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John 3:16; 1 John 3:1117, 4:1518, 5:15comment (0)

March 13, 2008

By James R. Strange

Related Scripture: 1 John 3:1117, 4:1518, 5:15

Living 3:16 — It’s All About Love
John 3:16; 1 John 3:11–17, 4:15–18, 5:1–5

God Loves the World (John 3:16)
In a single, concise sentence, this verse manages to set out the force of God’s love, its universal reach and its power to transform humans. For this reason, it may be the best-known sentence in the New Testament. It still has some things to teach us, however.

First, many Christians stress the second part — “so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” — at the expense of the first: “God so loved the world.” Christians may focus on the idea that God saves them as individuals but miss the fact that God’s love aims at the salvation of the world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Nicodemus that God’s love is universal. The Samaritans realize this truth when Jesus comes to them (John 4:42). Alabama Christians do well to remember that this love is neither kept out by the mosque’s door nor kept in by the U.S. border. 

Second, the verse focuses on God’s love in action. Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Father “gave His only Son.” Elsewhere Jesus says that the Son submits to the Father, so He gives Himself as well (John 18:11, 19:30).

Third, what is this “eternal life” that Jesus talks about? Christians are tempted to think about a blissful existence that begins after a person dies. But this interpretation misses the force of the claim, “everyone who believes in Him may not perish.” Eternal life may culminate in the hereafter, but new life with God begins now (John 3:3, 7). To “perish,” is to live apart from God’s saving love.

Finally, Christians who have “eternal life” cannot condemn the world. Rather, they are to take up God’s example through Jesus, loving the world as God does and both hoping for and working toward its salvation. 

God Loves the Community (1 John 3:11–17)
The author of 1 John is known for continuing many of the themes of the Gospel of John and emulating its style. The Gospel’s author speaks of God’s universal, saving love in 3:16, but Jesus’ farewell discourse (John 13–17) stresses Jesus’ love for the community of His followers and their love for one another. The author of 1 John picks up on this second idea. 

Note the contrast between John 3:16 and 1 John 3:13: Jesus’ followers are to love the world because God does so, but as the author of 1 John sees things, the world hates Jesus’ followers. Note also the contrast between 1 John 3:12 and 3:16–17: Cain murdered his own brother, but Christians should lay down their lives for one another, especially to help “a brother or sister in need,” because they emulate Jesus’ act of self-denying love.

God’s Love Removes Fear (1 John 4:15–18)
Some form of the word “perfection” occurs three times in these verses and it always modifies love. The love that has been perfected is God’s love, and it reaches that state when believers love “in the world” as God does. Again the emphasis is on love in action.

God’s Love Moves the Community to Obey (1 John 5:1–5)
The idea of loving through visible and tangible deeds carries forward into the last chapter of 1 John. The circular language drives the point home: every child of God loves all God’s children (in this context, fellow believers). This love is visible love, for to love God is to obey God’s commandments. What does God command? That Christians love one another through their actions.

We should resist the urge to homogenize the Gospel of John and the first Epistle of John, but their shared themes bring the following to light: God demonstrates love for the world through an action — sending Jesus. For their part, God’s people do not love merely “in word or speech” but “in truth and action” (1 John 3:18). This kind of love extends to the whole world and is evident in the community of believers. In this way, Christians adopt God’s attitudes and model their deeds after God’s work in the world.

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