John 3:16 has been called by Luther ‘the Bible in miniature’. It reveals the following aspects of God’s love:-
1. Its character. The intensity and energy of divine love is hinted at in the word ‘so’. The emphasis in the original is, ‘So loved God the world…’. God loved to an immeasurable degree and in a transcendently glorious manner. The little word ‘so’ signifies, ‘so greatly, so much, so dearly’. God’s love is not only deep and pure, it is also powerful and active. It finds its ultimate expression towards the world in Bethlehem and at Calvary. ‘Such love’: ‘Herein is love’, writes the apostle, 1 Jn 4:10. May we not say ‘Herein is love’, that a man and a woman might cleave to each other truly and tenderly until death do them part? That God provides us with life and breath and food and homes and friends and all things necessary for existence on this earth? That men and women might serve and worship the Almighty God gladly and freely? No: these are just candles compared with the sun. ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’
2. Its Author. God, in all his divine attributes. It is easy to imagine a man-made God, stripped of his moral glory, viewing the world with sentimental affection. But it is quite another thing to believe that the God of the Bible, full of majesty and might, is also full of love. Human love is at its best but a pale reflection of that divine love from which all human love flows, Rom 5:8 ‘But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’
3. Its object. Did God confer this gift upon the angels? No – upon men. Upon his friends? No – upon his enemies. The world – that is, humanity, which, though sin-laden and hell-deserving, is still the (blurred) reflection of his image and the object of his care. A Jew like Nicodemus was ready enough to think of God as loving Israel, but scarcely as loving the world. We are often reminded, in John’s writings, of the kind of place the world is. The world lies in the evil one; it hates Christ and the church; it is something from which believers must keep themselves unspotted, to which they must not conform. The world stands for all that is evil and godless. It has nothing that can attract God’s love. Yet God loves it. God’s love reaches down into the depths of our degradation, even to the place – Calvary – where the world’s hatred burns most bitterly. God loves the whole human rce with a pity and compassion which reaches out with an offer of eternal salvation to all who will believe. Calvin says: ‘Christ brought life, because the heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish.’ Ez 33:11 ‘Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.’ I Tim 2:4 ‘…God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.’
4. Its gift. He did not sell, or lend, or reluctantly allow to go. He freely gave his one and only Son. There is a two-fold giving: he gave him to the world, and he gave him up to death, as an offering for sin, Rom 8:32 (‘John’s “gave” is Paul’s “spared not”‘ – Hendriksen). It breaks our hearts to see our children in pain. But the Father gave his Son up to unparalelled suffering, Lk 22:42 ‘Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.’ Elsewhere (Gal 2:20) we are taught that the cross is an expression of Christ’s love. Here, however, it is the outpouring of the love of the Father himself. ‘The atonement proceeds from the loving heart of God. It is not something wrung from him’ (Morris). Moreover, it is not vague sentimental feeling, but a costly love. God gave what was most dear to him, Col 1:13. ‘He gave the richest jewel in his cabinet’ (Flavel). He gave his unique, his dearly-beloved Son. Who woulld be willing to give his own child in such a way? ‘He gave him to be despised, rejected, mocked, crucified, and counted guilty and accursed for our sakes’ (Ryle). And this appalling cost arose out of his great love for his Son. This is dimly reflected in Abraham’s experience of offering Isaac, and in David’s willingness to die for Absalom. ‘God is love’ – that is wonderful, but fails to affirm any redemptive act; ‘God so loved that he gave…’ – that is the very heart of the gospel. It is an ‘unspeakable gift’, 2 Cor 9:15. This one great gift is the guarantee of all others, Rom 8:32.
5. Its purpose. That whoever believes shall not perish but have eternal life. The word ‘perish’ does not merely indicate loss of physical existence, but divine condemnation, final and complete banishment from the presence of God. ‘He that rejects Christ cuts himself off from God’s love, and will perish everlastingly’ (Ryle) ‘Eternal life’ denotes the life of the age to come, but which becomes the possession of the believer here and now. This life is salvation, and manifests itself in fellowship with God in Christ, Jn 17:3; partaking of the love of God, 5:42; of his peace, 16:33; and his joy, 17:13. Divine love will not rest until it has bestowed upon its recipients the very highest benefits. It confers every spiritual blessing, Eph 1:3. It determines that all things shall work for our good; that goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives and that we will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Indeed, the Father shares with us the very love which he has for his Son, Jn 17:26. We are loved ‘in Christ’, and we are joint-heirs with him, Rom 8:17.
One of two destinies awaits us all. The expression, ‘whoever believes’ is noteworthy: it reminds us of the scope of God’s love. Moreover, it emphasises the vital necessity of faith. ‘Do I believe in Christ?’
1. For God – the Lord of earth and heaven,
2. So loved – and longed to see forgiven,
3. The world – in sin and pleasure mad,
4. That he gave – the greatest gift he had –
5. His only Son – to take our place,
6. That whosoever – oh, what grace!-
7. Believeth – placing simple trust
8. In him – the Righteous and the Just,
9. Should not perish – lost in sin,
10. But have eternal life – in him.