Part 14 – John 3:16
Together or apart
This verse is perhaps the best known and best loved in all scripture. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Yet it raises several questions often overlooked. The first is that it refers to the ‘world’ not the individual, as the following verses continue to do. (It is not clear whether these verses are the words of Jesus or the comments of John. The latest NIV finishes the Jesus quote at the end of verse 15 so considering the following verses to be the comments of John. Other versions put the end of what Jesus said in different places.)
It was the nature of God that he was love (1 John 4: 8 says simply “God is love”). He could do no other than love the world that he had created. It is, and was, his essential nature to do so. He loved, and loves, this world. ‘World’ in this gospel means primarily the world of men and women, the human world, the world that had hated Jesus disciples (John 17: 14). It also means secondarily the whole wonderful world in which we live, the creation that Paul says is to be “liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8: 21).
That is hard to understand! God gave his Son for the world and yet it is still full of evil. People are still prepared to blow others up in suicide bombings or massacre them with guns and we do not know what horrors they may yet unleash on each other. We may wish that he had placed tighter controls on mankind but such is the power of his love he has left us with the freedom to make decisions, to love him and each other, or to hate those who do not agree with us. That is a fundamental part of the power of the love of our God.
But there is another side to the power of his love. We may choose to believe in Jesus, who he was and is, what he accomplished by his life and on the Cross and all that he has gained for us. That is here described as ‘not perishing’ but having eternal life. This is the New Life from above that Jesus promised Nicodemus. It is not just a life that starts when we die and then goes on for ever. It is the ‘life of the ages’ that starts as we move into the New Life from above. Not a slight variation on our past life that starts when we are ‘born again’ but a life that continues for the rest of our time on earth and then goes on beyond this earth and our present concerns.
In human practical terms it is a new life with a deep and rewarding focus, with a purpose it did not have before, with a sense of solidarity with the Lord’s people it did not have before and a promise of ‘not perishing’.
That is no fewer than 4 things. Let me repeat them: a new focus to life with Jesus, a new sense of purpose in serving and honouring him, a new circle of friends in the Lord’s people and eternal life, that is a new quality of life in this world and a future afterwards.