by Jane L. Fryar
The names Gajowniczek and Kolbe probably don’t mean much to you, but consider this amazing story. These two men were incarcerated at Auschwitz, a German concentration camp of World War II. Kolbe was a Franciscan priest. In the harshness of this slaughterhouse he maintained the gentleness of Christ. He shared his food. He gave his bunk to others and slept on the floor. He prayed for the Nazis.
In July of 1941, a prisoner escaped from the camp. The German custom was to kill ten prisoners for each one who escaped. All the prisoners were gathered in the courtyard and the commandant randomly selected ten names from the roll book. The ten were immediately taken to a cell where they would be given no food or water until they died. The tenth name called on that July day was “Gajowniczek.” He began to sob, “My wife. My children.”
At that moment, one of the remaining prisoners left his row and pushed toward the front. It was Kolbe. One of the guards shouted, “Stop or be shot!” Kolbe replied calmly, “I want to speak with the commander.” For some reason the guard did not kill him on the spot.
Kolbe stood before the commandant and removed his hat. “Herr Commandant, I wish to make a request, please. I want to die in the place of this prisoner,” he said as he pointed to the weeping Gajowniczek. “I have no wife. I am old and good for nothing. He is in better condition.” (Kolbe was fully aware of the Nazi mentality.) Everyone stood still, stunned. After a moment of silence, the commander yelled, “Request granted.” Gajowniczek said later, “Prisoners were never allowed to speak. I could only thank Kolbe with my eyes.”
Kolbe died on August 14, 1941, only after a camp doctor injected his heart with phenol. Gajowniczek survived the Holocaust. He returns to Auschwitz every year on August 14 to say thank you to a man who died in his place. Authentic love had touched and changed his heart forever.
Authentic love in its purest form comes only from God. In fact, the Scripture tells us, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). So what does God’s love look like? And how do I know it’s directed toward me?
God is love, and he communicates love in both words and actions. Romans 5:8 says, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” That means God’s love is not based on how good I am or how pretty I am or what I have accomplished in life or what I might someday do in return. Rather, he simply decides to love. In love, he sent his Son to die in my place and in yours! Our sins were washed away on Calvary’s cross. That love carries with it three significant implications:
1. When you know God’s love, you can love other people.
Some people find it hard to love because they have been burned in relationships; they’ve lost trust in the other person, and love has faded; or they don’t want to open themselves up to being hurt. But God’s love for us in Christ answers all the reasons behind our lovelessness.
“Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other” (1 John 4:11). This means no matter how big the hurts in my life, I know God loves me. No matter who disappoints me, no matter who dumps on me, no matter who despises me despite my love for them, God loves me, and he always will. Now I am free to love, no matter how the other person responds. Christ’s love gives me true and unending security.
2. When you know God’s love, you can forgive those who take advantage of your trust.
“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love” (1 John 4:16). Only God is completely trustworthy. His love never fades. In fact, even when we lose trust in him, he is still faithful to love us. “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is” (2 Timothy 2:13).
Scripture tells us to love other people; it never commands us to trust them. A person with an alcoholic husband or wife understands the courage tough love takes. Sometimes—in love—we withhold trust. We forgive them, but we refuse to trust them—for their own good! In Christ, we can always find the courage to act in their best long-term interests. Sometimes, love says no. Sometimes, love grounds a son or daughter. Sometimes, love even calls the police.
3. When you know you are loved, you can live without fear.
“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear” (1 John 4:18). Fear cripples many. Fear can keep us from ever becoming what God intended us to be. Because of fear, we quit. We refuse to stand up for our beliefs. We run away. We never try. When we focus on ourselves, our confidence dribbles away. But when we focus on the infinite love of God in Christ, the fear of failure melts away. We lose our fear of rejection in the sunshine of God’s authentic love. God’s perfect love expels all fear.
You and I have more in common with Gajowniczek than perhaps we thought at first. Someone loved us enough to die in our place. As we consider the nails that held Jesus to the cross, we remember God’s deep love for us. We bask in the warmth of heaven’s authentic acceptance. Then we use the courage it gives to love others.