When They Hate You for Loving Them

Wisdom's Friend

Irena Sendler was a heroine of WW2 for her courageous and dangerous rescue of over two thousand Jewish children from the holocaust. As I watched a documentary about that rescue mission, I was struck by something she said: that many of the children whom she rescued hated her and her co-workers because they took them away from their parents. The children said they would rather stay in the ghetto and starve and die with their parents.

This attitude is understandable when coming from a child. It is natural that children cling to their parents no matter what, and prefer the security of being with them, even if it means death by starvation, rather than to be thrust into the outside world full of unfamiliar people and unknown dangers, not to mention that their parents and family was the only love they had ever known. This is understandable.

But adults have a broader view. It was the parents themselves who made the heart-rending decision to spirit their children away from the ghetto and its near certainty of death, so they could save their children. Some children could not understand this decision and cried out that their parents did not love them any more. How could they do such a thing? In both cases, with the parents and with Sendler’s organization, those who saved young lives, far from receiving thanks, were looked upon by those being saved as hard-hearted at best, and hated at worst. Yet also in both cases, what was done was done out of love and at great personal risk by both parties responsible for the parting of the children from their parents. There was a deep love that drove the actions of those involved, yet that love was so deep that young hearts often could not see it and take it in. Love was wrongly perceived as evil to be hated.

Now listen to the words of Jesus: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37 NIV).

These are difficult words to accept because we grow up from birth immersed in a world where the family is paramount, where no bond is stronger for a helpless, dependent child than that with his or her parents. But we also know from our experience in living in this world that this bond, as deep and necessary as it is, is not the highest bond in one’s life. As we grow older and become less dependent upon parents for security and love, other relationships develop–and all in the good and gracious plan of God.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is great–but I am actually speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31-32 NET).

Here, God’s Word references not just one but two bonds and relationships, mate and God, that have higher hold upon us in life than even that which first claimed our allegiance, to our parents. The apostle Paul spoke of these two higher relationships in the Ephesians passage above. First he referenced the marriage relationship between husband and wife, then immediately went beyond even this deep relationship to that of the believer and God, Christ and the church–and he said not only that this highest relationship is a mystery but that it is a great mystery.

This mystery is something which the world as a whole knows nothing about and cannot fathom. I saw this truth firsthand one time when I was leading a worship service in a county jail for the inmates. I asked the inmates what meant the most to them, what did they live for in life? Various answers came forth, including drugs, for which most of them were in jail. But a few were able to see above this common pleasure to the higher level of relationships. One mentioned the times he had had with his girlfriend, another his wife and family; he said nothing was more important to him than that. His reply reminded me of that encounter Jesus had with a teacher of the law (Mark 12:28-34). This religious teacher had been listening to Jesus teach the teachers gathered around him and was impressed by the wisdom of Jesus, so he asked Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mk. 12:28 NIV).

O that all people would have the wisdom to ask this question in their lives! What is the most important thing in life? Until we ask that question and know for certain its one, true answer, our lives are at risk of being wasted pursuing worthless things and ending up as a wasted life. Jesus gave the inquirer the one true answer (Mk. 12:29-31), and the questioner agreed with his answer, that loving God first in one’s life was the most important thing, and the second-most important thing was to love others as oneself.

“When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.'” (Mk. 12:34 NIV).

It is extremely important to notice that Jesus did not say that the man was in the kingdom of God, only that he was not far from that kingdom. Jesus saw from the man’s agreement with what Jesus had said that this was one of the few who knew that one’s relationship with God and man was above everything else in one’s life. But Jesus also knew that even such knowledge did not guarantee inclusion into that kingdom. Though this astute individual was able to see the importance of these two relationships, Jesus knew that there was yet one more thing that this man who was so close to the answer needed: He must enter into that true relationship with God through himself, through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The man was a religious teacher and knew the Scriptures well. But those were the very Scriptures that spoke of the one way now standing before him and speaking to him. He needed to accept Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior.

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (Jn. 5:39-40 NIV).

Jesus is he of whom the Scriptures testify that only in him is life found. Yet many refuse to come to him for that life. Back to the holocaust and the children who hated those who rescued them from death in the ghetto. They did not understand the depths of love that their parents and rescuers showed in taking them out of that prison. They were incapable yet of appreciating the love that saved them. Even those who hung on a cross beside Jesus could not see the great sacrifice of love being performed right at that very moment before their eyes for themselves.

“And they that were crucified with him reviled him” (Mk. 15:32 KJV).

Nevertheless, as that horrible act of hatred on the cross proceeded, one of the two criminals on the other crosses finally saw the truth of what was taking place and repented and confessed faith in the one who was saving him (Lk. 23:39-42). At this, Jesus proclaimed to him that he was not only near to the kingdom of God but about to enter it with him (Lk. 23:43).

Hatred was thus overcome by love. But it took time and the nearness of death to accomplish this dramatic reversal of heart. So too was it so with the children rescued from the ghetto. After they had grown up, they came to appreciate the great sacrifice that had been given to give them new life. But who knows what would have happened if Irena or any of her co-workers had given in to the torture and imprisonment and simply given up and died, knowing that they would then go to heaven? But, no, they fought to stay alive so that upon their release from the authorities they could continue to help free others to life. They fought death until they could no longer do so, having given their all for the lives of others, out of love for their Savior and those others.

Watchman Nee has taught that it is the believer’s duty to fight against one’s own death to the fullest extent possible, unless it is perceived as well as one can from God that the time has come to go home to him. We are not to let death deprive us from serving God in this life unless he who has the ultimate power over death so governs it. The decision to die is no more ours to make than was the decision to be born.

“For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Rom. 14:7-8 NIV).

So this piece has been written to honor the memory of Irena Sendler and all who lived their lives not for themselves but for their God and others, and also to encourage all who believe in Jesus to follow their example, relying not upon themselves to have the courage and love to do so, but to find that courage and love in their Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. May God give all who believe this grace.

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