Active Helpfulness and Bearing Burdens

As I was saying, Bonhoeffer encourages Christians to serve one another in several ways. First, listening to one another. This post will cover the second and third types of service Bonhoeffer discusses.

(2) Active Helpfulness. Bonhoeffer means just simple stuff, helping each other.

Nobody is too good for the lowest service. Those who worry about the loss of time entailed by such small, external acts of helpfulness are usually taking their own work too seriously. We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God, who will thwart our plans and frustrate our ways time and again, even daily, by sending people across our path with their demands and requests.

Life Together, DBW-RE, pp. 76–77

(3) Bearing one another’s burdens.

Of course, Bonhoeffer is thinking of this verse.

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

Bonhoeffer comments: “Only as a burden is the other really a brother or sister and not just an object to be controlled” (p. 77).

What sorts of things do we have to bear? Bonhoeffer discusses two categories.

  • freedom
  • sin

Freedom—the other person gets to be different from me, and I don’t try to impress my own image on the other person but I allow God to impress his image on them. “Here, bearing the burden of the other means tolerating the reality of the other’s creation by God—affirming it, and in bearing with it, breaking through to delight in it” (p. 79).

Sin—the sin of the other person, which is exactly what Paul is talking about in Gal 6:1–2. “We may suffer the sins of one another; we do not need to judge. … the community of faith … rejoices in being deemed worthy of bearing with and forgiving sin” (p. 80).

After the service of Listening, Active Helpfulness, and Bearing Burdens, then the preacher can perform what Bonhoeffer truly regards as the highest service: the service of the Word—which, Bonhoeffer stresses, is not preaching but “the free word from person to person.”

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