This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Grace Dube (from South Africa. Mrs. Dube's husband, Benjamin, was stabbed to death. She continues to preach his message of forgiveness), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
There is no fear in love. (1 John 4:18)
A Marxist leader once stated that Christian love is an obstacle in the development of the communist revolution. 'We need hatred, not love,' he said.
These words were also used when a mob of people in Soweto visited my husband Benjamin. The Lord had called Benjamin to preach a message of forgiveness, love and hope in our troubled township. Many people came to listen, but others were angry. 'You are black yourself' they cried, 'why then do you talk about loving the white people?' Benjamin's answer was always the same: 'We should not hate people, because Jesus loves us all--white or black.' 'If you do not stop preaching love we will kill you,' was the reaction.
One night, Benjamin woke up and called our family together in the middle of the night. He told us about the threats and said, 'I believe they will kill me soon.' We could not believe our ears.
I knew he did not say these things lightly, and that I could never persuade him to stop preaching about love and forgiveness.
That night he prayed with us all. A prayer meeting that I will never forget. 'Remain faithful to Jesus' he said, 'love those who will kill me--because Jesus loves them.' It all sounded so strange and yet so true.
A few days later his car was stopped by fellow black people. He was dragged out of the car and beaten to death. His murderers took his Bible and drenched it in his own blood. 'We wanted hatred,' they shouted. But Benjamin was a messenger of love.
What about me? What about you?
A moment of introspection: Benjamin's message--forgiveness, love and hope. Benjamin gave this message to a troubled community, a distressed township. He spoke of freedom from hatred, based on Jesus' own teaching about enemies, oppressors, persecutors, and the unjust; in Jesus’ teaching, He related Christian love to these oppositional persons. In the gospel of Matthew, Christ said,
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matthew 5:43-47)
In saying that Christians should love their enemies and pray for those who persecute the believers, Jesus culminated His teaching by relating such love to perfection: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Jesus overtly describes such love of one's oppressors as perfection, akin to the perfection of God Himself. (Matthew 5:48; John 3:16) Jesus died for us, while we were ourselves unbelieving opposers (Romans 5:6-8)--His life given because of God's great love for this world. This, then, was the message of Benjamin to the residents of Soweto Township: God offers forgiveness because of His great love for you; in this is hope for eternal life.
Yet some in the community cherished a burning hatred for his message of forgiveness and rationale for color-blind love. Jesus experienced that in His life, and spoke with His disciples about such hatred:
John 15:18-25 "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.'"
He warned His disciples, and us, that the world hates them and us because it hates Jesus Christ and God. (John 15:20; see bold print, above) So, Benjamin understood, we are to expect worldly hatred and opposition; yet, to such animosity our response should be to love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, and forgive those who wrong us. (Luke 23:34) Even the world understands forgiveness, and some do value it; for instance, Mahatma Ghandi was quoted as saying "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." Our Lord understood--forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. Only the brave know how to forgive. Another worldly figure, Francois de la Rochefoucauld, was quoted as saying, "We pardon in the degree that we love." Jesus showed His divine love in going obediently to Golgotha, and in doing so demonstrated His great love for you and for me.
Grace Dube's husband, Benjamin, understood that he could not sit idly by when social unrest reared itself, fomented by unrepentant 'sinners'. A Japanese proverb reminds us that forgiving the unrepentant is like drawing pictures on the water. Ignoring sin may gain the sinner's temporary gratitude, but makes no lasting impression. A forgiven car thief is still a car thief if no change of character takes place. So Benjamin boldly counted the cost and stepped forward to shed the Savior's light and His love upon the darkened principality—hoping and praying tacitly for unrepentant hearers. Benjamin loved his community; the Bible says that in times like the present, "...because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold." (Matthew 24:12) Benjamin's vibrant love for the strife-ridden ward led him to count the cost, and to reach out to show Christ's love for all--including the angry uprisers. He joined those who understand that, they do not love that do not show their love. He showed his own love, and that of the Savior, in speaking boldly yet humbly to the crowd. In our lives when someone hurts us in some way, a common response is to feel that "I can forgive the person(s), but I cannot forget the hurt they've done to me. I would caution against such a stance, as Henry Ward Beecher said, "'I can forgive, but I cannot forget,' is only another way of saying, 'I will not forgive.' Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note--torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one."
Are we, too, messengers of Christ's forgiveness, love and hope? Are we willing to tear up and burn the cancelled note of hurts done to us? Are we willing to take the love of Christ and convey it through forgiveness and prayer--to the offering of hope for eternal life with God to the one(s) who have hurt us? Let us respond to opposition with prayer, with forgiveness, and with love. Jean Paul Richter encourages us, saying, "Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for forgiveness, or else forgiving one another." Let us show our love for a hurting and oft-times oppositional world. Jesus tells us, "Love your enemies, do good to them... Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:35a,36) Let us be messengers of Christ's forgiveness, love and hope to our world—and use words if needed.