“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. 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.” This 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 it is 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. 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. The Apostle John describes agape love in I John 4:7-11.
“The World.” What does the word “world” mean in John 3:16? The word “world” comes from the Greek word κόσμος; kosmos and it has three predominant meanings. It may refer to the universe and the specific planet known as Earth, or the people and population of the Earth, or finally to the anti-God world system of thought and behavior by the Earth’s inhabitants which expresses itself in thoughtful and behavioral rebellion against God. While it be accurate to say that John 3:16 may have all three meanings in mind, the most accurate would be the third meaning: the fallen, sinful anti-God system of though and behavior expressing itself in utter moral rebellion against God.
Dr. John MacArthur explains, “The Son’s mission is bound up in the supreme love of God for the evil, sinful “world” of humanity (cf. 6:32, 51; 12:47; see also John 1:9; Matthew 5:44–45) that is in rebellion against him. The word “so” emphasizes the intensity or greatness of his love. The Father gave his unique and beloved Son to die on behalf of sinful men (see note on 2 Cor. 5:21).”
A solid case can be made for believing that “world” refers to the quality of God’s love. Dr. B.B. Warfield explains: “[World] is not here a term of extension so much as a term of intensity. Its primary connotation is ethical, and the point of its employment is not to suggest that the world is so big that it takes a great deal of love to embrace it all, but that the world is so bad that it takes a great kind of love to love it at all, and much more to love it as God has loved it when he gave his Son for it.”
Dr. John W. Tweeddale writes, “The world represents sinful humanity and is not worthy of God’s saving love. Apart from the love of God, the world stands under God’s condemnation. But in Christ, believers experience God’s surprising, redeeming, and never-ending love. John 3:16 is not about the greatness of the world but about the greatness of God.”
Dr. R.C. Sproul concludes, “Our culture tends to think that it is a given that God loves the world. However, we know that nothing compels God to love creation. In fact, it would be right for the Lord to have nothing but hatred for the world given the reality of sin. The love of God is not a given, so we should be grateful for it and be careful never to speak of His love as something that we are owed or that He must show.”
Take time today to thank God for loving you.
Soli deo Gloria!