“FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD”

John 3.16

 

EXPOSITION:

1.   Sometimes a preacher of the gospel can make the terrible mistake of forgetting that much of his preaching is based upon assumptions, assumptions that are sometimes entirely unwarranted.

2.   Allow me, therefore, to speak to you for a few minutes at a level so basic that no one in the auditorium will be left behind.  My intent is to lay a foundation which will serve as the ground of truth upon which pillars of truth can later be erected.  Parents, it is imperative that your children know that you will hold them accountable to remember what they hear during this morning’s exposition and sermon.

3.   My text is John 3.16, perhaps the verse in God’s Word that is most central to the theme and thrust of the Bible and the Christian faith.  In this exposition I will concentrate on the first phrase of the verse:  “For God so loved the world.” 

4.   I do not think Jesus spoke the words of our text, though He certainly may have spoken these words.  Despite this verse being printed red in red letter editions of the Bible, I am of the opinion, along with Alfred Edersheim, and Kenneth Connolly and others, that these words were penned by the apostle John to explain what Jesus had said in earlier verses.[1]

4.   As well, though my desire is to communicate basic truth, it is likely that I will mention some things that some of you have never heard before, some things that most of you have never thought of before, and some things that most of you have at least never articulated before.

 

1A.   First, I WILL SPEAK TO YOU ABOUT GOD

1B.    Most people who use the word “god” are quite confident that they know what they ought to know about God.  I want to challenge your thinking along that line.  I want to dispute your unspoken confidence that you know what you ought to know about God.

2B.    Consider truth to be something like a plot of level ground, a portion of which you own.  The way you define your portion of land is by describing it, which is to say that you locate one corner of it and then you describe it on one side, and then another side, and then another side, and then another side, ending at the point where you started.  To define what is yours, then, you circumscribe it, and whatever lies within your description is yours and whatever lies outside of your description is not yours.

3B.    This is also the way you describe the people you know.  Myrna is 5' 2" with eyes of blue.  Today she has strawberry blond hair and weighs in at 105 pounds.  She is the daughter of Fred and Joan, the wife of Sam, the mother of Ted.  I have just circumscribed a woman, and everything that does not lie within my description refers to others, while everything that lies within my description refers to her.

4B.    Just about everything we want to define for the purpose of talking about and thinking about is some thing that we circumscribe, that we draw a description around to delineate it from everything else.  But have you ever realized that you cannot circumscribe God in that fashion?  God is so big, so immense, so fathomless, that you cannot draw any kind of a line around Him to differentiate Him from everything else and everyone else.

5B.    This is not to say that God cannot be differentiated and distinguished from everything that is not God, because He can be so differentiated and distinguished.  It is just that you do not differentiate and distinguish Him from other by drawing a line around Him.  Rather, you draw a line around other. God is described, not by trying to reach around Him in any way so that He fits into a description, but by making statements about Him that are true, all the while realizing that God does not fit into anyone’s conception of Him; He is simply in every conceivable way too big. 

6B.    That said, allow me to make some true statements about God that people sometimes do not think about, that they should think about:

1C.   First, God is.  That is, God exists.  Some people question the existence of God, but such people are profoundly foolish and blind.  The existence of God is such an obvious necessity that God never even attempts to prove His existence to men.  His existence is assumed in the Bible, and His existence is eternal, meaning that it had no beginning and will have no ending.[2]

2C.   Second, God is infinite.  Infinite in size, infinite in power, infinite in intelligence.  Only such a God could create the universe and all there herein is.  “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” Genesis 1.1.

3C.   Third, God is personal.  The personality of God is too obvious from reading the Bible to need any proof, though this truth does need to be pointed out to people.  That God is personal and not impersonal means that God is a he, rather than an it.  It also means that God can be known, rather than Him being unknowable.  Now, it is true that God is not known by most men, but that does not mean He cannot be known.  Because God is personal God is knowable.

4C.   Fourth, God is moral.  How do we know that God is moral?  In the Bible we read that He is holy[3], that He is just[4], that He is good[5], and that He is righteous.[6]  These are some of God’s moral attributes that help us to understand His nature.

5C.   Fifth, God is sovereign.  Sovereignty has to do with freedom.  God has the absolute freedom to do anything He wants to do, anytime He wants to do it, in any way that He wants to do it, limited only by His Own nature and the restrictions He has obligated Himself to observe.  Let me read a passage to illustrate God’s sovereignty.  Romans 9.20-21:  “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?  Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?”

7B.    There are many other things about God that are worthwhile to mention.  But I have stated only a very few truths about God, so that I have some level of confidence that when we consider God we are considering that One Who created all things, and Who has revealed Himself in both nature and in the Bible.[7]  This is the One about Whom the apostle writes in John 3.16.

 

2A.   Second, I WILL SPEAK ABOUT GOD’S LOVE

1B.    This One about Whom we are speaking, Who we call God because He has so designated Himself, has the capacity to love.  As a matter of fact, God’s love is much more than a mere ability, a capacity, a tendency, an inclination.  Love is at the very core of His being and nature, because God is love, First John 4.8 & 16.  As well, love is so profoundly significant to God’s being that apart from loving . . . knowing God is impossible:  “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”[8]

2B.    But what is love, precisely?  In our culture the concept of love is so completely intertwined with sexual attraction, which ebbs and flows like the tide, that people commonly talk about falling in love and falling out of love, as though that was possible.  Yet in the Greek speaking world of the first century the noun and verb forms of the word used here in John 3.16 are only rarely used in connection with sexual attraction.[9]

3B.    So, we need to think of the kind of love God has and expresses as being different than some passing emotional attachment, or related to some physical urge or need.  God once said, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”[10]  As well, God’s love is a love that has no need, since God is self-sufficient and needs nothing from another.[11]  Instead, God’s love seeks to meet the needs of the one who is loved, rather than have needs met by the one who is loved.

4B.    Listen to what Moses said to the Israelites about God’s love, in Deuteronomy 7.7:  “The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people.”  More than 1000 years later, while in Babylonian captivity, God said these words about His love to the Jewish people through the prophet Ezekiel:  “Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine.”[12]

5B.    So, God’s love should not be compared to the kind of love typically thought of by most people, for it is as superior to such “love” as God is superior to you and to me.  His love is durable rather than temporary, and it is sacrificial rather than selfish.  Such love as God has is supernatural rather than natural, is divine rather than earthbound.  Israel’s uniqueness, as a people, and the survival of the Jewish people, is motivated by the fact that God loves them.

 

3A.   Third, I WILL SPEAK OF GOD’S LOVE FOR THE WORLD

1B.    Keeping in mind that the Lord Jesus Christ, leading up to our text, had been speaking to a Jewish rabbi named Nicodemus, will help you to appreciate why it is highly unlikely that Jesus actually said to him, “For God so loved the world.”  The shock would have been too much for the man. 

2B.    Let me explain:  The Jewish people of Jesus’ day were unanimous in their recognition of God’s love for them.  There was no question in their minds that God loved them.  They were God’s covenant people.  But to say that God loved the world . . . .  The Jewish mind of Jesus’ day conceived the world divided into two regions; that portion of the world which was the Jewish homeland, which they held to be holy, and that portion of the world occupied by the Gentile nations, which was unholy.  Reflecting that mind set, when Jews returned to the land as they traveled back and forth they literally shook the defiling dirt off as they passed in, passing from the unholy to the holy.[13]

3B.    So you see, God loves.  It is comprehensible to sinful men that God loves.  It was certainly comprehensible to the Jewish mind that God loves.  But the idea that God would love pagans, that God would love the heathen, that God would love the nations, that God would love Gentiles, that God would love the lawless, that God would love idolaters, that God would love the unschooled, the unrefined and the unwashed.  What an astonishing revelation that is.

4B.    Who does God love?  He loves the world.  But what is the world?  The world is people, like you and me.  God’s love, you see, was not limited to Jewish people only.  God is too big to be limited in who He loves.  So, His love reaches beyond the borders of the commonwealth of Israel, beyond the confines of the old covenant.  His love reaches out . . . even to you.

5B.    But this is not the place to stop speaking of God’s love for the world, of God’s love for you, because our text does not say “For God love the world.”

 

4A.   IT SAYS, “FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD

1B.    This word “so” is a very important part of our text because “The word ‘so’ emphasizes the intensity or greatness of His love.”[14]  This word is pronounced outwV, and is an adverb that pertains to what follows.[15]

2B.    And what follows?  What follows is a statement that demonstrates and proves the magnitude and extent of God’s love for the world, for Jews as well as Gentiles, and for you as an individual.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son.”

 

CONCLUSION:

1.   “God - so - loved - the world.”  Whether you understand the Lord Jesus to be the one who spoke these words, or whether you are of the opinion that John wrote these words in his gospel, the fact remains that the statement, “God so loved the world,” is addressed to an audience that is already convinced of God’s love.

2.   Nicodemus was already persuaded that God loved him and his fellows in the house of Israel.  And the Christian audience that would make use of this Gospel already knew God loved them.  So, in either case, these words are not directed to those who doubt or question God’s love for them.  Quite the contrary.

3.   The Holy Spirit’s intent in inspiring this statement, “God so loved the world,” seems to me to be to convince those of us who know God loves us that God does not love only us.  Have you ever given any thought to that, my friend?  That God does not only love you, but that He does not love only you?

4.   If you have not given thought to such things, perhaps you would do well to spend some time reflecting on the reality of God’s love for the world, for all men, and not just you.  The hated tax collector and the Samaritan woman, the Roman centurion and the woman taken in adultery, the demon possessed man and the Syro-Phenician woman.  Each was obviously loved by the Lord Jesus Christ, establishing by demonstration that each was loved by God.

5.   Now, before this morning’s sermon, brother Isenberger comes to lead us as we stand to sing.

 

INTRODUCTION:

1.   John 3.16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

2.   I think most sermons which have John 3.16 as their text explain the phrase “he gave his only begotten Son” by referring to the crucifixion of Christ.  And that certainly is the culmination of God giving His Son.  But God’s giving His Son is not limited to the crucifixion.  Rather, it includes our Lord’s incarnation and His earthly ministry, climaxing in His crucifixion.

3.   Why do I make this observation, this clarification?  Because I believe that the way you communicate your love for someone is to show them that you love them, not just tell them that you love them.  Telling someone of your love for him without a corresponding demonstration of that love is so much noise, as Paul told us.[16]

4.   Jesus was sent to suffer and bleed and die for our sins, to be sure.  But He was also sent to love sinners, thereby convincing sinners that He and, therefore, God loves sinners.  And did He love sinners.  Blind sinners, lame sinners, poor sinners, rich sinners, diseased sinners, possessed sinners, Jewish sinners, Gentile sinners, sinners who were men, sinners who were women, sinners who were children. 

5.   He loved them all.  That He loved them all was proof that God loved them all, and was the basis for John’s insertion into his Gospel, written decades after Christ’s crucifixion, death, resurrection, and glorious ascension to the Father’s right hand on high, of this verse we call John 3.16.

6.   Three things about this verse by way of application:

 

1A.   First, OUR PERSUASION

1B.    As I said a few moments ago, I am persuaded that John 3.16 was written to persuade Christians that God loves the world, that God loves everyone, that God loves Gentiles as well as Jews.  Such a notion was difficult for the Jews to accept, and later on it was difficult for Jewish Christians to accept.  But such is the persuasiveness of this verse, that when it is properly understood and properly applied, believers become convinced.

2B.    You do not have to agree with my opinion that Jesus did not actually speak the words of John 3.16.  You are perfectly within your rights to insist that Jesus must have spoken these words because they are printed with red ink.

3B.    But will you be persuaded, with me, that this verse means God loves the world, that God loves all the people, that God of course loves you, . . . and that God loves sinners?  Are you so persuaded?

 

2A.   Next, OUR PASSION

1B.    When you are loved by someone, and you know that you are loved by someone, you love them in return, do you not?  Is that not the thrust of First John 4.19?  “We love him, because he first loved us.”  When you know God loves you, then you will love God.  Right?

2B.    But what does it mean to love God?  Second John 6 says, “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.”  For God to love us is for God to give us His Son.  But for us to love God is to obey His commandments.  Our passion, therefore, if we know that God loves us, and if we in turn love God, is a passion to serve Him.

3B.    Now, let us add another ingredient to this mix.  We know that God loves us.  After all, we are His children, and the Father certainly loves His children.  In response, His children love Him and show their love for Him by obeying His commandments.  Are you with me so far?

4B.    What happens, then, when you find out that not only does God love you, but that He loves those who are not His children, also?  What happens when you find out that God loves the snotty rich brat who goes to PCC or USC, or the dumpster diver behind MacDonald’s, or the disfigured man walking down the street, or the ungainly boy with MS trying to make it across the street before the light turns and cars cut him off?  What happens when you find out that God loves the suburbanite who sits at home watching television every night?

5B.    If God loves you and you love God, and you find out that God loves someone else, will you not also love that other person God loves?  Will it not affect your life and ministry?

 

3A.   WHICH BRINGS ME TO YOUR PERFORMANCE

1B.    We have seen, in John 3.16, that God’s love is not dormant, but moves Him to action.  Because of His love He gave His Son, Jesus.  A Christian’s love operates in much the same way, by moving him to the action of obeying God.  But in what way, in what direction, to achieve what end, does the  Christian’s love for God work, especially after being persuaded and becoming passionate about God’s love for the lost?

2B.    Please turn to Second Corinthians 5.14-21:

14     For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:

15     And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

16     Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.

17     Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

18     And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;

19     To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

20     Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

21     For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

 

3B.    I am convinced that God’s primary means of showing His love is through His Son, Jesus, the savior and keeper of my soul.  But once a person becomes a Christian, we see in this passage that Jesus Christ loves others through the life and service of the Christian.  In other words, verse 14 does not tell of my love for Christ, which constrains me, but of Christ’s love for and through me to others which constrains me.

4B.    What am I saying in all this?  Where does all this lead?  If you would be used by God to affect and influence the lost to come to Christ you must love them, and not by telling them you love them so much as showing them you love them.  In a word, performance.  It’s performance that counts.  Do you show the lost that you love them?

 

CONCLUSION:

1.   Don’t tell me you love me until you have first shown me that you love me.  And if you show a sinner that you love him, perhaps he will believe that God, your God, loves him when the time comes for him to be told that.

2.   As well, should the Spirit of God work in that sinner’s life, perhaps he will even come to believe that God loves him enough to send His Own Son to die for that sinner’s sins.  And, perhaps, that sinner will someday come to Christ.

3.   I am convinced that one of the missing ingredients in Biblical evangelism, in addition to what the preacher is supposed to preach and then follow up and do, is what the people are supposed to do.  What are you supposed to do?

4.   You are to love the lost, you are to love the sinner.  And I do not mean only some of them.  I mean all of them.  Strange ones and normal ones, unique ones and not so unique ones.  And it is to be you who loves the sinner, not someone else in our church.  It will be your love for him that makes the difference in reaching him, not someone else.

5.   Stay for lunch after church, not because God loves you, but because God loves the visitor, God loves the stranger.  So, loving God, you will in turn love who He loves . . . in such a way that people can tell.

6.   Invite people to your home.  Stay after church in the evening for the birthday party.  Go to the baseball game and devote your time there, not to your best friend, but to someone you don’t know well . . . but who God loves.

7.   God loves the world, which is to say everyone.  And He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.  So, will you, being persuaded that God loves that person, and being passionate about your life and service and ministry to God, actually show love for that person?  Will you perform?

8.   Let us see if you will perform.  Let us all see.



[1] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: New Updated Version, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1993), page 268.

[2] First Timothy 1.17

[3] Isaiah 6.3

[4] Romans 3.26

[5] Psalm 52.1; Romans 2.4

[6] Lamentations 1.18

[7] Psalm 19.1-3

[8] First John 4.8

[9] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 6.

[10] Jeremiah 31.3

[11] See note on Genesis 17.1 in Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), [email protected]

[12] Ezekiel 16.8

[13] See note on Matthew 10.14 in Albert Barnes, Albert Barnes’ NT Commentary, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), [email protected]

[14] See footnote on John 3.16 in John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1581.

[15] Bauer, page 742.

[16] First Corinthians 13.1

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