“The World” (John 3:16 sermon)

“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. Where did we get such an idea that “Jesus loves the little children of the world”? Where did we get such an idea that if we fly halfway across the world to a remote village in Romania, to the outcast gypsy children there, that we can tell them that Jesus loves them? We get it from the verse we are studying today, from John 3:16.

We saw with the opening words of this verse (“For God”) the centrality of God, the one-and-only God of the Bible, and that salvation originated with Him. Then last week we saw how this God “so loved” – that He responded to our 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. We find that elsewhere in scripture as well:

— 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 for “mankind” (“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 (a person who believes that God chooses some to go to heaven, and others to go to hell) admits 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”. He says God “loves” the whole world in the sense that He gives everyone in the world food, and rain, and earthly blessings — but he says that God does not love them all in the sense that he chooses them all for salvation; that He only loves a few; “the elect”, in that way. Now there are Calvinists whom I love as much as I love anyone in the world, and I do not think that we need to embroil ourselves in endless controversies over Calvinism and divide churches over it. We can agree to disagree on that and still fellowship together. But I must say that I strongly disagree with Calvinists on this point, and I do it on the basis of what we find here in God’s word in John 3:16 and other scriptures, which teach us that God loved the WHOLE world that He sent Jesus for them!

Now I know that Calvinists say that all of us deserve to go to hell because of our sins, and I agree with that. They say that God did not have to choose any of us, and that is true, He didn’t have to. But the thing is: the Bible tells us here in John 3:16 and elsewhere that God LOVES the WHOLE world. I cannot imagine a God who loved the whole world, only choosing some, and not others, to be saved. That’s not loving them all. If there are two people sitting right by each other in a room, and both hear the gospel, and the only difference between 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!  He “loved” them enough to give them temporary blessings like food and water and things like that here on earth, and then chooses to send them to hell? What kind of “love” is that? I hope God doesn’t have that kind of love for ME!! Purposefully choosing to send the biggest part of the world to hell is not “loving” the world!

In his book, Chosen But Free, Norm Geissler gives this example: 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 past 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; those boys broke my rule and all of them deserve to die. But because of my amazing love and mercy, I will choose to rescue ONE of those boys, just to show what a good person I am, but I will let the other two die. No one can say they didn’t deserve it anyway, right?”  Does anyone think that the headlines the next day would read: “Farmer Shows Great Love, Rescues One Boy”? Would anyone say “that man is love”? No way! And yet that is exactly the picture the Calvinist would give us of God; who saw that all men deserved to go to hell, but only chose to rescue the “elect”!

I appreciate many aspects and emphases of Calvinism: they often have a great commitment to theology, and a God-centered focus that a lot of churches need to get back to. The Puritans were Calvinists, and have some of the greatest insights into the word of God and how we should practice Christianity here on earth. I do not hate Calvinists, and I believe there is much we can learn from them. But I cannot accept this Calvinistic view of the love of God. It does not do 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! And it’s not only here in John 3:16, but all through the word of God:
— 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.”
— I John 2:2 says: “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for our sins only, but also for those of the WHOLE WORLD.”
The scriptures make it clear: God loves the WHOLE WORLD, and everyone in it, and wants them all to be in heaven with Him. Those who are saved and lost are saved and lost on the basis of their own personal choice, and not by any lack of love that God had for them.

And listen: this is not just a matter of abstract theology. This is true of YOUR OWN LIFE as well. Every one of you who hears my voice today will either be saved or lost on the basis of your own personal choice that you make.  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 turn away from Him in sin, and you separated yourself from fellowship with God.  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 be with Him; He did all this for you. But whether you will have it or not will depend entirely on YOUR OWN choice. If you are lost in hell forever, you will only be able to blame yourself. You can’t blame God. He loves “the world” – and He loves YOU! And you must make your own personal choice to receive what He did for you.

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 in the world that they cannot look in the eye and say with a clear conscience to 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” can also be 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 beings 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. And He commands us to do the same.

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 the next morning 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! After the police had left, 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!”  And “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 possessions he had to 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 and sent Jesus for 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 that way. But think of yourself committing your worst sin, whatever that has been – you know what it is, and God knows it. You need to understand that it is while you were in THAT sin – 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, every one of us 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 now!  You will never measure up to that! But 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 like you are in your sin; He knows how much 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 can refer to all of 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. This means 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 programs at Pleasant Ridge. This is why we give a percentage of every dollar given in offering to this church to the Southern Baptist Cooperative program, which supports almost 4000 missionaries in 120 countries around the world. This is why we have gone on mission this year on two trips to Romania, and to the Dominican Republic, and why we give and go to support the Ebenezer mission in India.Why do we do all 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 the God who “so loved the world” and who will have those of every single ethnicity in the world worshipping before His throne.

The Apostle Peter began with a prejudice against the Gentiles that was a part of his Jewish upbringing. The Jews 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 what I call the “Gentile Pentecost”. The reason the Holy Spirit was poured out again on the Gentiles like He was on the Day of Pentecost, was to demonstrate that the Gentiles had indeed received the same Holy Spirit that the Jews had received on that day. The love that God had, He had for “the world” – Jews & Gentiles alike. And He wants us to love them all alike too.

When W.A. Criswell, the long-time pastor of FBC Dallas, was a in college, he pastored a small rural church in Texas. One day of his deacons told him he had found a book, but 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 suggested that he give the Bible to the farmer. 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 began speaking to them. The deacon translated. He said: “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 they 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.” And that is the attitude that we are to have as well. To God there are no racial divisions. “There is no Greek or Jew, barbarian or Scythian” Colossians says. ALL men are made in the image of God; ALL men 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.

We need to think through what this really means. It challenges us:
— it means that God loves the Hispanic immigrants you see in the grocery store
— it means that God loves even the Islamic terrorists who’re trying to kill us
— it means that God loves the “Black Lives Matter” activists who are protesting in Charlotte.
Does that mean that we have to believe they are right, or that we have to agree with them politically? Not at all. But it means that we should respond to them the way that God responded to US in OUR sin: with love. God “so loved THE WORLD” — and every kind of person in it, that He gave Jesus to save them. And He commands us — He COMMANDS us — to love them too.

Let me tell you something: if you’ve come to Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church 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; where people whisper off-color jokes about people of other ethnicities in the corners of our hallways, you have come to the wrong place!  We believe here what this word says: that “God so loved the WORLD” – and that means every color and every nation and every tribes and every language. “Jesus loves ALL the little children of the world” – and we must love them too!


“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 thank God that is so — because that means that also He loves YOU, and died for YOU!

After the 3-day battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863, they found a Union soldier, laying dead, near an intersection in the town.  But there was something unique about him. They found that this man had something clenched in his hand when he had died. They pried the object from his hand, and found that it was 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, while his life-blood drained away, looking at the picture of those whom he so loved, and for whom he gave his life.

Almost 1900 years before that Battle of Gettysburg, Jesus Christ died on a cross in Jerusalem, His own life blood slowly drained way for the sins of the world. When He died, Jesus had no “ambrotype”; He had no picture clenched in His hand. But if He had, it would have had YOUR face on it. We have said for the last several weeks that you can put YOUR name in the place of “the world” in this great verse. “For God so loved the world …” — yes. But if He loved “the world”, that also means that God so loved YOU!
— He loves YOU no matter who you are!
— He loves YOU regardless of your sin!
— He loves YOU regardless of your race or background!
“For God so loved — YOU!” The Apostle Paul said of the Lord Jesus in Galatians 2:20, “(He) loved ME, and gave Himself for ME”!  And I hope you know today that you can say the same thing too. “For God so loved the world …”. And that means that He loves YOU, and gave Himself to save YOU!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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