Last night our small group discussed John 17. Our interaction prompted some questions about Christian love. What's so distinctive about the love between believers? Why does it clearly point people to the gospel (cf. Jn 17:20-23)? Bonhoeffer helps us answer these questions...
Because Christ stands between me and others, I dare not desire direct fellowship with them. As only Christ can speak to me in such a way that I may be saved, so others, too, can be saved only by Christ himself. This means that I must release the other person from every attempt of mine to regulate, coerce, and dominate him with my love. The other person needs to retain his independence of me; to be loved for what he is, as one for whom Christ became man and died, and rose again, for whom Christ bought forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Because Christ has long since acted decisively for my brother, before I could begin to act, I must leave him his freedom to be Christ's; I must meet him only as the person he already is in Christ's eyes. This is the meaning of the proposition that we can meet with others only through the mediation of Christ. Human love constructs its own image of the other person, of what he is and what he should become. It takes the life of the other person into its own hands. Spiritual love recognizes the true image of the other person which he has received from Jesus Christ; the image that Jesus Christ himself embodied and would stamp upon all men.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 36.
In the community of Christ, we see others only in the light of the gospel, and thus are empowered to love in costly and cross-shaped ways.