Day 5

Unity in Christ

from the Ephesians reading plan


Ephesians 2:11-22, Psalm 118:22, Romans 12:1-8


From 1928 to 1929, Dietrich Bonhoeffer served as assistant pastor for a small German congregation in Barcelona, Spain. Young Bonhoeffer taught his parishioners to be patriotic. Echoing German preachers of his time, he touted the importance of protecting Germany’s national interests, even if it meant sacrificing the interests and lives of others.

The next year, Bonhoeffer’s faith began to change. He spent the 1930–1931 academic year as a postdoctoral student in New York. Bonhoeffer found a home at Abyssinian Baptist, a Black church in Harlem. There, he taught children’s Sunday School alongside his new friend, Albert Fisher. Bonhoeffer also visited church members’ homes and helped out with a weekday church school. In the Black church, Bonhoeffer encountered people who remained faithful to Christ though they were the objects of racism. In a new way, he learned how Christ identifies with the oppressed. Later, Bonhoeffer would say that at Abyssinian, “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the sinner, is really preached.”

In Ephesians, Paul writes to a group of people who had been outsiders. The “uncircumcised” Ephesians were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise. They were “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11–12). But now, through Christ’s sacrificial blood, those who were once far away have been brought near (v.13). Jesus Christ is peace for Jews and Gentiles—just as He is for all peoples divided by race, culture, or socioeconomic class. In Jesus Christ, the wall of hostility that divides us is broken down. Through Him, we all have access by one Spirit to the Father (vv.14–18). In Him, we are built together as one multi-ethnic temple (vv.19–21).

Experiencing this good news at Abyssinian Baptist, and in his friendship with Fisher, changed Bonhoeffer. When he returned to Germany, he stood against the nationalistic impulses he’d once embraced. Though his countrymen thought him unpatriotic, he wrote the following in As You Believe, So You Receive (1931): “God has arranged it so that all races of humanity of the earth come from one blood (Acts 17:26). Therefore, a defiant ethnic pride in flesh and blood is a sin against the Holy Spirit… Even here the commandment of love urges the Christian to stand up for his neighbor.”

With these newfound convictions, we come to the part of Bonhoeffer’s story that is most well-known. In love, he ministered to the poor in Germany and stood against the Nazi party for his Jewish neighbors until death. It’s only the unity believers have in Christ, our “fellow citizenship” in spite of our ethnicity or background, that can empower such sacrificial love. Christ’s love breaks down every wall and compels us to love one another in the face of our differences.

Written by Jared Kennedy

Post Comments (6)

6 thoughts on "Unity in Christ"

  1. Jerod says:

    I love a good reference to Bonhoeffer. With that said to give an anti nationalistic message with racial undertones right now seems a little forced in the current culture. There is nothing wrong with the love of what this nation was founded on and a deep appreciation for those who paid with their very lives so that we could be free. As a christian I am very proud and thankful to be an American and I don’t think in any way that should be divisive to any rational minded person. While being united with believers of any nation and race comes before any nationalism this doesn’t make it wrong to love this nation and expect the leaders of it to put this nation first when it comes to policy so this devotional in light of current events felt somewhat anti trump and more divisive then unifying.

    1. Jessica says:

      With that said to give an anti nationalistic message with racial undertones right now seems a little forced in the current culture.

      Do you mind including references to what you feel is explicitly anti-nationalistic?

    2. Chris says:

      If a devotional about peace and unity is anti to your political candidate, then maybe the problem lies with him rather than the content of the devotional.

  2. Charlie says:

    I liked the message… as a Christian, any phrase that puts something first that isn’t Christ or Love should be examined and reflected on. If we want to reflect as a nation of Christ-followers, we should give to others, even up to death. This giving should not be exclusive to those in our boarders. And there are instances where both our armed services and our unarmed aid workers give of themselves, up to their lives, to protect others. That isn’t pro, or against, the current government party. As a Christian all action should be reviewed for if it loves Christ and loves others (full stop, no add-ons). Those that persecute us, yes. Those that hate us, yes. Those that keep asking for more without deserving it, yes. The poor, the needy, the homeless, the mentally ill, the wealthy, the famous, … all can be equally lost, equally deserving of Gods love.

    1. Jerod says:

      Charlie: as a Christian I agree with all of that. Love knows no borders. That doesn’t change the fact that the leaders of this nation have a responsibility to put this nation and it’s citizens first. It is the responsibility of the church to help the hurt and the marginalized it is not the job of the government. The governments job is to protect it’s citizens.

  3. Dave says:

    I always love a good Bonhoeffer story, particularly how one modern giant of our faith was willing to grow in his beliefs by learning from the experiences of fellow believers. A lesson for all of us.

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