We anticipate the arrival of God’s love as we celebrate the Advent season. But what is God’s love? Since God is love, to understand God’s love is to perceive God.
This podcast (20 minutes) looks at the back-story for the claim that God loves his world (John 3:16). God’s faithful, unfailing, committed covenant love has been there since the beginning, and arrived in the person of the Christ.
The Arrival of Love was recorded at Riverview 2022-12-11. It’s also on Youtube.
If this understanding of John 3:16 is more global that you’re accustomed to, check out what others are saying too (below).
What others are saying
J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 201–202:
This is the first mention of love in the Gospel of John, and it is rather untypical in that the object of God’s love is “the world”. Nowhere else in John’s Gospel (or anywhere else in the New Testament!) is God explicitly said to “love” the world, yet it cannot come as a surprise to any reader who remembers that “the world came into being through him” (that is, through the Word, 1:10), and consequently that the world was “his own” (1:11). Jesus has already been identified as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29), and will be identified as “the Savior of the world” (4:42). God’s love for the world, though seldom explicit, is a given. At the same time, God has a unique and specific love for “the One and Only Son.” We have already learned that a “One and Only” shares in a father’s glory (1:14), and that Jesus as God’s “One and Only” is himself God, “right beside the Father” (1:18). Now it becomes explicit that “the One and Only” is God’s “Son” (see 1:34, 49), and that both terms are interchangeable with “Son of man” (vv. 13, 14).
The striking, even shocking, thing about God’s love for the world in relation to God’s love for his “One and Only Son” is that the former takes priority! The verb “to love” in this Gospel implies not so much a feeling as a conscious choice. Often it implies a preference for one person or thing or way of life over another. The shock of the pronouncement is that here God puts the well-being of “the world” above that of “the One and Only Son.”
Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 202–203:
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 people. … It should be noticed that God’s love is for “the world”; in recent times some scholars have argued that John sees God’s love as only for believers, but here it is plain that God loves “the world.”
Bruce Milne, The Message of John, BST (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993), 77:
The all-inclusive scope of God’s love is also here. John’s readers would have been familiar with the thought of God’s special love for Israel, but in truth his love is (and always was) indiscriminate, embracing every man, woman and child. However astonishing this scope, John’s primary wonder is probably the gracious embrace of God’s love, for its object is the world, which John consistently sees as fallen and organized in rebellion against God.
George R. Beasley-Murray, John, WBC (Dallas: Word, 1999), 51:
A confessional summary of the Gospel follows: it originates in the love of God for a disobedient world, it centers in the giving of the only Son to and for the world, and its end is that people may not be lost but live under the saving sovereignty of God.
- God and his world (John 3:16)
- God’s gift to the world (John 3:16)
- Perishing vs eternal life (John 3:16)
- The evangelical message (John 3:16)
2 thoughts on “How God loves the world (podcast)”
Do we need a definition of ‘the world’? At first reading it seemed to me that both the original post and the supporting extracts were using ‘the world’ as a synonym for ‘mankind’. All the writers appeared to be referring only to God’s human creation. But is this too narrow an understanding?
I am not a linguist but if we look at the use of ‘the world’ in the Bible (238 occurrences in the NIVUK) we can see a variety of applications. There are times when the term refers to the earth itself, others where it refers to mankind in totality and others where the context suggests that only a certain group of people is being referred to. All three variants can be seen in one verse, John 3 v17:
For God did not send His Son into the world [earth] to condemn the world [mankind], but that the world [believers] through Him might be saved.
If we look at the account of creation in Genesis we see that, after each phase of creation, God describes his handiwork as ‘good’. Then, in Romans 8 Paul writes that the whole creation is frustrated and groaning in anticipation that it too will be freed from bondage. However, later John describes a different scenario:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there is no longer any sea. [Revelation 21:1]
With these varying concepts of ‘the world’ in mind, how do we envisage the scope of God’s love as recorded in John 3 v16? Perhaps more importantly, is the recognition that God’s world view does not obscure his provision for the individual.
Thanks, Steve. Thoughtful comment.
“The world” can have several referents as you say. Tracing how John uses the world (80 times) is informative too.
All uses of “the world” are more global than the individual. But your conclusion still stands: if God does something to save the world, it includes his provision for the individual. It’s just that the individual isn’t the focus of the story, and we’re likely to lose sight of the global scope of what God is doing because our culture is so individualistic.