Living for Eternity
The Love of God
Turn to John 3. What is the most known verse in the Bible? John 3:16. Also, likely the most memorized. Any of you young people can recite it? It has become known as the gospel in a nutshell, sort of the core of the Christian message. A popular magazine printed an article a few years ago entitled, “What is the Big Deal about John 3:16?” You used to see during sporting events of someone raising a sign just saying “John 3:16,”
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”
John 3:16 (LSB)
There likely have been millions over the years who have been saved through the message of John 3:16. Whether the simple truth told to someone, or reading it on a gospel track. And to think of what is packed into these 25 words. For God. That there is a God who is over us, that is sovereign and just and right and good. That all are accountable before a Creator. For God so loved. That the Maker of the world is not an evil God or a God who is not interested in His creation, but that he is a God who loves His creation, who cries over the sin of His creation. This is because God is a person, for He laments, He thinks, He feels things, He can hate, and He loves. And everything God does is right, there is no law over God, for His very nature is complete righteousness. For God so loved the world, all men and women, every age, every race, and every person is valued as they have been made in the image of God. That He gave. This is His love in action. A God who does not only watch His creation, but desires to be intimately involved with His creation. He gave His only Son. That God has a Son. That from eternity past there was always the Father, the Holy Spirit, and there was the eternal Son of God. That whoever believes in Him. All are accountable to God to believe in His Son. There is no one exempt from this. The invitation to believe in God’s Son is expressed to everyone. Shall not perish, but have eternal life. Some will perish and some will not perish.
Everything else in life should pale in comparison to John 3:16. To say to your son or daughter, “For God so loved the world.” To say to that workmate, “For God so loved the world.” How could anything be more important than that? Because this is what God says. This is not my invitation to live forever. This is the Creator’s invitation to live forever. The Bible throughout gives invitations to come to God. Isaiah 55:1, “Everyone who thirsts, come.” Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” And here in John 3:16, “Whoever believes in [My Son] shall not perish, but have eternal life.” So, when I think about eternity whether I am going to die and suffer forever in hell, or whether I am going to die and live with God in eternal bliss, is all in relation to John 3:16. Now this verse itself has been used almost entirely over the years to express the salvation of God, because it says, “For God so loved the world that He gave.” There was an assumption in our culture not that long ago that God loved. So, this verse would say to many you know that God loves you, He cares about you, and therefore, this is what he has done for you. Yet today we must back up a little and focus first of all on the fact that God loves the world. For many people are unaware of the love of God.
“For God so loved the world.” When I was in grade 2, a girl beside me passed me a note that said, “Mark, I love you,” signed Ann Listen. And the teacher intercepted it after I saw it. I was so embarrassed. I wished the floor would have opened up and swallowed me. It wasn’t my fault, I didn’t write it. And years later I realized it was just the wrong Anne. Have you ever received a love note, or given a love note? And sometimes it was hard to express to someone just “how much” you loved them. And we do not need to downplay the degree of God’s love He has for the world. For God “so loved” the world. He uses this greater emphasis. This Greek word hoo-to is translated even so or likewise. In other words, there is an action associated with it. Thus, the words following, that he gave.
What else we must understand in this is that when we are loved by God. The love that flows from God is part of His character, as there is a love triangle within the Godhead. That God would love is obvious, because the Bible actually says that God is love. So, if we are going to understand love, real love, we must understand the love of God. And nothing can duplicate the love which was shown by God when he gave His Son to die for us. For that is the ultimate demonstration of love. Romans 5:
“For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Rom 5:7-8 (LSB)
This goes way beyond what might be described as a human love, this love triangle within the Godhead. Yes, God loved.
- Love from the Father to the Son
John 3:35, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.” The Father infinitely loves the Son.
- Love from the Son to the Father
John 14:31, the Son also loves the Father. Jesus said, “But so that the world may know that I love the Father.”
- Love from the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son
Galatians 5:22, the fruit of the Spirit is love. Love exudes from the Holy Spirit.
- Love from God to believers
There are numerous verses that declare the love of God toward His people Israel, and in the New Testament, to the Christian, those who are “in Christ.” Romans 8, nothing will separate us from the love of God. Ephesians 3, that we might experience the love of Christ. 1 John 3:1, “See how great a love the Father has given to us, that we would be called children of God.” Ephesians 2:4, “But God, being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us.”
- Love from believers to God
As that same love can be reflected back. Psalm 31:23, “Oh, love Yahweh, all you His holy ones!” Matthew 22, you shall love the Lord your God. Only the Christian can love God. Because only the Christian has accepted His Son. The Jew does not love God, for he has rejected God’s Son. The Muslim does not love God, for he has rejected God’s Son. 1 John 2:23, “Everyone who denies the Son does not have the Father.” Luke 10:16, he who rejects Me [Christ] rejects the One who sent Me [the Father]. If you don’t know Jesus, you don’t know the Father.
- Love from believer to believer
For we share that love with each other. John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Therefore, there is a love triangle between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And we become part of this love relationship, which means that we love God and we love His people. Galatians 6:10 says:
“So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith”
Gal 6:10 (LSB)
A special love between believers. This becomes family for us, it should be said of Elim that those people so love each other. But here is where this verse gives another love.
- Love from God to the world
“For God so loved the world.” Now some Bible teachers have suggested that the word “world” does not mean everyone but means all nations. And I understand their thinking here, that when Christ came He was making clear that God did not only love Israel but that he also loved the world, all nations. Not just those who believed in Israel, but the world. In other words, believers from all over the world from every nation and race. Yet the Greek word used here is cosmos, which in relation to people means the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human family. John uses the same word cosmos in John 7:7:
“The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I bear witness about it, that its deeds are evil.”
John 7:7 (LSB)
The world (cosmos) must mean all men and women, not believers. Also John 14:17:
“[T]he Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him.”
John 14:17 (LSB)
Again, John is obviously speaking about the world as in all mankind. So, to say that this reference to the world in John 3:16 is only referencing believers who are in the world cannot be true. Man is lost, our world is lost. There is nothing in man that would be attractive to God. Yet God loved the world in spite of the world. For God had determined to love the world. And we do know that God so loved the world. Yet some will live, those who believe in the Son; and some will perish, those who reject the Son. And from this example of God loving the world, we too are to love the world.
- Love from believers to the world
- A. Carson wrote:
“Jews were familiar with the truth that God loved the children of Israel; here God’s love is not restricted by race. Even so, God’s love is to be admired not because the world is so big and includes so many people, but because the world is so bad … the world is so wicked that John elsewhere forbids Christians to love it or anything in it. [Yet] There is no contradiction between this prohibition and the fact that God does love it. Christians are not to love the world with the selfish love of participation; [for] God loves the world with the selfless, costly love of redemption.”
- A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary 205
This is interesting because it is often the Christian community who are the ones who get labeled as the hateful. This is interesting because it is often the Christian community who are the ones who get labeled as the hateful. Admittedly, sometimes some of the things that have been expressed by believers have given the indication of a hatefulness towards others. Often Facebook posts are made too quickly without thought and cannot be taken back. A good reminder that such media is not a good way in which to express your views. For we are the ones who are to be the most loving of all people. And this is hard, as we are to love the world, yet at the same time we are to be proclaimers of truth. And I thought about this. I thought I could just challenge us to love the world this morning, the people of the world. Not the world system, as Jesus warned us not to love the world, the world’s philosophy and system. But how do we play that out in a real-life situation?
So, I want to give you a concrete example. And here is a dilemma we might face someday or have already. Those of you who are younger, will very likely face this at some point. Say being asked to attend a gay wedding. How do I respond to that? Well, at first glance it would seem that as a Christian, who believes the Bible. We know that marriage of the same sex is wrong. That’s the easy part, as this is the truth that the Christian believes. And this is also the truth side of the argument. Yet now we are confronted with the love side. And the question becomes, can I show truth, yet also be loving? This is where we read the words of D. A. Carson that God’s love when He expressed His love to the world, it was selfless, it was costly. In other words, it might be a love that gets rejected. And what makes this even harder for us is that some of these views in the world are changing faster and faster. Almost quicker than we can prepare a proper defense.
Obviously, my response is that I would not attend because of what I believe. But I believe that I need to defend that. Why? For how can I do this and still be loving? Here are a few things I want you to think about. True love is always wrapped in truth. We cannot be loving if we do not represent truth. But we also need to understand that truth includes love, because one the greatest truths in the Bible is that “God is love.” So, here is a principle, a biblical principle:
- The Christian’s love for God must mean that he is willing to live and die for everything that God has declared to be right and good
I am becoming more and more convinced that I personally as a Christian have a massive responsibility to represent God and His Word. This is not about what is my opinion or about your opinion. This is about what God has said. Therefore, I cannot deny that by misrepresenting God. In other words, I have no right to misrepresent God and still claim to be loyal a loyal follower of Christ. We used to have the saying, “What would Jesus do?” And it sort of got thrown around a bit for better or for worse I suppose. Yet in a much more serious way I do need to ask the question, “What is God’s response to this?” What does God’s Word declare in this particular situation? Now we have a human tendency to be nice. Not all the time, but sometimes. But there is a difference between being nice and being loving. For the nice thing might be to think I should attend. Yet attending a gay marriage contributes to, acknowledges, and celebrates what is being done. Yet (1 Cor 13:6) “[love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” Now this does not mean that I do not love the people, and I believe we would all agree that Jesus was the first to show kindness toward the sinner, and often to those who are not shown love by many. And it is the person, in this case, the Christian, who is willing, to be honest with people, who is the one to be the most loving. And it is the one who can actually then share the true love of God. And I have only given one example, but this is endless. This is gently sharing with a co-worker, or being able to tell a son or daughter, this is wrong.
For God loved you and me. God loved the world. If God did not love the world, and was not truthful to us, we would not have been saved. And when we were saved, we were part of the world. Therefore, true love for God must mean that I am willing to live and die for that which He has said is right and good. Principle #2:
- The Christian’s great responsibility is to love the world as God loves the world
The gift of Christ is the only hope for the world. Never forget the saving heart of God towards mankind. Remember that the Bible states things like Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” The Bible states Romans 6:23a, “For the wages of sin is death.” But then the Bible goes on to say such things as “[B]ut the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23b). Now we may tend to love some more than others. And that is true and that is right and that is good. For God does. The Father infinitely loves the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There could be no greater bonding of love than between them. God chose to love Israel more than all the nations of the world. Christ loves His church, His bride. So, to say that God loves everyone equally, does not understand the Scriptures. And we too are to love God more than anyone else. If you are married, you are to love your spouse more than any other human being. The Bible says, husbands, love your wives. We love our children. Titus 2:4, moms, love your children. We already mentioned Galatians 6 for believers to especially show goodness towards those who are fellow believers in Christ. So, the assumption of the Bible is that we will love different people to various degrees. That we would love those whom we are more connected with, in a greater way, family, those in our church, workmates, those who live near us.
But also, to be careful that we would never withhold love from some, as God loved us while we were His enemies. To ever believe that anyone does not deserve my love, flies in the face of the fact that God loved those who did not deserve His love. For if God only loved the deserving, God would not have loved. His love would have been confined to the Godhead. For I was undeserving of the love of God and you were underserving of the love of God, yet God chose to love.
We also have been confronted here with a tension from last Sunday. We saw that the salvation of an individual is due to the will of the Spirit. That in a mysterious way the Spirit moves and wakens from the dead, the sinner. From verse 8:
“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who has been born of the Spirit”
John 3:8 (LSB)
And now this week we are confronted with an invitation to come to Christ.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
John 3:16 (LSB)
How do we reconcile John 3:8 and John 3:16? I would suggest we do not. Therefore, don’t raise one up at the expense of the other. And don’t water them both down so they somehow meet in the middle, but proclaim them both. I would suggest that we would take John 3:8 and marvel with thanksgiving at what the Lord has done for us when we know ourselves to be saved, that God in His mercy awakened my heart, awakened my will. And then we proclaim John 3:16 to the unbeliever, to the world. To show him his need to believe to be saved, so that he would not perish, but have everlasting life.
“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
John 3:17 (LSB)
This is why the time of salvation is now. Because this is the time when Christ has come, not to condemn, but to save. Christ did not come to judge…now. Therefore, do not miss from verse 17, the love described in verse 16. So easy to see the love in John 3:16 and then read John 3:17 as an afterthought. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave.” John 3:17, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” Verse 16, God gave. Verse 17, God sent. Now we might get all goosebumps here, thinking about this saving mission by Christ. That he is going to come and save His people and receive glory and praise and honour. And Christ came and was the hero, right? No, He wasn’t, for He was not received, He was rejected by men. Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life.” This was the mission. As the Father sends the Son out of heaven. The Father says, “Go, to a people who will despise and forsake You. They will mock You, they will eventually kill. But from this group of sinners, You will save some, so that they will not perish.”
We are what we might call on borrowed time, for the time is short. It is like the time when Noah was building the ark, as people were doing all the things in life until the flood came and took them all away. For there is a time of opportunity, right now. And there will be a time of judgment when Christ comes again. Right now, is the time of opportunity. And I feel sick for the world, as the waves of evil are coming one after the other. I think a few years ago, I would tend to see people ignoring the truth. As it was all over the place, yet they continued to ignore it. How the guy at the Philadelphia Flyer games used to hold up the sign “John 3:16,” and the vast majority knew the verse! But they rejected it. Sort of how God, at times, dealt with Israel, as He gave them His Word, He cared for them, provided for them, He cried out to them, yet they ignored Him. Yet what I find sickening today is that the truth is nowhere in sight. And the falsifiers are having a heyday! And they seemingly are grabbing everyone, especially the young, one after the other. And I feel responsible for that. That the church in some ways must have that burden. For they have not heard. And it is easy for me, because I heard the gospel, but most have not. I find it shameful to realize the opportunity I had in knowing of Christ’s glorious love, compared with the average Canadian today. We are not like Israel in Old Testament times. No, our society is more like the Moabs or the Egypts or the Babylons.
Young person, for you to survive today as a Christian, will not mean that you must be like the Joshua’s or the Moses’ who were leading God’s people, among God’s people. No, you are going to have to be the Daniels or the Josephs who served God in a very pagan territory. And you can choose to selfishly participate in the world, or you can live for Christ and pay the cost of being a Christian, to face the cost of being rejected. For the God you serve, He also knew rejection, for God gave His Son, but His Son was rejected, as the Son came unto His own, and His own received Him not. So, young people, what God has laid before you if you choose to serve Christ is not an easy road, as you will receive little support. Why? Verse 19, because “the Light has come into the world, [but] men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” Men loved the darkness rather than the Light. The darkness is on one side: lies, pride, sexual sins, selfishness, pleasures, riches, recognition, partying, false love, and lust. And on the other side is the Light: Jesus, His true love, whatever is true, whatever is right and pure, and whatever is worthy of praise. And man looked at the two sides, the dark side and the Light, and he chose the darkness.
Christian Moms and Dads. Teach your kids what is right. But don’t just teach them. But live before them what is true, and right and pure. Don’t just be pure before them, but be pure all the time. Whatever is worthy of praise. And weigh your choices in your speech, and what your watch and what you love and what you desire. Is it over here in the darkness camp? Or is it over here in the Light camp? John concludes:
“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light lest his deeds be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been done by God.”
John 3:20-21 (LSB)
Let’s pray. For God so loved the world. Lord, may we proclaim that message in word and deed, everywhere and all the time. And all God’s people said, amen.