“We hold fast in faith to God’s greatest gift, that God has acted for us all and wants to act for us all. This makes us joyful and happy, but it also makes us ready to forgo all such experiences if at times God does not grant them. We are bound together by faith, not by experience.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 21.
In the previous post I pointed out that there is a mission within the community and a mission without the community and that both missions are animated by love. Mission outside the community responds to the command to “Go into all the world and make disciples” by loving our neighbors as ourselves and by allowing the Father to give us to the world as He Gave His only begotten Son to the world – to be sure there is an upper case “G” and a lower case “g”.
Love within the community, love in life together, finds itself in the words, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:34-35). Note that there is an evangelistic element to this love within the community – it is such a distinctive love that by it all men will know that we are Christ’s disciples.
Later in the Upper Room, after Jesus has spoken the above words, He comes back to them with amplification lest there be any question as to the quality and essence of the “even as” love that he is talking about, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you,” (John 15:12– 14). Jesus is laying down His life, He is calling the apostles, and through the apostles He is calling us, to lay our lives down for one another.
The Apostle John echoes these words in his first letter, “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).
The faith that Bonhoeffer writes about that binds us together is a faith that is inextricably woven with love and with hope. Hope in the revelation of Jesus Christ in His saints, love for the saints; but not any kind of love, but love with a peculiar definition – love defined by Christ and His Cross. Jesus Christ laid down His life for us, we are called to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Notice that we are not exhorted to lay our lives down for God, or for Jesus – but rather for one another. The context of 1 John 3:16 is about the way we love one another. John writes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another,” (4:11). John argues, how can I say I love God if I do not love my brother? As Paul makes clear again and again in 2 Corinthians, life together is sacrificial, it is intercessory living in community.
Sacrificial love not only makes us willing to “forego” the experience of koinonia that Bonhoeffer writes about, but it compels us to suffer for the sake of the community so that everyone within the community might grow up into Jesus Christ, individually and as the body of Christ. We are not simply speaking about the absence of something (the experience of community); we are speaking about the presence of something – suffering in love for the community and on behalf of the community. This is the love of Jesus Christ, laying down His life for us…this is the love to which, in Him, we are called.