“When God had mercy on us, when God revealed Jesus Christ to us as our brother, when God won our hearts by God’s own love, our instruction in Christian love began at the same time. When God was merciful to us, we learned to be merciful with one another. When we received forgiveness instead of judgment, we too were made ready to forgive each other. What God did to us, we then owed to others. The more we received, the more we were able to give; and the more meager our love for one another, the less we were living by God’s mercy and love. Thus God taught us to encounter one another as God has encountered us in Christ. “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” ” (Romans 15:7). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 8.
This idea that we are to “encounter one another as God has encountered us in Christ” is found throughout the New Testament. Jesus says that we are to love one another “as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35). Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us…” (Ephesians 4:32-5:2). John writes, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
We are not only to encounter believers as God encounters us as His sons and daughters, but we are to encounter the world – both believers and unbelievers – as God encounters the world. Jesus says:
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous….Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:44, 45, 48).
We are not only to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, we are to love others as God loves them, we are to bless others as God blesses them, we are to care for others as God cares for them, both within and without the community of believers. The one area in which we are not to do as God does is the area of vengeance and final judgement; in the temporal world this is reserved for the state, in the eternal sphere this is reserved for God. While there is a time and place in which we shall judge angels and nations (1 Corinthians 6:3; Revelation 2:26-27), we are incapable of this in our current condition and God graciously protects us from this burden and potential toxin to our souls.
In the community of believers, in life together, we are to be to others as Christ is to us. In the world we are to be to others as God is to the world. How is God to the world? God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.
Life Together is life distinct from the world; it is life out of death, righteousness out of sin, holiness out of profanity. The koinonia of the ekklesia is a called-out people sharing the communion of the Trinity, and as the life of the Trinity permeates the people who are now bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh, we encounter one another as God encounters us in Christ.