It can be painful to reach out to someone caught up in sin. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, they reject us and our plea for Christ. It’s doubly hurtful when that person is a dear family member; maybe a son or daughter who has gone astray draws even further away after our pleadings. Their rejection causes us to plead even more earnestly and they draw even further away. It becomes a cycle of encouragement and rejection.
A preacher once reminded me that not even Jesus saved all those he reached out to. Scores walked away from Jesus as soon as his divine commands become too hard or too controversial (John 6:66). One of his chosen ones, Judas, betrayed him to his enemies (John 18:1-11). The Lord himself says most will be lost (Matthew 7:13-14). It is not what people say but what they do that matters (Matthew 7:21-23) and even those who invoke the name of Jesus may not be true followers. If a man rejects Jesus we can be assured that some (many) will reject our overtures.
The frustration of reaching out only to seemingly push people away is not limited to mankind.
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.” (Hosea 11:1-2 NIV).
“My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the most high, he shall not raise them up at all” (Hosea 11:7).
Those are God’s words and reflect how he felt about Israel’s rejection. I see a couple of lessons here and you may see others. First, God didn’t give up on them. Hear his tender words just a few verses later.
“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man— the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11:8-9 NIV).
Although Israel had rejected him and his encouragements, he would not give up on them. He loved them immensely and always sought their redemption.
We mustn’t give up on people. Our hearts ache when children reject the faith that saves. We are pained when friends persist in unrighteousness. But let us always work to bring them home (Galatians 6:1).
A second lesson is harder to accept. God allows people to make their own choices and decisions. In the case of Israel, God blessed them, he punished them, he sent prophets and he pleaded with them. Yet God did not remove their own ability to choose.
His choice persists from Eden. There God allowed Adam and Eve to either obey or reject him (Genesis 2:16-17). Joshua called upon Israel to choose the Lord (Joshua 24:1-15). Today, people have similar choices. No one is forced to follow. No one is compelled to serve.
While God surrounds all of us with magnificent blessings he always leaves the decision to us. It’s hard to watch a loved one choose a life of sin. But we must allow them the same choices God allows. We never give up and we always plant good seed. But ultimately each makes his own decision. It gives me some strength to know that even our heavenly father knows the pain of rejection.