Ephesians 3:12-17

Some gifts demand more than token appreciation.

Francis Galowniczech understood this concept; so every August, he made a trip—a trip to the past. Every year, he returned to Auschwitz. Why would anyone make an annual trek to a place of such suffering and pain?

Francis Gajowniczech returned because he was one of the few prisoners who survived. In July 1941, a prison break occurred at Auschwitz. The German officers always responded decisively. The remaining prisoners were called to attention. All day, they stood in the heat while the guards searched for the escapee. If he was not discovered, 10 numbers were selected. The prisoners who wore the corresponding numbers on their tattered prison uniforms immediately were taken from their places in line. The chosen 10 were led to a cell where they were locked up and left to die.

The prison break of July 1941 set in motion this grisly chain of events. As usual, each number was read with the prisoner stepping forward to receive his or her fate. However, this time when a number was read, a man cried out: “My wife and children, I shall never see them again.” That man was Francis Gajowniczech.
As Gajowniczech stepped forward in tears, muffled steps were heard from the back of the line. A prisoner was breaking rank. The elderly prisoner made his way to the commandant undaunted. Inexplicably, no one struck him or shot him. More surprising than his motion was his request. The prisoner, a priest, asked if he could die in Gajowniczech’s place.

Appealing to Nazi logic, the prisoner said, “I am old and not good for such hard labor, and he is a young man.” Baffled, the commander nicknamed “The Butcher” consented to the request. The elderly man joined the condemned, and Gajowniczech stepped back into line.

Amazingly, Maximilian Kolbe, the elderly priest, lingered longer than any other. In fact, he lingered so long the impatient German guards resorted to a lethal injection on Aug. 14, 1941.

Until his own death 53 years later, Gajowniczech returned to Auschwitz every year on Aug. 14 to say thank you to Maximilian Kolbe, the one who gave his life to take Gajowniczech’s place. The annual return to Auschwitz must have been difficult. As Gajowniczech aged, the trip must have taken its toll. Still every year, he returned to say thank you. Why? Some gifts demand more than token appreciation.

The gift of life motivated Gajowniczech to act. The gift first saved his life; in appreciation, he altered his life. We could learn a few things from Gajowniczech’s story.

As did Gajowniczech, we received a death sentence. Unlike Gajownichech, ours is a sentence we deserve. Through stubborn disobedience, we sin against God and deserve death (Romans 6:23), spiritual separation from God. Our sentence is an eternal sentence, no merciful injections, no end in sight. An eternity separated from God: His grace, His mercy, His love.

Yet, while we walked out of line to receive our deserved punishment, another began rattling around in the back of the line. Jesus Christ, God’s Son stepped down from heaven and entered our world, willingly extending Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. While we were still sinning—on our way to the eternal cell of spiritual starvation (Romans 5:8)—God demonstrated His love for us by sending Jesus to die.

Jesus took our place and became the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:2). Jesus gave His life for us! How do we say thank you? A cursory tip of the hat is insufficient. A few obligingly uttered words of gratitude before dinner aren’t enough. This type of gift, the gift of eternal life, demands action.

We, as did Gajowniczech, should choose to act. The gift of Christ saved our lives; in appreciation, we should change our lives. The only true sign of thanksgiving is a life changed in light of the cross—not a life changed out of obligation but due to appreciation!

I believe that is what Paul was getting at in Colossians 3:12-17.

Appreciation for Christ Is Expressed in Our Actions Toward Others
How do we express appreciation for God’s gift? We should reveal the gift to others! Reveal the gift through your actions and attitudes! That’s what Maximilian Kolbe did. It probably doesn’t surprise you to know the priest willing to sacrifice his own life displayed the attributes described in these verses before he chose to step out line on Aug 14, 1941.

While at Auschwitz, Kolbe frequently gave away his rations to others who were in need. Kolbe comforted those who were hurting from the jabs of Nazi soldiers, even while he nursed his own wounds.

Rather than allowing the desperate circumstances to discolor his disposition, Kolbe was compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient (Col. 3:12). How could Kolbe react in such a way? He recognized what he had been given! He recognized the grace of God shown through Christ, and as an expression of gratitude he lived out that life. Kolbe’s example should remind us of the example of Christ. When we are faced with bitterness, hostility and venom, we must react as Jesus did, with gentleness.

Appreciation for Christ Is Expressed in Our Motivation for Action
Following Paul’s prescription is not easy especially when we misunderstand our motivation. Kindness cannot be mustered out of guilt; it must be nourished from gratitude. Forced kindness motivated by obligation typically comes across cold and distant. True kindness motivated by gratitude results in warm, affectionate action.

Paul identified the distinguishing factor. Love is the belt that holds the cloak of kindness in place (Colossians 2:14). Love fosters gratitude not guilt.

Appreciation for Christ Is Expressed in Our Lifestyles
On the heels of love, Paul snuck gratitude into the back half of his argument. He commanded us to be thankful (Colossians 2:15). This implies a continuous need for gratitude. Thanksgiving cannot be expressed adequately during one holiday; it must be lived appropriately throughout a lifetime. Gratitude should motivate our worship, teaching and every other facet of our lives (Colossians 2:16)

Thanksgiving should be an overarching and guiding factor in our lives (Colossians 3:17). Do it all for Him, because He gave it all to you. Remember Gajowniczech’s lesson: Some gifts demand more than token appreciation!

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