Bonhoeffer writes concerning spiritual love, “…it will encounter the other [person] with the clear word of God and be prepared to leave the other alone with this word for a long time. It will be willing to release others again so that Christ may deal with them. It will respect the boundary of the other, which is placed between us by Christ, and it will find full community with the other in the Christ who alone binds us together.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 18.
Bonhoeffer’s words not only challenge us as to our belief in Christ as Lord, but they also challenge us regarding our belief in the Word of God – do we believe the Word of God needs our help and our control in order to accomplish what God desires? Can we leave others alone without meddling and trust the Word of God and Christ to work within them? Do we preach the Word and then insist on manipulating a response to the Word? Do we teach in a fashion that releases others to a place of freedom in which the Word does its work, or is our teaching designed to elicit a particular response in a particular way that is in keeping with our particular image of who people ought to be and how they ought to be who we want them to be?
Our call is to proclaim and teach the Word and to teach people to obey – to be sure the teaching to obey, the making of disciples, has intentionality – and so we aren’t suggesting that we simply speak the Word and then do nothing, but too often we speak the Word and then do not give others room to allow the Word to be engrafted into their souls – the seed isn’t given opportunity to germinate and take root before we wonder why we don’t see what we expect to see. As Paul writes, one plants, another waters, but it is God who gives the increase; we’ve convinced ourselves that we must do it all and we often can’t stand to wait and allow God to send the rain on the Word and we can’t take our hands off others so that God can give the increase. We insist on an increase after our image and agenda.
There is a tension here, as in most eternal things; we proclaim the Word and trust His Word to not return void. We also trust God to give us wisdom to teach others to obey – but in teaching others to obey we must tread carefully lest we become the prime mediators of the Word, for when we become the prime mediators we then cease to subject ourselves to the Word and we force the Word and others to submit to us. There is no teaching quite like modeling, like being an example – we teach others to submit to the Word as they see us submitting to the Word – and then in koinonia we submit to the Word as brothers and sisters and we learn to mutually submit to one another.
It is hard not to “make things happen”, but the things we can make happen are not things that will last – only the growth that God in Christ gives is growth that is rooted in the eternals.