Reflections on Life Together in Light of Christ’s Return
Meditation passage: Hebrews 10:24-25
24 Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Reflection: Living in committed communities of mutual help and friendship by Dan Keating
In an age of hyper-individualism, when more and more people are living alone and fewer people are having children, we believe it is essential to form disciples who know what it means to live in committed communities of mutual friendship. Real friendship, grounded in Christ, is an important antidote to a world marked by superficial relationships and terminal loneliness. If we seek to raise up missionary disciples but fail to help these disciples form communities of friends, then something essential is lacking. If we hope to fulfill the command to love one another, then we need to be in real communities that call forth sacrificial love.
The First Letter of John teaches us that if we fail to love our brother or sister whom we see, then we cannot claim to love God, whom we cannot see (see 4:20). By building committed communities of friends – and forming others to do so – we not only learn what it means to love one another but also learn more deeply what it means to love God.
Christian discipleship thrives in a communal context. We are not lone Christians walking a solitary pilgrimage of faith. Rather we are banded together with other companions in a common pilgrimage-serving together, standing together against a common foe, and helping each other thrive along the way.
Crucially, our friendships in Christ are not merely instrumental, not just things that help us make progress on the path. The goal of eternal life is communion (koinonia) with God and with one another. Our friendships here in this life are the training ground and foretaste of the friendships that will be ours eternally. Christian discipleship, at its core, is also a school of friendship.
(excerpted from Faith, Hope, and Love in the Path of Discipleship)
Reading: Life Together, Chapter on Service, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The other service one should perform for another person in a Christian community is active helpfulness. To begin with, we have in mind simple assistance in minor, external matters. There are many such things wherever people live together. Nobody is too good for the lowest service. Those who worry about the loss of time entailed by such small, external acts of helpfulness are usually taking their own work too seriously. We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God, who will thwart our plans and frustrate our ways time and again, even daily, by sending people across our path with their demands and requests. We can, then, pass them by, preoccupied with our more important daily tasks, just as the priest – perhaps reading the Bible – passed by the man who had fallen among robbers. When we do that, we pass by the visible sign of the cross raised in our lives to show us that God’s way, and not our own, is what counts.
It is a strange fact that, of all people, Christians and theologians often consider their work so important and urgent that they do not want to let anything interrupt it. They think they are doing God a favor, but actually they are despising God’s “crooked yet straight path” (Gottfried Arnold). They want to know nothing about how human plans are thwarted. But it is part of the school of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service. We do not manage our time ourselves but allow it to be occupied by God. In the monastery, the monk’s vow of obedience to the abbot takes away his right to do what he likes with his time. In Protestant community life, voluntary service to one another takes the place of the vow. One can joyfully and authentically proclaim the Word of God’s love and mercy with one’s mouth only where one’s hands are not considered too good for deeds of love and mercy in everyday helpfulness.
Meditation passage: 1 Peter 4:7-9
7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore keep sane and sober for your prayers. 8 Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another.
Reflection: God has put us here on earth for a purpose – to glorify him and to build his kingdom of love, righteousness, and peace. The Lord Jesus has set us free from slavery to sin and selfish desires so that we may live as servants who fervently love and bear one another’s burdens and weaknesses. Each of us are called to be a pillar of support, encouragement, and protection for one another. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can better support and encourage your brothers and sisters in daily life and service. If you meet in a regular sharing group, ask your brothers and sisters how you can encourage and support them, especially in their areas of weakness and challenge or adversity.
Reading: “Love covers a multitude of sins” – commentary on 1 Peter 4:8, by Dan Keating
What is Peter getting at when he says that “love covers a multitude of sins”? The background to this statement is Proverbs 10:12 (“love covers all offenses”), which Peter cites rather loosely. The primary meaning is that our love “covers over,” that is, “overlooks,” the “multitude” of daily sins that people commit against us. In this sense our love covers over the sins of others. Rather than allowing grudges and judgments to pile up, we are called to put away these offenses through the merciful love we extend to one another. Peter may also mean that our practice of merciful love toward one another will prompt God himself to “cover” our offenses. In this sense one’s love results in our own sins being forgiven by God: “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you” (Matt 6:14). Both meanings are true and Peter may have them both in mind here.
Meditation passage: Romans 14:10-13,19
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12 So each of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Then let us no more pass judgment on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 19 Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building.
Reflection: We are commanded by Scripture to not pass judgment on our neighbor because we, ourselves are under judgment. We must each render an account of ourselves before the judgment seat of God. The way we think, speak, and treat one another must always be guided by the principle of love which strives to maintain peace, harmony, and unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Take a few moments today to examine how you have been thinking and viewing the people you live and work with? Are there any critical or judgmental thoughts and attitudes which need to be corrected and brought into the light of Christ’s truth and merciful love?
Reading: from Discipleship, Chapter 6, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
When we judge, we encounter other people from the distance of observation and reflection. But love does not allot time and space to do that. For those who love, other people can never become an object for spectators to observe. Instead, they are always a living claim on my love and my service.
…Judging is the forbidden evaluation of other persons. It corrodes simple love. Love does not prohibit my having my own thoughts about others or my perceiving their sin, but both thoughts and perceptions are liberated from evaluating them. They thereby become only an occasion for that forgiveness and unconditional love Jesus gives me. My refraining from judgment of others does not validate tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner (understanding everything means pardoning everything), it does not concede that the other person is somehow right after all. Neither I nor the other person is right. God alone, God’s grace and judgment is proclaimed to be right.
Meditation passage: 1 Peter 5:5-6, 14
5 Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. 14 Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you that are in Christ.
Reflection: [Commentary on 1 Peter 5:5-6, by Dan Keating]
Humility is the great leveler. Though there are different roles and relationships of subordination in the Church, the fundamental posture for all of us to adopt is humility before our brothers and sisters. Paul offers the same counsel: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves” (Phil 2:3; see also Eph 4:2; Col 3:12)… Because the blessing of God is upon those who humble themselves, Peter calls us to embrace it: So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.
The reference to the “mighty hand of God” recalls the deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Deut 6:21 NRSV; see also Exodus 3:19; Ezek 20:34). Just as the Lord delivered his people of old, so he will continue to deliver those who humble themselves before him. “In due time” is the appointed time of God’s action; the term can apply to any season of deliverance in the life of the Christian, but Peter probably has the final return of Christ especially in mind. No matter what may happen in this life, Christians can be confident that God will deliver them when Christ returns, just as he delivered his Son (1:21; 3:22).
Reading: Life Together, Chapter on Service, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Those who would learn to serve must first learn to think little of themselves. “[You should] not … think of yourself more highly than you ought to think” (Romans 12:3). “The highest and most useful lesson is to truly know yourself and to think humbly of yourself. Making nothing of yourself and always having a good opinion of others is great wisdom and perfection” (Thomas à Kempis). “Do not claim to be wiser than you are” (Rom. 12:17). Only those who live by the forgiveness of their sin in Jesus Christ will think little of themselves in the right way. They will know that their own wisdom completely came to an end when Christ forgave them.
The desire for one’s own honor hinders faith. Those who seek their own honor are no longer seeking God and their neighbor. What does it matter if I suffer injustice? Would I not have deserved even more severe punishment from God if God had not treated me with mercy? Is not justice done to me a thousand times over even in injustice? Must it not be beneficial and conducive to humility for me to learn to bear such petty ills silently and patiently? “Patience is better than pride” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).
Those who live by justification by grace are prepared to accept even insults and slights without protest, taking them as from God’s chastising and gracious hand. It is not a good sign when we can no longer stand to hear such things without immediately recalling that even Paul insisted on his rights as a Roman citizen and that Jesus replied to the man who struck him, “Why do you strike me?” In any case, none of us will really act as Jesus and Paul did if we have not first learned like them to keep silent amidst insults and humiliations. The sin of irritability that blossoms so quickly in the community shows again and again how much inordinate ambition, and thus how much unbelief, still exists in the community.
Meditation passage: 1 Corinthians 13:1–6
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
Reflection: Augustine of Hippo said, “Essentially, there are two kinds of people, because there are two kinds of love. One is holy, the other is selfish. One is subject to God; the other endeavors to equal Him.” Jesus came not only to fulfill the law of righteousness (Leviticus 19), but to transform it through his unconditional love and mercy towards us.
The Lord Jesus proved his love for us by offering up his life on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. His death brings freedom and life for us – freedom from fear, selfishness, and greed – and new abundant life in the Holy Spirit who fills our hearts with the love of God (Romans 5:5).
On the day of judgment Jesus will ask each of us “whom did you love?” Inordinate love of self crowds out love of God and love of neighbor. Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ and follow his way of love and righteousness will not be disappointed. They will receive the just reward – life and peace with God in his everlasting kingdom.
If we entrust our lives to the Lord Jesus today, and allow his Holy Spirit to purify our hearts and minds, then he will give us the grace, strength, and freedom to walk and live each day in the power of his merciful love and goodness. Let us entrust our lives into the hands of the merciful Savior who gave his life for us. And let us ask the Lord Jesus to increase our faith, strengthen our hope, and enkindle in us the fire of his merciful love and compassion for all.
Reading: Life Together, Chapter on Service, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives us God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear. 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. The death of the spiritual life starts here, and in the end there is nothing left but empty spiritual chatter and clerical condescension which chokes on pious words.
Those who cannot listen long and patiently will always be talking past others, and finally no longer will even notice it. Those who think their time is too precious to spend listening will never really have time for God and others, but only for themselves and for their own words and plans.
Meditation passage: 1 Peter 1:22 and 2:1
1:22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. 2:1 So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.
Reflection: [Commentary on 1 Peter, by Dan Keating]
When Christians commit themselves to Christ through faith, repentance, and baptism, they are purifying themselves by their obedience to the truth of the gospel. What have they purified themselves for? For sincere mutual love. “Sincere” is literally “unhypocritical”; our love for one another must be genuine and unfeigned. The NJB translation, “the genuine love of brothers,” displays an important term, for “mutual love” is literally “brotherly love.” … Peter calls them to love one another intensely from a [pure] heart. Just as they have come to love Jesus himself (v. 8), they are now called to love their brothers and sisters in the Church. They must love “from a pure heart” and “intensely” [earnestly in RSV and deeply in NIV].
[In 1 Peter 2:1] Peter opens by naming five things that Christians need to remove from their lives: Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, insincerity, envy, and all slander. All are related to practical life among the people of God and largely concern matters of speech. The threefold repetition of “all” underlines how zealous we must be in ridding ourselves of these traits. There is no room for compromise. The five traits stand as opposites to the qualities of “truth” and “brotherly love” that Peter has just commended in 1:22. “Deceit” and “insincerity” are opposed to truth; “malice,” “envy,” and “slander” are opposed to brotherly love. If obedience to the truth and earnest brotherly love are going to mark our lives in the household of God, all of these sinful patterns of conduct must be put away.
Meditation passage: Ephesians 4:29-32
29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Reflection: Paul ends this section of his letter with a litany (an extended list) of the qualities which Christ wants us to possess. The focus throughout is on guarding against anger, malice, and sinful speech, and instead we are to treat one another with kindness, tender love, and forgiveness. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit: Paul reminds us that we have been sealed with the blood of Jesus and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. If we go back to our old ways of sinning and rejecting God’s truth, we grieve the Holy Spirit whose sole aim is to draw us close to the Father and the Son and to renew our minds and hearts in the love of God.
Reading: Life Together, Chapter on Service, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Third, we speak of the service involved in bearing with others. “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Thus the law of Christ is a law of forbearance. Forbearance means enduring and suffering… Christians must bear the burden of one another… All that we mean by human nature, individuality, and talent is part of the other person’s freedom – as are the other’s weaknesses and peculiarities that so sorely try our patience, and everything that produces the plethora of clashes, differences, and arguments between me and the other. Here, bearing the burden of the other means tolerating the reality of the other’s creation by God – affirming it, and in bearing with it, breaking through to delight in it.
This will be especially difficult where both the strong and the weak in faith are bound together in one community. The weak must not judge the strong; the strong must not despise the weak. The weak must guard against pride, the strong against indifference. Neither must seek their own rights. If the strong persons fall, the weak ones must keep their hearts from gloating over the misfortune. If the weak fall, the strong must help them up again in a friendly manner. The one needs as much patience as the other. “Woe to the one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help!” (Ecclesiastes 4:10).
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