The first time I read Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I was longing for community and fellowship. In only five chapters, Bonhoeffer comprehensively describes the blessing of and need for community, how community is bound by our mutual affection for Christ, and what our fellowship together ought to consist of (worship, reading Scripture, prayer, meals together, and service). He also pauses his exploration of Christian community to address those who are alone, with the proposition that community is not a way to escape loneliness, but something that God calls us to be a part of. If we reject being a part of community, we are rejecting God’s call.
Bonhoeffer writes that being part of a community also teaches us the value in being alone to let the Word of God speak to us, to meditate on Scripture, and to pray for and intercede for others. “The strength of aloneness and the strength of the fellowship,” Bonhoeffer writes, “is solely the strength of the Word of God, which is addressed to the individual in the fellowship.” In fact, the vital importance of Scripture is everywhere in the book. The call to community, the strength to love others, the wisdom to engage, the words we speak to each other all come from the Word of God.
In the final two chapters, Bonhoeffer breaks down some specific elements of community like listening, helpfulness, bearing burdens, and confessing sins to each other. He writes that “sin withdraws from community,” but in each chapter he shows us that love presses into community.
When I first read this book, I longed for all these things Bonhoeffer wrote about. Several years later, I praise God that my experience of community now looks a lot like what he describes. It’s not why we need community that sticks out to me now, but how and why we love others in our community. We don’t love others out of our human love since that has limits. We love others with a “spiritual love” that comes from Jesus. This love recognizes the image of Christ in the other person and it reflects Christ back to them.
Success in community comes from pursuing God’s reality of community, not our dreams of it. And the strength of our community comes from knowing, loving, and obeying the Word of God. So whether you read Life Together or just this review, I hope you walk away with a fresh desire to pursue studying Scripture, for through it, we know God better and love others more.