The Love with Which He Loved Us
BY ART AZURDIA
Women's liberation movement notes from the second year: "We must destroy love. Love promotes vulnerability, dependence, possessiveness, susceptibility to pain and prevents the full development of woman's human potential by directing all her energies outward in the interest of other people. We must destroy love."
What a demonic ambition! To destroy, to eliminate all presence of love! Can you imagine what kind of world it would be if every last vestige of real love was somehow eradicated? The world as we know it would destroy itself in a matter of moments.
Thankfully, love will never be destroyed, because it is a part of the essential nature of the eternal God. To destroy love, one would have to undeify God, because not only does God extend love, He Himself is love.
Distorted. But in the sinful day that we live, the wonderful, precious, holy love of God has become the most misunderstood dimension of God's character. As a result, the inherent value of God's love has been seriously distorted and cheapened.
It is with tremendous enthusiasm, therefore, that I invite you to one verse that speaks volumes about the love of God. It's a verse that has been written in books and inscribed on buildings. Memorized by millions, it is what Martin Luther called "the Bible in miniature". But though preached very frequently, it is a verse that is seldom explained. And the verse is John 3:16.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life."
I. The Motivation of God's love.This verse begins with the word "For", indicating that it is connected with the preceding passage. In verses 14 and 15, Jesus has said to Nicodemus, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whoever believes may in him have eternal life."
By saying "For God so loved the world...", the Lord now extends what He has told Nicodemus to all of us.
Foreword. Before we move on, let me first clarify an important point. The Bible uses human words to explain the infinite God to our finite minds. When we read about God's qualities in human terms, however, we must not get the wrong end of the stickwe are created in God's image; He is not created in ours. We have to be very careful, therefore, not to impose our human limitations on those qualities.
For example, God gets angry, and we get angry. But there's a monumental difference between the two. For us, anger is frequently a sign of injured pride or selfishness. For God, anger is always a holy reaction to evil.
Likewise, God loves and we love. But there are tremendous differences between our love and God's love. And one of the differences is rooted in the motivation of that love.
Human love. Let me give you an illustration. A young man meets a nice girl and begins to date her. Before long, he has fallen in love with her and he marries her. Did that love of his originate from him so that it wouldn't have made any difference even if she was ugly as sin and as mean as the devil?
No, we know better than that. She was available. He then liked the way she looked, he liked the way she acted, he liked the way he felt when he was with her. So, he fell in love with her. His love was not spontaneous. It was drawn out by the qualities of the girl.
Now, that's the kind of love we identify with. Yet, it is altogether different from the way God loves us.
God's love. "For God so loved the world" But why? Was there some inherent beauty in us as people to stimulate that love? Let's look at the testimony of the Scripture:
In Deuteronomy 7:7, God says to Israel, "The Lord did not set his love on you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any of the peoples; for you were the fewest of all the peoples."
He then gives the reason in verse 8, "But it was because the Lord loved you." Nothing in Israel, you see, drew out the love of God. God just loved.
Similarly, the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 2 that we were dead in our transgressions and sins, but God, because of His great love for us, made us alive together with Christ. He made us alive simply because of His great love. That love is not motivated by anything extrinsic to Himself. He loves us simply because that's the kind of God He is.
It has been suggested that the best way to understand the love of God is to consider the love of a parent for a child. Yes, I remember when I first saw my infant daughter, I was overwhelmed with a love that I'd never had beforea love that would have compelled me to do anything necessary for her, although we had just met and she didn't even have the capacity to respond back to me. That is probably the deepest form of human love.
Human limitations. Still, there are at least two vast differences between this kind of love and the love of God. For one thing, no matter how hard we try to be loving parents, our love will always be imperfect.
My love for my daughter will always have the limitations that go along with my being a fallen human being. I will not love my daughter as unconditionally as I should. Sometimes, I may discipline her unfairly. Sometimes, I may not discipline her when she should be disciplined.
Imagine how much better a job we parents would do if we, like God, were omniscient? If only we knew everything in our children's heart, everything about their feelings and attitudes, and everything that will happen in their future. But we don't. And so our decisions will not always be for their good.
Nor are we omnipresent as God is. We cannot always be there when they need us.
Before time. There's a second difference between even the deepest form of human love and God's love. While it could be said that a parent can love a child prior to birth, it could never be said that a parent could love a child prior to conception. Yet, God had loved us even before time began.
Paul summarizes it in Ephesians 1:4, saying, "Just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ."
We need not pull the greatness of God's love out of that word "so". The greatness of God's love is defined by
Even before He called the universe into existence, He had set His heart and affection upon His people. This truth is all the more awesome when we consider that He loved us then even knowing full well that we would sin.
Think for a moment about the broken marriages that you know about firsthand. How often have you heard this remark, "If only I knew then what I know now about him (or her)." The point is, God did know all our shortcomings. Yet, He loved us before time.
The motivation for God's love for us sinners rests within His own eternal, unchanging nature.
Oh, how grateful I am for that! If God's love toward us was contingent upon our obedience, how precarious would the Christian life be.
II. The Definition of God's love.To fully appreciate God's love for us, we need to know also how God Himself defines His love. Among other places, He defines it right here in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son."
The key that unlocks the definition of God's love is that little word "so".
This word is misunderstood by many preachers and commentators who use it to emphasize the magnitude of God's love. They'll say, "It wasn't that God just loved the world, God so loved the world..." Now, it is true that God's love is magnanimous. It is great. It is infinite. But we don't get that from the word "so" in this verse.
The word "so" means in this manner. God loved the world in this manner. In what manner? In the manner that He gave His only begotten Son. Even the grammar of the statement shows clearly that the emphasis of the verse is not God so loved the world, but God so loved the world that He gave.
Divine sacrifice. We need not pull the greatness of God's love out of that word "so". The greatness of God's love is defined by the gift that He gaveHis only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity.
Sometimes, the Bible talks about Christ as being sent. But here, the word "gave" is used to carry with it the idea of a sacrificial gift.
This gets right to the very heart of how the New Testament defines God's love for us. It is defined not in some kind of nebulous, sentimental emotion, but always directly by the sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ.
In Romans 5:8, for instance, we read, "God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
In I John 4:10, "In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." And in Revelation 1:5, "To him who loves us, and released us from our sins by his blood."
Remember when God tested Abraham's devotion by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac? When Abraham was about to plunge the knife into the heart of Isaac, an angel of the Lord cried out to him, "Abraham, Abraham, do not stretch out your hand against the lad." He turned around and saw a ram that was caught in the thicket. The Lord had provided.
But when Jesus Christ was bound to His wood and the knife of God's wrath was raised against Him, no angel cried out. From heaven there was only silence. The knife was plunged into His heart. There would be no other provision. Why? Because God loved the world in that manner.
Unity. This John 3:16 definition is very compelling. The apostle didn't just say, "God loved the world" period, or "God loved the world that He forgave sin out of the goodness of His heart." No, John couldn't say that because that would be neither good nor loving.
Yet, this is the very point where most Christians stumble. Yes, God is love. God is all love. But God is not only love. We will never be able to understand the true love of God if we isolate it from the rest of God's perfections.
Why? Because God is unity. He never suspends any of His attributes for the exercise of another. God always acts in complete consistency with the totality of His being. This truth is what makes the love of our God that much more wonderful.
Because God is self-existent, for instance, His love has no beginning; He loved you before time. Because God is eternal, His love can have no end. You never have to worry about God getting tired of you. Because God is infinite, His love knows no limit. And because God is holy, His love is the quintessence of purity.
The love of God, therefore, is never to be understood as a maudlin set of mentality, a grandfatherly kind of warmth that smiles mischievously at us as we kind of get ourselves into trouble. Yet, at times, we make a beeline to the love of God to justify our sin.
Excuses. We'd say, "God knows that I'm lonely. He loves me and wants me to be happy. So, I'm going to marry this non-Christian person." No, He'd rather you find happiness in holiness even if it means being single.
"I'm going to take a little bit out of the company till. I'll pay it back later. God loves me; He knows that I need it." No, He'd rather you learn to depend on Him even if it means going without.
"This is the last time that I'll cheat on the exam. I know God loves me and wants me to pass this class." No, He'd rather you fail and take the class again rather than dishonor His name.
God's love operates in consistency with the rest of His perfections. You want to define God's love? You look at Calvary. You don't have to go any further. It is a love that required the sacrificial death of His own Son. Now, does that sound to you like someone who is not concerned about "little" sins?
Holy love. Because the love of God for us is holy, He gave His Son so that His justice is satisfied. It's a holy love. So holy that He goes on to tell us that if people refuse Jesus Christ, He will in judgment allow them to perish.
Yes, the God who so loved the world once judged the world by a flood. The same God who so loved the world repeatedly chastened Israel for their disobedience by conquest, by captivity and even by exile. The same God who so loved the world snuffed life away from Ananias and Sapphira for one lie to the Holy Spirit.
We will never be able to understand the true love of God if we isolate it from the rest
And the very same God who so loved the world will one day condemn all unbelievers to the eternal lake of fire.
You see, the key point is this: God's love toward us finds its ultimate meaning in the sacrificial gift of His Son. When you begin to understand that, you begin to grasp what the Bible says about the love of God.
III. The Intention of God's love."God loved the world in this manner: He gave His only begotten Son that..." The word "that" is the Greek word hina. Every time hina appears in the Bible, it introduces the purpose behind some action.
For example, II Timothy 3:16,17: "All scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for teaching, correction, for reproof, for training in righteousness, hina (in order that) the man of God might be thoroughly furnished, equipped for every good work."
God's love had a purpose. This should not surprise you. God never does anything without a reason. His love had a divine intention that could never be frustrated. Remember in verse 14, Jesus said, "so must the Son of man be lifted up"? He must be lifted up. He must be lifted up because there was a sovereign purpose behind it all.
Bottom Line. Now, let's put it all together. God loved the world in this manner: He gave His only begotten Son for the purpose that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
The purpose of God giving Christ as an act of love is to secure eternal life for those who would believe. So, it is not true that God so loved the world that He gave His Son that all of mankind would be saved. Rather, God so loved the world that He gave His Son Jesus to be the Savior of all who believe.
Thus, how a person responds to the Cross of Jesus Christ ultimately determines one of two destinies: he will either perish or have eternal life.
Do not take the word "perish" to mean annihilation or extinction. You hear people say, "Well, I'm going to live my life the way I want, because when I die it's over." That's not what perish means.
It has to do with hell. And hell is a real place for real unbelievers who die in their sin. There, they will be experiencing the total abandonment of the love of God for all eternity.
You see, beloved, as broad and as wide as is the love of God, it will prove absolutely useless to everyone who does not believe in Christ. He did not die to save all. He died to save believers, to save whoever believes in Him.
If this "whoever" includes you, then you have a forever loving relationship with God, beginning now, and culminating in heaven. o
Rev. Art Azurdia is a pastor of North Bay Bible Church, P.O. Box 8238, Vallejo, CA 94590.
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