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The Recipient of God’s Love–the World

“Though the patience of God be lasting, yet it is not everlasting.”
                                                                      –William Secker

Martin Luther called John 3:16 “the gospel in miniature.” Matthew Henry said that in John 3:16, “we have the very marrow and quintessence of the whole gospel.” Charles Spurgeon remarked that it had taken him about thirty years to preach a sermon from that text but that the verse itself was “the sole topic of [his] life’s ministry.” It is a familiar verse, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [ESV] 

The word for world is used seventy-eight times in the Gospel of John. This is far more than any other gospel author uses it. It is an important word and it has a variety of meanings. The world is in one sense the whole universe. (Jn 1:10, see also 1:3) The world can also be used to represent a large group of people. (Jn 12:19) The world represents human society which can be so problematic for believers. (Jn 16:33) Concerning the world, Leon Morris noted that “‘the world’ is used for people in opposition to Christ. H. Sasse can speak of the world as ‘the sum of the divine creation which has been shattered by the fall, which stands under the judgment of God, and in which Jesus Christ appears as the Redeemer.’” [cited in Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John, 112.] 

This is the understanding of the word ‘world’ that makes most sense when we consider the gift that God gives in his Son. John 3:16 is not about how great the world, or how intrinsically valuable it is, or how worthy it is that it merited salvation. Rather, John 3:16 is about how great God is and how his greatness is magnified in that he sent so precious a gift to a most undeserving world. As the Baptist theologian, B. B. Warfield notes:

[World] is not here a term of extension so much as a term of intensity. Its primary connotation is ethical, and the point of its employment is not to suggest that the world is so big that it takes a great deal of love to embrace it all, but that the world is so bad that it takes a great kind of love to love it at all, and much more to love it as God has loved it when he gave his Son for it. 

Today, let’s respond to this giving love of God in the Biblically prescribed way. What’s that? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Believe. Trust Christ today.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Dale