“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
It seems as though a lot of people struggle with this particular verse. To me, it means exactly what it says. But to others, they’ve twisted it to be some sort of command from God that we need to be hating and shunning those who, well, sin.
Before going any further with the breakdown of this verse, let me remind you that we ALL sin? And all sin is equal in God’s eyes. As humans, we catergorize certain misdemeanours as naughtier or more evil than others, but to God they are all the same. “All wrongdoing is sin…” 1 John 5:17, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23
“Yes dear, dinner was delightful, the best you’ve ever made!” while choking down mushy peas is as much a lie as identity theft. Sure, some lies (sins) are more damaging than others, but please understand they are all still LIES (SINS). Paul groups together various degrees’ of sin, but not placing any above an other, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? DO not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor the drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Notice how Paul says all of these things are unrighteous? He doesn’t say “the worst kinds of unrighteous (insert here whatever you deem to be the worst) will not inherit the kingdom of God, but the not-so-bad-every-day-folk-who-tell-white-lies have a much better chance.”
So, now that we’ve established that sin is sin and we all do it, let’s focus on the word ‘world’. It’s meaning is generally accepted not as the physical rock and dirt that is the world, but rather it’s used to describe ‘unbelievers’. Let’s read the first part of the verse again. “For God so loved the world [unbelievers]…”. Do we agree? God LOVED the unbelievers. The sinners. The unbelieving, naughty, naughty sinners.
And you know what? He still DOES. It’s not his love that is conditional, there is no clause, no fine print. God loves all of us. So much so, that he allowed his Son to die, in order that (now, here are the conditions) if we follow him, we may be saved. His love is unconditional. Salvation, is conditional. We must love him back. And, you know what, even if we don’t love him back, there’s no punishment (as in, no eternal hellfire – rather, just simple death “for the wages of sin is death” Romans 6:23), because he loves us all, THAT MUCH.
Furthermore, he instructs us to love each other the way he loves us (“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34). I would go as far as to say that we are to love each other regardless of what naughty misdeamenours we have alleged that each other has done. After all, Jesus said “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:5. But, I’ll talk about judgement another day. For now, just go on loving.