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Help from Bonhoeffer on Humility & Unity

Written by Dustin Crowe on

In Philippians 2:1-4, Paul tells us to pursue unity through humility. Pride promotes division, but humility nurtures harmony. He pleads with these believers to be of one mind, one purpose, and one love by laying down their personal priorities and privileges.

Humility is cultivated as we consider the gospel-blessings received by grace (2:1), esteem others higher than ourselves, (2:3-4) and follow Christ’s example (2:5). The Spirit gives us the mind of Christ (2:5) to counter the “me, me, me” voice screaming in my head.

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer shares one of the challenges the disciples faced (or created) that every local church must extinguish. We see it in Luke 9:46: “An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest”

Though some division is purposeful, most is subtle, maybe even stirred up unknowingly. We often live unaware of how we act selfishly, out of self-protection, with walls put up we might not see, and with self-centered motives. Even in the local church, we think the ministry we serve in is most important or our opinions and ideas must be expressed and embraced within the church. There are a thousand ways we might act selfishly, pridefully, and divisively.

“All this can occur in the most polite or even pious environment. But the important thing is that a Christian community should know that somewhere in it there will certainly be ‘a reasoning [argument] among them, which of them should be the greatest.’ It is the struggle of the natural man for self-justification. He finds it not only in comparing himself with others, in condemning and judging others. Self-justification and judging others go together, as justification by grace and serving others go together.”

Bonhoeffer roots our acts of humble service in our justification by free grace (as Paul does in Phil. 2). In other words: only those who have freely received grace can freely give it. Only those who are amazed by Christ’s humility and service can follow suit by humbly serving others. We need Paul’s words to pursue unity by practicing humility, a humility grounded in the gospel of grace.

This post was originally published at

Dustin Crowe

Dustin serves as Pastor of Discipleship at Pennington Park Church, a church plant of College Park Church. He blogs about books, travel, culture, theology, and discipleship at Indy Crowe. Dustin enjoys teaching, writing, and interacting with people through both activities.

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