“For God so loved the world tat He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him might not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)
Because of the influence of modernism, and of psychology upon the biblical understanding of many, even in evangelicalism, the whole concept of the love of God has been distorted. People import their own humanistic understanding of what love is, into texts such as John 3:16.
For example many modern pastors and teachers say something to the effect that the cross shows us the measure of our value. As one popular christian teacher put it, “”There must be something truly wonderful about us if God can love us and accept us so readily.”
Another otherwise very effective apologist assures us that ,“You are ‘worth Jesus’ to God because that is what he paid for you.”** We have all heard views such as this, or variations of it such as the following from another popular evangelical author, who posits that ,
Of course, the greatest demonstration of a person’s worth to God was shown in giving us his Son.” ***
I believe that perspectives such as these are misleading. Though they contain partial truth, the emphasis of these statements is skewed, leading people to a distorted understanding of the Love of God.
As Martin Luther helpfully said, “God didn’t love us because we are valuable, we become valuable because God chose to love us!”.
What did Jesus really mean when he proclaimed that God so loved the world?
To understand this we must first grasp the Biblical meaning of the word love. In the greek language of the New Testament, there is more than one word for “love”.
The greek word “eros” , from which we obtain the word ‘erotic’, means the love of desire. The young man says to the young girl, “I Love you”, but often what he means is “I want you…” (for me!). There is a valid eros, within the bonds of Holy matrimony, but we live in a society of eroticism that is inordinate, promiscuous and unholy.
There is another greek word translated love,”Phileo” which means, the love of a brother, or of friendship. The city “Philadelphia” means “city of brotherly Love”. A “Francophil” is someone who loves that which is French.
There is yet another greek word, ‘Storge’ which refers to affection, but it can vary in the spectrum of committment. Storge can and should be part of what parents feel towards their children o each other, and there should even by diverse levels of appropriate affection for those God has put into our lives. But ‘storge’ can even mean something like what our modern word “cuteness” means, the feeling one gets when they see a pretty baby, or a child. God did not “storge the world” in John 3:16.
The God of John 3:16 did not love the World, based on something within us that was desirable to Him, or because there was something in us that he saw that was good, noble or even likable. Certainly His love for us should not be interpreted as a measurement of how ‘worthy’ we were. God didn’t love the world according to sentimental affection either.
The word Jesus used in John 3:16 is Agape. Agape refers to the love of the will. In spite of the animosity and rebellion of man against God, He saw our need, and willed our good. Agape moved Him to do what was necessary to save us from the wrath we deserved. You could say, He set his love on us…while we were yet sinners.
That God should “Love the World” which has rejected and despised Him, and when given the chance, crucified Him, is the greatest story ever told! It is incomprehensible! But many in this day are like the French atheist, who upon his deathbed was asked, ‘what if you find out that you were wrong?’. His non -challant answer was ‘God will forgive me, that is his job… no?’.
God did love the world, amazingly enough, so much that He found a righteous way to satisfy the claims of his Holy justice against us, while at the time showing his infinite mercy to us. The answer to the dilemna? The cross of Jesus.
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.( 2 Cor 5:21)
**Josh McDowell, Building Your Self-Esteem (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1986), pp. 42-43.
***William Kirwin, Biblical Concepts for Christian Counseling (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), p. 107.