“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” John 3:16
John 3:16 is probably the most famous and most quoted verse in the Bible. It speaks of God’s love and God’s gift, the gift of His One and Only Son, the greatest gift ever given. In a world filled with scepticism, a world in which God is on trial and people act as judge and jury, it is a verse that we need to consider and to proclaim. For this verse speaks of a God who truly loves people, the God who gives rather than takes. But it also speaks of the God who is righteous and just, the God who acts decisively to deal with sin and its consequences, the God who has a plan and a purpose to put all things right. It is thus a verse to answer the sceptic, but it is also a verse to lift up the humble, to encourage the weak, to give hope to the lost.
Firstly, consider the fact that God loved the world. Note that John uses the past tense of the verb ‘love’. This does not of course mean that God does not love the world (present tense) for as John reminds us elsewhere God is love (1 John 4:9). In John 3:16 John’s focus is rather on the love of God in action in our world in a way which is foundational and indeed defines what love is. God’s love is most clearly seen in the fact that God gave (again past tense) His One and Only Son. In the words of 1 John 4:9 -10 “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His One and Only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins”.
Secondly, consider the fact the God loved the world. In speaking about the world John is not referring to the created world but rather the world of fallen, sinful humanity. At the beginning of his Gospel, John spoke about the fact that though the Word was in the world, the world did not recognize Him (John 1:10). It is this fallen, sinful and even hostile world that God sent His Son to save. What a remarkable demonstration of His love and His grace. In the words of Paul, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Thirdly, consider the fact that it is God who loved the world and gave His One and Only Son. The phrase ‘one and only’ within John’s Gospel is a reminder of the fact that it was God Himself who acted in the salvation of the world. The Son, who was given and sent, is the Word, the One who created all things, who was with God in the beginning and who is in fact God (see John 1:1-14). Thus John 1:18 speaks of Jesus as ‘God the One and Only who is at the Father’s side.’ God’s love for the world is truly His love. God’s act of love in giving His Son is truly His act. The Son who was given and sent was not some unwilling victim but rather God Himself coming into our world in love to save the world. There are mysteries here, but the main point is clear. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:19 – “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ.”
This astonishing, life changing, world changing, act of love by God cannot and must not be ignored. To do so is not only foolish but sinful. Our salvation cost God everything. We cannot and must not remain cold or aloof toward what God has done. John 3 :16 continues with the words “…that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” God’s gift of love is the greatest gift ever given. But it is of no benefit if we do not receive it. And the way we do that is ‘by faith’, by acknowledging that we are the ones for whom Jesus the Son was given; by turning away from our proud self-reliance and independence in spiritual matters; by acknowledging our sin; by trusting in Jesus and His atoning death alone for our forgiveness; by receiving Him as the one and only Saviour and Lord. To do that is to receive eternal life; to refuse is to forfeit life and to choose eternal death. Gifts are meant to be received – if you have accepted God’s gift of salvation in Christ, then thank God and live for Him. If you have not yet accepted God’s gift, do so today. Nothing is more important.
Written by Mervyn Eloff