening will lead naturally to the ministry of helpfulness. If we keep our ears open to the needs of others it will cause us to respond. “Only where hands are not too good for deeds of love and mercy in everyday helpfulness can the mouth joyfully and convincingly proclaim the message of God’s love and mercy.”

The ministry of bearing is the call of every Christian. We are to “bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ” as Paul instructs. To bear someone as a burden is to love them truly. Often, our effort to love a brother is a convoluted mess. If we could see a clear view into our hearts, we would see that our love is based upon what we will receive in return. We will see that we love those who have much to offer us in return. Thomas Merton would say this is actually not love at all. The love we give is a mere prerequisite for the love and status we will get. This darkness creeps its way into the people of God. Bonhoeffer says we must fight this at all costs. “It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated.” Merton puts it this way in No Man is an Island: “Love seeks its whole good in the good of the beloved, and to divide that good would be to diminish love.”

It is only when we are submersed in these other ministries that God will use us in the ministry of proclaiming. Bonhoeffer says that when we fail at the ministry of listening, we will not be given an ear when we proclaim the Word. This is of utmost importance to a community, specifically the people of God. We frequently quote St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words” (which, by the way, is used out of context). Bonhoeffer urges us to use words to proclaim the Word to those outside the faith and to our brother or sister in Christ. We are to call out sin. “Where Christians live together the time must inevitably come when in some crisis one person will have to declare God’s Word and will to another.” We are to hold our brother/sister accountable to the life God called them to live. We have to confront with our words. We do all of this in the context of love. If you get excited to call out your brother’s sin, be sure you are not “speaking the truth in love.” Bonhoeffer says that we must be humble enough to hear God’s Word from a faithful brother/sister to us. The measure in which we are receptive is the same measure people will receive our words.

Bonhoeffer finishes the chapter with the ministry of authority. He directs this message to pastors. “The church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servant of Jesus and the brethren.”

Are you tempted to size up others in our community and compare yourself to them?
How would life be better if you held your tongue more?
Do you find yourself trying to become strong by the worlds standards to measure up?
How can you work toward meekness?
Have you ever encountered someone who had a conversation with you simply to hear themselves speak?
Do you find yourself avoiding helping people in mundane tasks and justifying it? Are you avoiding the ministry of helpfulness?
Are you bearing anyone’s burden the way you would want someone to bear yours?
Have you been silent when God is telling you to challenge someone close to you that needs to live up to their God-given potential?

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