“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“For God.” From the outset, Jesus informs Nicodemas (remember the context) that the person who is responsible for regeneration and the salvation of sinners is no one else but God; specifically God the Holy Spirit. The word God (θεός; Theos) refers to the One, True God of heaven and earth. This is the God who is the subject of the entire revelation of Scripture.
“So Loved.” I love the Greek language. It is so precise and consistent in its grammar and spelling. This is so unlike the English language which tends to be inconsistent at best and frustrating at worst.
One of the ways Greek is precise and consistent is, for example, in its meaning of the word “love.” In the English language, the word “love” can refer to and mean a whole host of things. We love our pets, our children, spaghetti and meat balls, our favorite sports team, our favorite actress or actor, etc. With this one word we can express our love for God and country, baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet: as depicted in an advertising slogan several decades ago. Personally, I drive a Buick.
The Greek word for love is different. It is important for us to understand what the precise meaning for love is as found in John 3:16. In fact, there are several words in the Greek language which are translated into our one English word “love.” What are they and what is kind of love to which Jesus is referring?
First, there is the word eρως; eros. It is from this word we derive our English word erotic. Eros refers to sexual desire and attraction. This is the kind of love which God approves solely in the confines of heterosexual marriage. I’m sure we can see at a glance how much our culture is saturated by the notion of erotic love and how perverted it has become in its definition and expression. However, this is not the Greek word for love used in John 3:16.
Another Greek word for love is στοργή; storge. This is liking someone through the fondness of familiarity, family members or people of whom you are related. An example is the natural love and affection a parent has for their child. However, we can also see that this love is being perverted within our culture and even being rejected as parents are abusing and killing their children. But again, this is not the Greek word for love used in John 3:16.
A third Greek word for love is φιλία; philia or phileo. This is the love between friends as close as brothers and sisters in strength and duration. The friendship is the strong bond existing between people who share common values, interests or activities. We all have people in our lives of whom we call them our “best or close friends.” The English word Philadelphia comes from this Greek word. In fact, the City of Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love. Yet, this is not the Greek word for love used in John 3:16.
Finally, there is the Greek word ἀγαπn; agape. This is the highest and noblest love. It is a self-sacrificial love of the will. Therefore, it is a love which seeks other’s needs and not its own. It is a love not based upon one’s feelings but rather a resolute decision and act of one’s will. This is the love found in John 3:16. This is the love God possesses as an attribute of His character and displays as a behavior completely inherent within His being.
The Apostle Paul describes agape love in I Corinthians 13:1-8a. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Paul also explained that agape love is the type of love a husband is to have for his wife (Ephesians 5:25). Paul also wrote that this is the kind of love of which God loved sinners in Romans 5:7-8. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The Apostle John describes agape love in I John 4:7-11. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Echoing the words of I John 4:7-11, Jesus will continue to teach in John 3:16 exactly who are the objects of the Father’s love. We will examine this when next we meet. In the meantime, meditate upon the words of the following hymn by Stuart Townsend.
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.
Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life –
I know that it is finished.
I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart –
His wounds have paid my ransom.
Soli deo Gloria!