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The Nail

CTA - Christ to All /Jan. 17, 2022
The Nail

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 up his bunk. 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 were given no food or water until they died. The tenth name called on that July day was “Gajowniczek.” He began to sob, “My wife and children.”   

At that moment, one of the remaining prisoners left his row and pushed toward the front. This was unheard of—one could easily be shot just for moving. It was Kolbe. There was no fear, no hesitation in his step. 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. 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, and then 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.    

Would you agree that Kolbe showed authentic love? In a truly Christlike way, Kolbe died in Gajowniczek’s place. We must understand that authentic love in its purest form comes from God. In fact the Scripture tells us, “God is love” (1 John 4:8 NLT). So what does God’s love look like, and how do I know it’s directed toward me?   

God is love, and he communicates that love not only with words, but in actions. Romans 5:8 (NLT) says, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” That means his 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 accomplish for him. Rather, his love is based on his own decision to love. In love, he sent his Son to die in my place and in yours! Loved by him, we’re free to love others.   

Some people find it hard to love because they have been burned in a relationship; they’ve lost trust in the other person, and love has faded; or they don’t want to open themselves up to being hurt. God’s love is like no other. His love for us in Christ answers all the reasons we are reluctant to love others.   

When you know God’s love, you can love others. “Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other” (1 John 4:11 NLT). 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.    

God loves you! Nothing you can do can make him love you more, and nothing you can do will make him love you less. He loves you, but not because of what you do. He loves you! He loves you, so now you’re free to love others and to share his love with them. You can love them because you are secure in his love.   

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 him” (1 John 4:16 NLT). 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 himself ” (2 Timothy 2:13 NLT). Scripture never commands us to trust others; it does tell us to love them. A person with an alcoholic husband or wife understands the courage tough love takes. Sometimes—in love—we cannot trust people. We forgive them, but we refuse to trust them—for their own good! In Christ, we can always find the courage to love them, 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.   

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 NLT). 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. Bask in the warmth of heaven’s authentic acceptance. Then use the courage it gives to love others.  

Editor’s note: Would you like a tangible reminder to accompany this devotion? Check out our It Is Finished Rustic Nail and Cross-Shape Bookmark and our newest items featuring John 3:16.