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JOHN 3.16

by Mark Horne

Copyright © 2004

John 3:16 is probably best-known, or at least, best-liked Bible passage in North America: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This declaration of God’s love of the whole world is greatly comforting to many, at many levels.

But I wonder, if we think about it, will we find that it is such a comforting verse?

Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus about pastoring the Church on the island of Crete: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (3.1-7).

You can’t miss the similarities between this charge to Titus and John 3.16 Here Titus is charged to teach his congregations to show love to all because God has loved them by sending his Son. And notice how difficult that is: These people are “foolish, disobedient, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing” their” days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” In fact, Paul has already pointed out what lovely company the Cretan Christians have in their neighbors: “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true” (1.12, 13a). These lying, lazy, gluttonous “animals” are the one for whom they must “be ready for every good work,” to whom they must “be gentle” and whom they must “show perfect courtesy.”

But believing, trusting, and taking comfort in the God who loves the whole wide world of evil sinners and who killed His own Son for the sake of selfish haters and ultimately murderers, requires a radical new life. It cannot simply be a verse that comforts us with God’s love for us. It unconditionally demands that we share in God’s feelings for the whole world. It must be practiced. There is no other way to believe in God’s Son-sacrificing love for the world. Thus, after reminding Titus to remind the Cretan Christians to show love to the pagans and to remember that they themselves were once on the road to perishing, he says: “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” (3.8). Remembering God’s mercy to us demands that we show mercy to others–not that we practice a pious smile and merely say that we love people, but that we actively practice love to others, devoting ourselves to good works.

John 3.16, understood with all its ramifications, which is the only way to truly understand it at all, is a horrifically challenging verse. It is, properly comprehended, simply another one of Jesus’ calls for us to hate our very selves, put ourselves to death, take up our cross, and follow him wherever he chooses to lead us. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.26, 27). It is an absolute and irrevocable claim that we must not only worship and serve only the Father, in the Son, by the power of the Spirit, but that we must live for others, particularly those who have little to do with our own happiness or who contribute to our identity (i.e. family and community; paradoxically, however, if people were to embrace this sort of commitment, their marriages would in most cases last a lifetime and their children would be more loved than otherwise).

God sent his Son because he loved the whole world.

Do we? How?

Copyright © 2004


  1. Dear Sir,

    I love it so much when anyone teach the gospel in such a truthfull way, sercrifice and dennial of oneself, looking unto our lords promise of eternal life.
    I have for so long been strugling with my flesh, and constantly being defeated, can someone help me get out of my bondage and help me into the ministry im called to preach. the gospel of the kingdom.
    God bless we all.

    Comment by Chide Atuegwu — April 17, 2009 @ 4:40 pm


    Comment by LUIS ESTRADA — June 5, 2009 @ 1:06 am

  3. A friend I knew once loved God, and her message was the same. God so loved the world that he gave his only son.
    I too loved this woman and the one I married and her sister.
    God gives and they we go back to him. This makes me cry, because some people I really did love.

    Comment by Pegan — February 3, 2010 @ 12:53 am

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