Note 1: This is not a list of inspiring quotes. Bonhoeffer’s words do not inspire, at least in the “make feel you happy” kind of way we usually use the word. They cut with the sharp knife of truth.
Note 2: It was hard to select only 10 quotes. I had to cut out all the quotes I wanted to select from the first chapter since I had already covered them here.
Note 3: All page numbers refer to Life Together published by Harper One, 1954.
Note 4: These quotes don’t really do this book justice. I recommend you get your own copy and read all these in context.
On the importance of starting out the day in worship:
“At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him. Therefore, at the beginning of the day let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought of the first word belong to him to whom our whole life belongs.” (43)
Commentary: Bonhoeffer’s proscription for daily personal and community worship are intense by today’s standards. They include reciting a psalm, reading at least a chapter of the Bible (in family worship), meditating on a shorter section (in personal worship), singing, and prayer. He recommends at least an hour a day of personal devotions for pastors (I’m failing). In this quote he is emphasizing the importance of giving the first part of the day to God in worship.
On the importance of having the right attitude of the heart in worship:
“Where the heart is not singing there is no melody, there is only the dreadful medley of human self-praise. Where the singing is not to the Lord, it is singing to the honor of the self or the music, and the new song becomes a song to idols.” (58-59)
Commentary: Bonhoeffer does not get hung up on the externals of musical worship – though he does, surprising, stress the importance of singing in unison. His most pointed passages on this topic are when he stresses the importance of the heart of the singer. These are some convicting words.
On the importance of practicing both Christian fellowship and Christian solitude:
“Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair. Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” (78)
Commentary: This book is called “Life Together” but Bonhoeffer devotes one chapter to time in silence and solitude. He sees the two not in opposition, but as playing complimentary roles. Time alone prepares you for time together and time together prepares you for time alone. Each is dangerous by itself.
On the nature of silence as it pertains to Christian solitude:
“Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God… Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing.” (79)
Commentary: Bonhoeffer is insistent that we not step away from the Word of God during our times of solitude. In fact, time with the Word is central to the whole process. He speaks of meditation, but not as an emptying process by which we clear our minds, but as a filling process so that we might overflow with the Word of God.
On testing the effectiveness of solitude and fellowship:
“Has fellowship served to make the individual free, strong, and mature, or has it made him weak and dependent? Has it taken him by the hand for a while in order that he may learn again to walk by himself, or has it made him uneasy and unsure? … Furthermore, this [test] is the place where we find out whether the Christian’s meditation has led him into the unreal, from which he awakens in terror when he returns to the workaday world, or whether it has led him into a real contact with God, from which he emerges strengthened and purified.” (88)
Commentary: The “test” to which Bonhoeffer is referring is time in a world hostile to Christian living, something he surely knew well. It is in this test that we can tell whether or not our time along and time together have really been effective.
On the priority of listening:
“One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it.” (98)
Commentary: See the quotes below on the importance of Christian rebuke among a fellowship of believers. But before we can ever speak, either words of encouragement or rebuke, we must really listen.
On the basis of Christian encouragement and rebuke:
“We speak to one another on the basis of the help we both need. We admonish one another to go the way that Christ bids us to go. We warn one another against the disobedience that is our common destruction. We are gentle and we are severe with one another, for we know both God’s kindness and God’s severity.” (106)
Commentary: The basis of either Christian encouragement or rebuke is, surprisingly, the doctrine of sin. This is the “help we both need” to which Bonhoeffer is referring in the above quote. Of course, this only works if we first honestly consider ourselves the worse of sinners.
On the importance of godly reproof:
“Reproof is unavoidable. God’s Word demands it when a brother falls into open sin. … Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin. It is a ministry of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine fellowship, when we allow nothing but God’s Word to stand between us, judging and succoring.” (107)
Commentary: On a personal note, God is slowly but surely strengthening my spine. Reproof and rebuke are never easy but, as Bonhoeffer rightly states, are unavoidable if we hope to really care for the spiritual life of another.
On the nature of genuine spiritual authority:
“Genuine authority realizes that it can exist only in the service of Him who alone has authority… The question of trust, which is so closely related to that of authority, is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents which he possess. Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own.” (109)
Commentary: So often authority is coercive. For Bonhoeffer this is anathema. Because we are never to have “direct access” to another soul we must always only approach people as mediated through Christ. This means we serve others best (which is the basis of Christian authority) when we serve Christ first.
On the destructive cycle of sin and withdrawal:
“Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he comes involved in it, the more disastrous his isolation.” (112)
Commentary: How do we break the cycle of sin and isolation? Bonhoeffer’s answer: Confession, specifically to someone who has a personal understanding of the grace of God in Jesus.