The highest service to perform, according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is the proclamation of the Word. This ministry of the Word is the fourth and final service in which Bonhoeffer believes the Christian community owes to each other.
Though Bonhoeffer does believe the proclamation of the Word is the most crucial service, this does not negate the others. He writes that “where the ministry of listening, active helpfulness, and bearing with others is faithfully performed, the ultimate and highest service can also be rendered, namely, the ministry of the Word of God.”
It is only when we listen, help, and bear with others that the door is opened to speak the word into their lives. Bonhoeffer writes:
If [speaking the word] is not accompanied by worthy listening, how can it really be the right word for the other person? If it is contradicted by one’s own lack of active helpfulness, how can it be a convincing and sincere word? If it issues, not from a spirit of bearing and forbearing, but from impatience and the desire to force its acceptance, how can it be the liberating and healing word?
We must not fear this responsibility to speak the Word to one another. If we cannot bring ourselves to speak God’s Word, then we need to reexamine our view of our Christian brother or sister. Regardless of “how old or highly placed or distinguished [a Christian brother] may be,” writes Bonhoeffer, “he is still a man like us, a sinner in crying need of God’s grace. He has the same great necessities that we have, and needs help, encouragement, and forgiveness as we do.”
One thing that helps us in speaking the Word to others is allowing others to speak the Word to us. If we humbly accept reproof from God’s Word spoken by others, then “the more free and objective will we be in speaking ourselves.” Bonhoeffer writes that “the person whose touchiness and vanity make him spurn a brother’s earnest censure cannot speak the truth in humility to others; he is afraid of being rebuffed and of feeling that he has been aggrieved.” But let humility reign and we will speak the word because the humble “seeks nothing for himself and has no fears for himself, [so] he can help his brother through the Word.”
Speak It In Everyday Life
What Bonhoeffer means by speaking the Word to one another is important to understand. It is not necessarily done in a formal gathering but in the day to day activities with one another. He writes that “what we are concerned with here is the free communication of the Word from person to person, not by the ordained ministry which is bound to a particular office, time, and place.”
“God has put His Word in our mouth,” writes Bonhoeffer. “He wants it to be spoken through us. If we hinder His Word, the blood of the sinning brother will be upon us. If we carry out His Word, God will save our brother through us.” Fairly strong words for us to speak the Word. But we must remember that it is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12).
Let’s not back away from speaking the Word to others today. For all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But let’s do so only as we listen, help, and bear one another’s burden.