God's Love for the World
Passage: John 3:16–3:16
God's Love for the World
Matthew 5:43-45; John 3:16
August 17th, 2008
Way of Grace Church
I. The Divine Disposition
Here's a question that we don't always ask, but it's one that is answered every single day in every corner of the world: "What is God's basic disposition toward the world?" How might we describe His attitude toward the human race?
You see, all over the world, that question has been asked at some point, in some way, by almost every person. The most recent polls still tell us that 92% of Americans believe in God. But whether someone has thought a little or a lot about God, they have to come to some kind of conclusion about God's attitude toward humanity.
And the conclusion to which they come affects the entire course of their life. Think about it.
For example, many people have come to the conclusion that God's basic disposition toward the world is disinterest. Like a watchmaker, God constructed the world, wound it up, and then walked away. Some think he doesn't care about what happens here, and thus, because He has stepped back into the shadows, He is ultimately unknowable. And when we believe that, we respond in the same way: we don't care about God.
Other people, even many religious people, believe that God's basic disposition toward us is one of anger. God is furious at us. He knows what we've done. He knows our thoughts. He sees the injuries and the injustice and the indifference, and He is indignant. He's ticked off. And when we believe this, we very likely live in a constant state of guilt, fear, despair, or bitterness, because all of us so often fail to do what we know we should do.
Still others have a more positive view of God, and might describe his basic disposition toward the world as friendly. According to this perspective, God stands ready to give everyone a pep talk or a new sense of self-esteem or a pat on the back. God is helpful. He wants to help us achieve our dreams. He is the Great Life-coach in the sky, who is there when we need him, so that we can become all that we know we can be.
But what if I were to tell you that God's basic disposition toward the world is love, that God loves the world? Would you be surprised? You probably wouldn't be. But if it's true what does it mean? How does He love the world?
To discover the answer to that question, we need to turn to God's own word to us.
This morning, we are continuing our study entitled, "God is Love". The incredible declaration by the Apostle John in I John 4, that "God is love", has challenged us to make God our ultimate reference point when it comes to love. And of course we can't do that if don't personally know the love of God AND know something ABOUT the love of God.
Last week we learned from God's word that God's first love, the first thing He loves, is the glory of His own name. And He does so through His Son. Through Jesus, God is most glorified, He is most revealed as God in all His Godness.
And because that is what God loves first and foremost, we were challenged to make God's glory through Jesus Christ our first and foremost love as well.
II. The Passages: "But I Say to You" (Matthew 5:43-45; John 3:16)
But this morning, we want to continue this exploration of God's love by asking, what does it mean that God loves the world? A lot of people believe that, but what does it mean, and what does it mean for us, that is, what difference should it make.
Well, the Bible gives us two passages that speak more explicitly to this question. There are more verses that we could pull into our study, that are related in a more general way to this question, but these two are much more direct.
A. "Love your Enemies" (Matthew 5:43-45)
So take your Bibles and turn with me, first of all, to Matthew 5:43-45. Listen to what Jesus tells us here about God's basic disposition toward the world:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."
Now, I want you to notice two things here:
First, the implication that God loves the world is expressed by the slightly disturbing instruction, "love your enemies". What that tells us is that God's basic disposition toward the world cannot be separated from His moral judgments. Verse 45: God recognizes the categories of "evil" and "unjust". And yet, He still loves, even His enemies.
So we know from this that whatever it means that God loves the world, it doesn't mean that He simply responds to our human wrongs with things like, "Oh, that's okay...Not a big deal...I know you didn't mean it...You'll get it one of these days....If it feels right to you...".
But second, notice how God's love is demonstrated in Matthew 5:45. His gift of love is the gift of life in this world. The warmth of the sun and the nourishment of the rain are everyday reminders of God's love for our world. Does that affect you to know that? If sunshine and showers, and every blessing in creation that's in between, are really a gift, they sure are easy to take for granted, aren't they?
But even this expression of God's love is not too far away from the idea that God is somewhat disinterested in our lives. Maybe God is like the typical hamster owner. Maybe he cleans the cage regularly, and provides water and food, but ultimately, he has other things to do and is not overly concerned about much of anything else when it comes to the hamsters.
And maybe there's not much else to be concerned about with hamsters. But there is with us, isn't there?
B. "So Loved" (John 3:16)
Thankfully, we have another passage that speaks, even more directly about God's love for the world. Turn next to the Gospel of John, three books to the right, chapter 3, verse 16. Listen to what John writes there as he reflects on Jesus' words to the Pharisee Nicodemus given in verses 3-15 of this chapter, words related to seeing the Kingdom of God, words describing how one can experience a new birth. John makes this declaration:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Now I hope you can see that what we learned from Matthew 5 about God's love has just been taken to a whole new level here in John 3:16.
This one verse, a verse you can find in all sorts of strange places, from the bottom of "In and Out Burger" cups, to huge homemade signs at sports events, this one verse gives us an unparalleled glimpse into God's basic disposition toward the world.
Not only does God express his love for the world by providing for our everyday needs in terms of living, but he has, even more so, provided for our everlasting needs in terms of living.
You see, when Jesus spoke about the good and the evil in Matthew 5, about the just and the unjust, He was speaking from the perspective of our everyday distinctions between good people and bad people. Every person can, in some sense, label the "good" people and the "bad" who inhabit their everyday life.
But John's words recognize that there is a higher perspective when it comes to the human condition, and that higher perspective tells us that all of us are guilty, because all of us have failed to place God at the very center of everything we do and everything we are. And it is that fact that leads all of us into all the things God calls "sin".
And that fact about our condition is what stands behind the word "perish" in the last half of John 3:16. Contrary to what we might think, our greatest need is not sunshine or showers. It is not food and water. Those things are critical, but what is implied here is that our greatest need is to become, in some sense, "imperishable".
The next two verses give us a better understanding of our condition. Look at 17 and 18:
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
What we see here is that the fact that we will perish without some kind of intervention is related to the idea of condemnation. Were not like milk. We're not ‘perishable' because we're just prone to spoil. We're ‘perishable' because the perfect justice of God deems us condemned. We stand guilty. All of us.
But in all of these verses, 3:16, 17, and 18, the love of God shines like a beacon of hope. We do not have to perish. We can live because God has given us something far more valuable than sunshine or showers. He has given us the greatest gift he could ever give. He has given us that which was most precious to him. He has given us his own Son.
If we had the time this morning to look at everything John teaches us about God's relationship with Jesus, His Son, we would see that John paints for us a picture of incredible love and intimacy, love and intimacy that stretches back into eternity past.
You see the terms "Father" and "Son", those are just human concepts that God chose to describe his relationship with Jesus because those ideas and terms best describe the kind of love and intimacy that exists, and always have existed, within the nature of God.
But what does it mean that God gave His Son? Well not only did he send him into the world, as John chapter 1 vividly describes, but in the more immediate context, verse 14 of this chapter indicates that this ‘giving' was in fact a ‘giving over' to death. Jesus was lifted up on a Roman cross in order to bear the weight of our condemnation. That's why, verse 18, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned" or we could rightly say, "no longer condemned".
Now, before we talk more about the significance of all these things for us, let me just briefly touch on this idea of "eternal life". What God has provided for us through the giving of His unique Son is more than just ‘imperishability". "Not perish" simply describes our need in negative terms. And it's true: we will "not perish" because we will have "eternal life".
Now, this is the first time in John's Gospel that this phrase "eternal life" appears. What is eternal life?
Well, it's important to know that when John or Jesus uses the phrase "eternal life", and they will a lot, their emphasis is not simply on a duration of time, but a transformation of life. It is not simply about an infinite quantity of life, but the inherent quality of that life, the kind of life that will last forever.
It is the kind of life that flows from a new connection with the One who is Life. Therefore, according to Jesus, eternal life is something that can begin right now, not just when we die.
Ultimately, of all the terms and phrases in this one verse, it is that tiny word "so", that reminds us that John wants to tell us here about the extent of God's love for the world. "For God so loved the world". Or we might say, "This is how much God loved the world." He gave that which was most precious to Him in order to provide that which was most critical for us.
III. What the "World" Needs Now
So what does it mean that God loves the world?
Does it mean that God loves every single person so much that He will rescue every single person from perishing? No. What it does mean is that He loves every single person enough to provide them with a means of escape AND that he invites any to come who will come, no matter who they, where they're from, or what they've done.
Talk about "loving your enemies". God offers not only amnesty to the world, but also abundant life...forever.
Listen to how one commentator on John's word here expressed the radical nature of chapter 3, verse 16:
"The Jew was ready enough to think of God as loving Israel, but no passage appears to be cited in which any Jewish writer maintains that God loved the world. It is a distinctively Christian idea that God's love is wide enough to embrace all mankind. His love is not confined to any national group or any spiritual elite. It is a love which proceeds from the fact that He is love (I John 4: 8, 16). It is His nature to love. He loves men because He is the kind of God He is." (Leon Morris)
And so, what does this tell us if we know God must be our reference point when it comes to love? What does this imply if we believe that "God is love", that God's very nature defines genuine love?
Well, first, John 3:16 makes it very clear that we must BELIEVE if we are to know anything of God's love for the world. We must personally respond to what God has done through Jesus Christ.
God is not disinterested. He is not simply angry or friendly. His disposition of love has been proven by His display of love in the death of Jesus.
But that gift of eternal life can only be claimed with the trust that embraces Jesus Christ as the Son of God, that clings to Jesus Christ as our only hope in this life.
Do you believe? Have you received the love of God?
But second, in order to know the love of God, we also need to know something about God's love. And when we learn about the love of God, like we are doing this morning, God is also calling us, through that knowledge, to love what He loves.
Again, God's love becomes our reference point for love. And so we if we have truly received God's love for the world, then we will also reflect God's love for the world; it should flow through us.
What is your basic disposition toward the world?
So often our most common attitudes toward the world are, to one degree or another, envy or disgust. We either "love the world" in the sense that we want to be like the world, the kind of love John would later warns us against in I John 2:15, or we love to hate the world.
So often, we either follow right along with what is popular and seemingly pleasurable, or we sit in judgment on those going the wrong direction. We either listen eagerly to celebrity gossip, or we look down with scorn on such and such a star and their dysfunctional life. We either join in with our neighbor's crude joking or don't even give him the time of day. We may be as quiet as we can about our own failures, but as vocal as we can about the sins of others.
Sometimes it seems like there are only two options: we throw our lot in with the world or we throw stones. Envy or disgust.
But who is your Father? What is He like? "For God so loved the world..." What will it look like to be "sons and daughters of your Father in heaven"?
Do you love the world as God loves the world? Please, don't imagine the world simply as some kind of abstract concept: "the world". It's awfully difficult to demonstrate genuine love to an abstract concept.
No, the "world" is made real in the faces of those who inhabit your everyday. The "world" may be your mother or father or brother or sister. The "world" may be your neighbor or coworker. The "world" may be the lady at the grocery store or the man who works on your car or the day-laborer who stands on the sidewalk or the cult member who knocks on your door or the politician who will definitely NOT get your vote or that person that wronged you so many years ago or the celebrity whose life is trivialized by the media or maybe even the spouse who sleeps next you every single night.
"For God so loved the world..." It is ALL of these people that desperately need to know the love of God; this love that has made it possible for "whoever" ‘not to perish'; this love that beckons "whoever" to believe.
As we read earlier, the love of God is "wide enough to embrace ALL mankind"; are we guilty of trying to narrow it?
But if we are to love what God loves, and to love as God loves, then will need to do more than nod our heads in agreement.
As John 3:16 makes clear, God's love for the world was expressed through giving. Therefore, I beleive God is challenging all of us this morning who believe ourselves to be His sons and daughters. What will we give in order to reflect God's love to the world?
For Bryce so loved the world that he gave...what? His time? His prayers? His money? His comfort? His heart?
Brothers and sisters, if we are to love what God loves, and love as God loves, then we will love the world as God loves the world; we love them enough to point them to God's provision of Christ and God's invitation to Christ? And we will sacrifice, if need be, in order that those without eternal life will believe and not perish.
If you embrace the fact that you were rightly condemned, but "God so loved the world", so as to give you life, how can you condemn others?
If we embrace the fact that God gave his only Son to rescue us from "perishing", how can we sit idly by as those around us suffer that very fate; even worse, how can we act as if were going down the same path with them?
Please listen, if we believe what this one verse, this famous verse, is telling us, then how can we not see here a call to love this perishing world as God loves it? Everyday, the warmth of the sun and the not-so-everyday for us blessing of rain, these realities remind us that God gave much, much more because of His love. We often fail to love as we should because we forget how big the love of God really is. It was big enough to save even you.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints [those who have eternal life], to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)
God loves the world. Do you? God gave His Son. What might you give so that others will know God's gift?