My notes: Lessons from Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together”

I taught a lesson based on Life Together in our Twenties and Thirties group today.  I figured I’d post the notes for anyone’s dissections, comments, and criticisms.

–          Text: Romans 5:1-11 [group discussion]

  • If we believe what Paul has written, what does this mean for our relationship with God?
  • If we believe what Paul has written, what does this mean for our relationship with each other?

–          Importance of the gospel

  • Bonhoeffer has a lot of good advice, but it’s all rooted in the good news [I borrowed this illustration from John Piper’s summary of a Doug Wilson sermon – should have made this clear in class when I taught it!]
  • If we don’t believe in the gospel, all of this just becomes “how to be nice” or won’t make any sense, because it’s all rooted in the reality of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ: bringing us into fellowship with him and with each other
  • Ephesians study [we studied this over the summer]:[Two members of our group] both pointed out that the first three chapters explained the glory of salvation and the wonder of being united together in Christ – then came the moral teachings, which only truly make sense in the light of the first three chapters

–          Why Life Together?

  • If God has united us all in Christ and we seek to be a close group, it’s good to consider the perspective of someone who’s thought about this
  • Not just TNT, but generally: I get the sense that when there are awkward moments, offense is taken, mistakes are made, that these get talked about with everyone except the people that should be talking about it
  • Bonhoeffer challenges our radical cultural individualism, but doesn’t erase us as individuals – he roots our value as individuals firmly in God

–          Lessons

  • Community is great, but we also must be alone with God
    • We shouldn’t seek fellowship simply because we can’t be bear to be alone: aloneness and fellowship feed on each other
    • Our times of meditation on the Bible and prayer are tested by this standard: do they truly equip us for the task of living holy lives in the world?  This is better than having an emotional experience.
  • Rest in our justification
    • We have the tendency to justify ourselves: my sin is not as bad as this person’s, my value is determined by what I am, I deserve God’s favor, my mistakes are understandable, I need to protect my rights all the time
    • But these things aren’t true and also choke community with others
    • Instead, we can substitute two ministries
      • Holding our tongues from speaking judgment or condemnation about each other, in most cases, allows others to be themselves in Christ
      • Meekness, which refrains from always asserting our rights and bears wrongs of others, understanding where their sins come from
      • All of us can find forgiveness only in Christ
  • Listen to each other
    • We need to truly listen to each other without the feeling that we know what they are going to say
    • Within this context, we can also confess our sins to each other
      • Sin can make us feel isolated from each other, which is what Satan wants
      • Can assure us of forgiveness and can break any trap of self-forgiveness as we confess to another person
  • Loving each other through Christ
    • He’s very interested in the idea that we are all individuals who are both bound together in Christ but still independent from each other – we’re called to bear with each other, which we must do because people are different from us and have freedom from us
      • They sin, which means that we must forgive and bear with each other
      • Even when people don’t sin, they call for us to bear with differences
      • Human love wants to control: it sees the object of my love as my project, molding that person into my image
      • Spiritual love loves through Christ: that person is God’s project being shaped into the image of Christ by God, and therefore we leave that person “the freedom to be Christ’s”
  • Within the context of listening, helping, meekness, and forgiveness, we can proclaim God’s word to each other, spur one another on, and even help to redirect someone heading in the wrong direction

–          In groups, what helps you to have a sense of Christian community?  What more can we do?

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3 comments

  1. Thanks for this — it helps me put the last half of class in context. 🙂 Sorry I was late.

    Good observation about the importance of communication and how we can be afraid to talk about an issue with the ones we really should be talking about it with.

    I don’t quite agree with his definition of love as control and projects, though we do have a tendency to want to control the things we care deeply about.

    Good summary and interpretation. I get the sense you filled in all the holes I’d pick at. 🙂

  2. Here’s how I’d continue on the track about love and control. Bonhoeffer means that human (and therefore sinful) love tries to shape and control its object. Thus, for him, it is not true love.

    I don’t want to limit his definition of spiritual (godly) love to just the idea of the person as God’s project. If we look at God’s love, we might look at his creation of the world, his slowness to anger, forgiveness, and the Cross. But the “project” part is the shaping of believers into the image of Christ, which is also part of God’s love for us in that we are becoming all that we can be in Christ. As John Stott says, God is making us more human by making us more like Christ.

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