Such is Love
Doubtless, John 3: 16 would be the most published and thus best-known verse in the entire Bible. It has been ploughed into hillsides, embroidered on pillowcases, transmitted across the airways, written on the sky and printed on greeting cards and tracts in multitudinous forms. However, familiarity can breed contempt; maybe contempt is too strong a word in this case, but it can breed depreciation of its significance. We do well to look again at this verse—along with the surrounding verses—through fresh eyes.
For starters, most scholars now agree that these words from verse 16, and onwards, are not the words of Christ but are John’s commentary on the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus. John is explaining how the kingdom of God is coming through his Son and what it means to be born again and to believe in the Son of God. One of the things John wants us to notice is that the kingdom comes entirely through divine means and does not come in response to human agency. In verse 21 john writes, “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3: 21). John is saying that faith simply embraces the gift that God has given us through his Son. This requires genuine humility and simple faith.
This brings us to another important feature of this passage all attached to the first word in the sentence— ‘for.’ This small word functions as a linking word that refers the reader to the context in previous passage. In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus referred to an Old Testament story in Numbers 21 concerning an invasion of biting snakes in the camp of the Israelites. God commanded Moses to have a bronze snake made up and raised on a pole which people could simply to look as an act of faith for recovery. Jesus went on to explain that the Messiah would have to be raised up in a similar way to provide salvation for those who look to him. When John uses the word ‘for’ here he is saying something like, ‘in reference to what we have just read concerning the deliverance of the Israelites…’
Then John goes on the say God so loved the world…” The word ‘so’ is also important and is often mistranslated to mean, “God love the world so very much” when in fact it would be better to say, God loved in like manner to that which he did in the example we have just read about concerning the bronze snake.” The verse literally reads “for thus in the same manner has God loved the world, the result being the Son, the only begotten Son, he gave. And if anyone looks to the Son in faith they will be spared from destruction and enter true fellowship with God—eternal life.”
The word love used here is not a feeling, rather it is practical applied love, a love that cares about and acts for the better interests of another. Such is the love of God that he does something; and that something is a somebody – Jesus Christ.