“The World” (John 3:16 series)

     “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world; red and yellow, black and white; they are precious in His sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world.”  Many of us have known that song since childhood.  Our children still sing that song to this day.  Where did we get such an idea that “Jesus loves the little children of the world”?  We get it from the verse we are currently studying, John 3:16.

     We have seen with the opening words of this verse (“For God”) the centrality of God, and that salvation originated with God (“For God”).  Then we saw how this God “so loved” – emphasizing that God responded to us with love instead of judgment, and with an intensity of love that is beyond our understanding.  Today, as we come to the third pair of words in this great verse, we see that this love which God has is for “the world.”  “For God so loved THE WORLD …”.  Let’s look together at what that means:

 I.  The Whole World

     The Greek Bible word we translate “world” here is the word “kosmos”.  That word has several shades of meaning: the sinful world system that opposes God, the world in which we live, and one of the most common, all the people who live in the world.  A.T. Robertson, the legendary Southern Baptist Greek scholar, tells us this word here means “the whole human race.”  When it says that God “so loved the world”, that means that He loves everyone – everyone who lives in the world. 

— Titus 3:4, speaking of what God did for us in Jesus, says “When the kindness of God and His love for MANKIND appeared …”.  The Greek word “anthropos” here means the entire race, men and women; the whole species of mankind.

— I John 2:2, speaking of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, says: “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world”.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” to die for the sins of the whole world.  The scriptures make this very clear: God loves the whole world, and everyone in it.  Even D.A. Carson, who is a Calvinist, says that it is hard to interpret John 3:16 as saying anything less than that God loved the whole world, and everyone in it!

     Now, this same Calvinist (Carson) asserts that God does love the whole world in a sense – that He gives everyone food and rain and earthly blessings — but that He does not love them all in the sense that he chooses them all for salvation.  Now I love some Calvinists as much as I love anyone in the world, and I do not think that Calvinists and those who disagree with their doctrine of election have to break fellowship over the issue.  I also think that there are many very good aspects of Calvinism, with its emphasis on God-centeredness and the sovereignty of God.  But I must disagree with this point, and I do it on the basis of what we find here in John 3:16, that God loved the whole world. 

     I know that those who espouse Calvinism say that all of us deserve to go to hell because of our sins, and I agree.  They say that God did not have to choose any of us, and that is true, He did not.  Buf there are two people sitting right by each other, and both hear the gospel, and the only difference in one of them going to heaven and one of them going to hell is that God chose one to be saved, and the other to be lost, I cannot fathom how in any real sense God “loves” the second person whom He did not choose!  What kind of love is that?

     I love the analogy that Norm Geissler used in his book, Chosen But Free.  He says, suppose there was a farmer who had a pond, and he clearly put up a sign forbidding anyone from swimming in his pond.  But one day he goes out, and sees that three boys have walked right by his sign, broken his command, and gone swimming in the pond – and now all three are drowning in the pond.  If that farmer said, “I tell you what; even though they broke my rule, out of my amazing love and mercy, I will rescue ONE of those boys, just to show what a good person I am, but I will let the other two die.”  Do any of you think that the headlines the next day would read: “Farmer Shows Great Love, Rescues One Boy”?  I don’t think so!  Yet that is exactly the picture the Calvinist renders of God; who saw that all men deserved to go to hell, but chose to rescue only the “elect”! 

     I cannot accept that view of God.  I do not believe that it does justice to the depth and the breadth of His love.  The God of the Bible “so loved the WORLD”!  He has not only loved, and desired salvation for a limited few, but for all.  I Timothy 2:4 says God “desires all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  II Peter 3:9 says He does “not desire for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.” The scriptures make it clear: God loves the WORLD, and everyone in it.  Those who are saved and lost are saved and lost by their own choice, and not by His. 

     And this is true of YOU as well.  You who are hearing my voice today are either going to be saved or lost on the basis of your own personal choice.  God loves you.  He made you to know Him and to have fellowship with Him, starting now, and lasting for all eternity in heaven.  But you chose to sin, and separated yourself from fellowship with God by your sin.  But “God so loved the world (including you!) that He gave His only begotten Son (Jesus)” who died on the cross, and paid for your sins, so that if you would repent of your sins, and trust Jesus as your Savior, you might be forgiven, and have eternal life.  God loves you – He wants you to have this; He did this for you.  But it will rest on your choice.  If you are lost in hell forever, you will not have God to blame; you will only be able to blame yourself.  You can’t blame God.  He loves “the world” – and He loves YOU!

     I have read that Paige Patterson, the President of our Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, tells our graduates there that there is not a single person anywhere they can go on mission in the world that they cannot look in the eye and with a clear conscience tell them: “God loves you, and Jesus Christ died for you!”  That is exactly what this great verse is telling us: “For God so loved the world”!  That means the whole world – and it means YOU! 

 II.  The Sinful World

     This Greek word “kosmos” is also used in another sense, that of “the world” as a system opposed to God.  It is used that way in I John 2:15, where it says: “Do not love the world, nor the things of the world …”.  It is speaking specifically there of “the world” as the sum total of sinful being that are in opposition to God.  But the Bible says here that “God so loved the world” – that is, God loved us even when we were in sin, a part of that sinful “world.” 

     D.A Carson rightly wrote that “God’s love is to be admired not because the world is big and includes so many people, but because the world is so BAD” (emphasis mine).  God so loved “the world” — that whole group of sinners who rebelled against Him and hated Him. 

     This is the love He commands us in the Sermon on the Mount to imitate: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  The Bible says that God loves even the evil, and gives them blessings.  And the blessings of the sun and the rain were not the only expressions of His love for the wicked; He “so loved the world (of such evil men) that He gave His only begotten Son” for them.  He loved the sinful world that hated Him. 

     Romans 5:6-8 speaks about the love that God had for us while were still in our sins. It says: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” 

     In Victor Hugo’s epic novel “Les Miserables” he tells the story of Jean Valjean, who was a prisoner in France in the early 1800’s.  Valjean served his time in prison and was released, but could not find a job because he had been a felon.  He finally found a place to stay, with a priest, who took him into his home and gave him food and a bed for the night, but Valjean rose early and stole some of the priest’s silver and ran away.  The authorities captured Valjean and brought him back to the priest.  They told him that Valjean said the priest had given him the silver.  Valjean waited for the priest to send him to prison, but was shocked when the priest told the police that he had indeed given those things to Valjean – and in fact reprimanded him for not taking the candlesticks as well!  The man of God then took Valjean aside and told him, “Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man…. Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”  “Les Miserables” tells the story of how Valjean’s life was indeed changed from that time forward.

     That priest in that story gave the most valuable things he had in his home for Jean Valjean – NOT because he had been such a good guest, or a faithful worker – but even while he had stolen the silver from his home.  While he was a sinner, he loved him, and gave the best he had to change his life.

     This is what God has done for you.  God did not love you and send Jesus for you because you were so good; He loved you while you were yet a sinner. 

     Think of the greatest sin you have ever committed.  I imagine something probably comes to mind!  We don’t like to think of ourselves that way; we like to think of ourselves as all “cleaned up” and dressed up, and “on our best behavior” when we come to church before God.  And we hope that He will love us and approve of us.  But think of yourself during your worst sin, whatever that has been – you know it, and God knows it.  You need to understand that it is while you were in THAT sin – yes THAT one! – that God “so loved” you, and sent Jesus for you. 

     If you are wondering today, “Can God forgive me?  Can God love me?”, the answer to your question is “Yes!”  He so loved “the world” – even the world in sin, especially the world in sin; He sent Jesus to save those of us in sin, who would admit our sins and be willing to turn back to Him and receive Jesus as our Savior.

     It is not that you have to “clean yourself up” to become acceptable to God.  If you are waiting for that, you may as well quit!  You can never measure up to that!  God doesn’t love you because you get cleaned up spiritually!  He loves you “while you were yet a sinner.”  Now, as He comes into your life, He is going to change you.  Like we talked about last week, He loves you too much to leave you in your sin; He knows how it is hurting you and those around you.  But He loves you while you were still in “the world” – in your sin.  He so loved “the world” – all of us in our sins – and sent Jesus for us. 

 III.  The Ethnic World

     This word “kosmos” or “world” here also refers to all of the nations and ethnic groups.  “For God so loved THE WORLD” means that He loves every ethnic group of people in our world.  Revelation 7:9 says that in heaven John saw “a great multitude … from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”  God will have all races of people before Him in heaven.  The word “nation” there in Revelation 7:9 is the Greek word “ethnos” – we get our word “ethnic” from it.  There will be some from every ethnic group in heaven.  God loves all of the ethnic groups of the world: “red and yellow, black and white.”  And He gave Jesus to die on the cross, that ALL the races of the world might be saved, and might stand before His throne in worship.  He loves “the world” – all the ethnic groups of the world.

     The Bible says in I John 4:11, “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  If God so loved all the ethnic groups of our world, then we should too. 

     The truth of this verse is the impetus behind our missions program, which in the next several months is going to be sending teams to Nepal and Suriname and India and New York and New Orleans.  Why do we do that?  Because we believe what this verse says: “For God so loved THE WORLD!” 

     But how hypocritical would it be of us, to spend thousands of dollars, and spend weeks of our time, and all the effort, to go all around the world and tell the ethnic groups there of God’s great love for them – and then fail to love those of other ethnicities right here where we are?  “For God so loved the world” means that we are to love every ethnic group just like He does.  Our official Southern Baptist statement of faith, “The Baptist Faith & Message”, asserts: “Every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.”    This should especially be true in the church body.  Colossians 3:10-11 says: “(you) have put on the new self … in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free man, but Christ is all and in all.”  That means that there is no room for racial prejudice in the church of God who “so loved the world” and who will have those of every ethnicity before His throne. 

     The Apostle Peter began with a prejudice against the Gentiles that was a part of his Jewish upbringing.  They called the Gentiles “Gentile dogs.”  They looked on the Samaritans as ungodly “half breeds.”  God had to show Peter in a vision that his prejudices were wrong, and that he needed to go and share the gospel with those “Gentile dogs”!  In Acts 10:34-35 he said, “I most certainly understand now that God is not One to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”  And then he opened his mouth and shared the gospel with the Gentiles, and they were saved – and God gave the “Gentile Pentecost” – the Holy Spirit was poured out like He was on the Day of Pentecost, to demonstrate that the Gentiles had indeed received the same Holy Spirit that the Jews received on that day.  The love that God had, He had for “the world” – some of us have some catching up to do regarding the breadth of our love for the nations. 

     When W.A. Criswell, the long-time pastor of FBC Dallas, was a in college, he pastured a small rural church in Texas.  One day of his deacons told him he had found a book, and he did not know what it was.  Criswell looked at it, and discerned that it was an old Spanish Bible, with worn pages, and notes written in it.  The man said, “What shall I do with it?”  Criswell said, “Don’t you have a Mexican tenant farmer back on your property?”  The man said he did, and Criswell told him to give it to him.  Some months later, the Hispanic man and his family came up to Criswell and his congregation as they stood in front of the church and starting talking.  The deacon explained: “Bro. Criswell, it seems in that old Bible, someone had outlined the plan of salvation in orange ink.  This man and his family prayed the prayer of salvation, and all got saved.  Now they all want to be baptized, and this could be a problem, ‘cause we don’t baptize ‘colored folks’ around here.”  Criswell said, “We do now.  The same word that commanded them to be saved commands them to be baptized, and we are going to do it, regardless of their color.” 

     That is the attitude that Jesus had, who talked with a Samaritan woman (a despised minority) and who ministered to Gentiles, whom the Jews called the “Gentile dogs.”

     To God there are no racial divisions. “There is no Greek or Jew, barbarian or Scythian.”  All men are made in the image of God, and are worthy of Christian love and respect.  “For God so loved the WORLD” – all men of all races – that He sent Jesus to bring salvation for ALL of us. 

     Let me tell you something: if you’ve come to First Baptist Moss Bluff hoping to be a part of a “good ole boy” church that hates black people, or despises Hispanic people, or where racial prejudices are going to be encouraged and tolerated, or where people whisper off-color jokes about other ethnicities in the corners of our facilities, you have come to the wrong place!  We believe what this word says: that “God so loved the WORLD” – and that means all colors and nations and tribes and languages.  “Jesus loves the little children of the world” – and we must too!

 CONCLUSION:

     “For God so loved THE WORLD.”  That means He loves the whole world; every ethnic group in the world, every sinful person in the world – and that means He loves you, and died for YOU!           

     After the 3-day battle of Gettysburg in 1863, they found a Union soldier, laying dead, near an intersection in town.  But there was something unique about him.  He had something clenched in his hand when he had died.  They pried the object from his hand, and found an “ambrotype” – an antique photograph of the soldier’s three young children:  8-year-old Franklin, 6-year-old Alice, and 4-year-old Frederick.  That solider had spent his last living moment, his life-blood draining away, looking at the picture of those whom he so loved, and for whom he gave his life.  

     Almost 2000 years before that, Jesus Christ died on a cross in Jerusalem, His own life blood slowly given for the sins of the world.  As He died, He had “ambrotype”, no picture in His hand.  But if He had, it would have had YOUR face on it.  It has rightly been said, you can apply this verse by putting YOUR name where the words “the world” are found: “For God so loved Shawn …”, etc.  That is not a stretch of the truth.  The Apostle Paul said of the Lord Jesus in Galatians 2:20, “(He) loved ME, and gave Himself for ME”!  You can say the same thing too.  “For God so loved the world …” means that He loves you, and gave Himself to save YOU!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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