I stood in front of our bookcase with my lighter poised to light this week’s two candles (my son calls them “Happy Birthday To You”). A toddler on either side of me in their pajamas looking up in wonder at that flickering flame as I carefully explained that one stands for hope, the other for love.
On Monday I read 1 John’s admonition to us to love one another. He said that if we love, we know God. But if we don’t love, then we don’t know God – because God is love.
Now, this verse is certainly not new to me. I grew up singing the song from this verse, I memorized it 3,675 times in Sunday school, Christian school, home school, and probably heard it that many more times in sermons and Bible college.
But this time it sounded different.
God is love.
Love is so much a part of His character that it cannot be separated from Him.
It is the balancing characteristic to His holiness and righteousness.
You see, we know that because God is holy, and because He lives in us, that there are certain disciplines we ought to keep, and certain activities we should avoid. His holiness and righteousness dictate that we walk in that same holiness and righteousness.
But His love reminds us that holiness and righteousness are a process. And in that process we will fail, we will fall; but His love, that balancing characteristic to His righteousness and holiness, reaches out to us reminding us: “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again.”
When we know God in this way, it sets us free from the legalistic performance trap that locks us into continually trying harder to prove to God how holy and righteous we are.
It also sets us free to extend the same love and grace that He continually extends to us.
So that when we see a brother or sister fail or fall, we can reach out a hand to them and remind them to get up again!
Holiness and righteousness, void of love, entrap us in a cycle of comparing ourselves among ourselves and proving by our own works that we are acceptable to Christ.
Holiness and righteousness, with love, free us to live as Christ taught us to live, knowing that by His grace we are acceptable in the beloved!
And this is the love Jesus came to give. A tiny baby in a dirty manger, born to set us free from the law that demanded perfection without grace!
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver, born a child, and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
by Thine own sufficient merit, raise us to Thy glorious throne.