“The other service one should perform for another person in a Christian community is active helpfulness…Nobody is too good for the lowest service” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 76.
This reminds us of the words of James, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15 – 16). Also John (1 John 3:17), “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
While these passages from James and John speak of giving material assistance, the giving of material assistance is an act of service and acts of service take many forms. On the other hand, simply giving material assistance can be an excuse for not serving with our time and presence. For some, giving material assistance means that they need not use their time for others nor engage directly with others; for others, using their time ostensibly for others means that they need not contribute financial resources.
Living in koinonia entails helping others who need help. It also means serving others whether they need help or not. Acts of service become a way of life in Christ just as listening with the “ears of God” becomes a way of life in Christ. The rhythm of life incorporates listening and serving and (as we will see in future posts) supporting and forgiving one another.
Bonhoeffer writes that, “Those who worry about the loss of time…are usually taking their own work too seriously. We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God…” (Page 76). We tend to be selfish with our time for we see it as our time and not God’s time. We have our agendas, our “to do” lists, and they tend to take precedence over everything else. Bonhoeffer cautions against thinking and acting as if theology, reading the Bible, and other religious work and activity is “so important and urgent” that we refuse to be interrupted and refuse to serve others. Bonhoeffer wonders if, perhaps, the priest who passed by the man fallen among thieves might not have been reading the Bible.
“…we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service. We do not manage our time ourselves but allow it to be occupied by God.”
When we serve others it often requires that we connect with others. It requires that we place ourselves at their disposal. It may require that we perform menial tasks. It often requires that we perform tasks beneath our abilities. It may mean that we perform tasks that we are uncomfortable doing or with which we are unfamiliar. It may mean that we leave our comfort zones. It may mean not only the surrender of our time, but also of our egos, our agendas, our aggressive attitudes toward accomplishing our own goals.
When we consider those around us are we asking not only, “How can I listen?” but also, “How can I serve?”
To be sure, some of us are better with our hands than others; but I think there is always something we can do. More than once I have been thankful for a broom and a dustpan, they have given me something to do while others who are more talented use their talents at a higher level. My two hands my not be trained to make a precision cut in lumber, but they can hold the wood for the carpenter making the cut. I can bring a friend a cup of coffee. I can pick up trash. I can plant a tree. Washing dishes has been a refuge for me when others cook and prepare meals. Surely I can serve – not only when there is a critical need; I can serve simply to serve and to encourage my brother and sister.
I think it would be fruitful if seminaries and Bible schools required acts of service – it would be a good reality check for many students; getting dirt under one’s finger nails is important for the transformation of the heart. Sadly many in vocational ministry, (certainly not all), think working with one’s hands beneath them. Perhaps every seminary professor should sweep the halls occasionally? Perhaps every pastor and teacher should scrub a toilet? Just as importantly, perhaps we all ought to be challenged to go on a quest to perform acts of service in daily life – to by love serve one another (Galatians 5:13).
“One can joyfully and authentically proclaim the Word of God’s love and mercy with one’s mouth only where one’s hands are not considered too good for deeds of love and mercy in everyday helpfulness.” (Page 77).