What does it mean to serve one another? This is the question that I have been thinking through as I have been highlighting a portion of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together (chapter 4). Bonhoeffer writes of four acts of service in which he believes the Christian community owes each other. So far, I have posted about the ministry of listening and the ministry of helpfulness. Today, we discuss the third act of service, the ministry of bearing.
The Ministry of Bearing
Paul wrote that we should bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). “Thus,” writes Bonhoeffer, “the law of Christ is a law of bearing. Bearing means forbearing and sustaining. The brother is a burden to the Christian, precisely because he is a Christian. For the pagan the other person never becomes a burden at all. He simply sidesteps every burden that others may impose upon him.”
For Bonhoeffer, “the Christian must bear the burden of a brother” for “it is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated.” It is our duty as believers to bear with one another and therefore show to the world that we are Christ’s disciples. Jesus said: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35). Is not love exhibited as we bear with one another?
What Does It Mean To Bear With One Another?
Bonhoeffers lists two things that we bear for one another. The first is freedom. We do not “play God” in the brother’s life and seek to control or manipulate, but we let “God create His image in him” instead of us “stamping our image upon him.”
“The freedom of the other person,” writes Bonhoeffer, “includes all that we mean by a person’s nature, individuality, endowment. It also includes his weaknesses and oddities, which are such a trial to our patience, everything that produces frictions, conflicts, and collisions among us.” But we bear with them. We are not quick to judge or coerce but instead, walk with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love (Eph. 4:2).
The second thing we bear is sin. Sin is much harder to bear than freedom for “here the Christian suffers the rupture of his fellowship with the other person that had its basis in Jesus Christ.” However, “it is only in bearing with him that the great grace of God becomes wholly plain.” Did not Christ welcome and receive us in the midst of our sin? Did he not bear our sin and forgive? How much more should we forgive one another?
It is the bearing of sins that should lead one to self-examination instead of judgment. Bonhoeffer writes that “when does sin ever occur in the community that he must not examine and blame himself for his own unfaithfulness in prayer and intercession, his lack of brotherly service, of fraternal reproof and encouragement, indeed for his own personal sin and spiritual laxity, by which he has done inure to himself, the fellowship, and the brethren?”
The Strength To Bear With One Another
The power to bear with one another is to know that “he who is bearing others knows that he himself is being borne, and only in this strength can he go on bearing.” It’s humbling to realize that someone is “bearing our burdens” and that we stand in continual need of forgiveness for our offenses.
The Christian community forgives, however, and accepts us in all our quirkiness trusting that God is transforming us. So when we are quick to judge and wish to push off bearing with our Christian brother or sister, may we remember that first, Christ has borne our sins, and second, so have many in our Christian community.