God and his world (John 3:16)

What do we mean by “God loves the world”?

If Jesus made the kingdom of God the centre of everything, surely we can learn to hear Scripture as he did. This lens reframes everything, even familiar texts:

John 3:16 (NIV)
16 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.

Let’s ask some fresh questions:

  1. Who is God?  Too big a question: the whole of theology is pursing that question. Let’s narrow it down:  Who is God, in relation to the world?

God is the sovereign who established two realms under his care: heaven and earth, with earth under heaven’s management. God is sovereign over the world.

  1. What is the world, in relation to God?

If God is sovereign, the world is his earthly realm, designed to function under his governance. But the truth is that the world isn’t functioning like that. There’s been a coup to take God’s power for ourselves, so the world is the earthly realm in rebellion against God.

This is one of John’s favourite terms for what’s wrong with the planet — 78 times in all. The world’s problem is its refusal to recognize its true ruler (John 1:10), so Jesus is on a mission to defeat “the ruler of this world” (12:31; 14:40; 16:11).

  1. What does it mean to say God loved the world?

If “God so loved the world,” and I’m part of the world, then yes, I am one of the billions of humans to whom our sovereign has extended his love. That’s true, but it misses the magnitude of the message.

John did not say, “God so loves the individual,” as if the world revolves around me personally. John did not say that “God is madly in love with you,” as if God suffers from feelings of infatuation about me. I know we’re desperate for personal affirmation but that comes within the bigger message.

If God is sovereign, and the world is in rebellion, God’s love is the astounding character of a sovereign who keeps reaching out to bring the rebellious realm back into his care. God’s love is the enduring love of covenant loyalty, the faithfulness of a king so committed to his people that he persists with us even when it hurts him.

Remember when Israel set up a golden calf just 6 weeks after committing to the Sinai covenant? That’s when they discovered what it meant to say that God loved them. This was the definitive revelation of their sovereign’s character:

Exodus 34:6–7 (NIV)
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7 NIV)

God’s love is his steadfast, faithful, loyal commitment, the love of a king who keeps persisting with his difficult subjects until he brings the world back under his care.

So in practical terms, how does our sovereign express his undying love for his resistant realm? He extends the most incredible reconciliation gift ever sent. More next time.

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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