God’s Immeasurable Love (Part One of an Exploration of John 3:16)
John 3:16 may well be the most famous verse in the entire Bible. Even if it isn’t, its truth warrants continual celebration and gratitude. What I propose to do over the next couple of weeks is to explore this passage by looking at seven inescapable and eternally significant realities that together comprise this justifiably famous text.
The first truth in this text, God’s love, is foundational to everything that follows. But can anything more be said about the love of God that Christians don’t already know? As a matter of fact, yes! Perhaps the first thing I would point out is that God’s love is not uniform or monolithic. That is to say, God loves different people and different things differently. His love is multifaceted and variegated. That may surprise you, but consider this.
The Bible talks often of God’s love for his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Son’s love for the Father. We read in John 3:35: “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” In John 14:31, Jesus says, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Again, in John 17:26, Jesus says he will make known the name of the Father so “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them.”
This is a dimension of divine love that is almost beyond comprehension. God loves us in spite of our sin, but there is no sin in the Godhead that might impede or limit the love that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have for each other. There is no obstacle in the way that might diminish the love that the persons of the Godhead have for each other. Their mutual love is perfect, perpetual, and pure.
Then, secondly, there is God’s love for his creation. The psalmist declares that “the Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (Ps. 145:9). Jesus, in Matthew 5:44-45, commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us so that we may be seen to be sons of our Father who is in heaven, “for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” God’s love leads him to make gracious provision even for those he created who hate him.
Then there is God’s love for the sinful fallen world. That is what we find here in John 3:16. I’ll have more to say about this when we look at the word “world” and what John had in mind.
Fourth, there is God’s love for the nation Israel. We read this in Deuteronomy 7: “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you” (Deut. 7:6–8).
We read about this yet again in Deuteronomy 10:14-15. “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.” Neither of these texts means that everyone who was an Israelite was saved. We know that many within the nation were rebellious and hard-hearted and turned continually to idolatry. But God loved the nation as his covenant people and blessed them with countless privileges and promises. This doesn’t mean there is no sense in which God loved other nations. But he didn’t love them in the same way that he chose to love Israel.
Fifth and finally, there is God’s love for his elect, redeemed people. This is a love that goes beyond merely providing physical blessings for them. This is the love that actually leads them into a saving relationship with him. When God loves someone in this way, he goes beyond merely offering them eternal life. He actually works in their hearts to overcome their rebellion and unbelief and leads them to faith in Jesus.
This is what Paul had in mind in Ephesians 1:4b-5. There he said that “in love he [God] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” Again, in Ephesians 2:4-5 he said: “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” This love is “great” because it actually leads God to cause us to come alive in faith and trust and joy in Jesus. This love conquers and overcomes spiritual death and gives new and eternal life.
The love of God is also greatly magnified when we consider its object, the world. We will explore what John means by the “world” in the next installment of this brief series.