[For] God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ¹⁷For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. —John 3:16-17
I once saw a Super Bowl ad comprised of John 3:16. In it, several children quoted the verse from memory, one phrase at a time. For the first phrase, a little girl with long, curly hair said joyfully, “For God so loved the world,” then she paused, looked at the camera, spread out her arms, and said, “He loved it SO MUCH!” before going on to the next phrase. The ad was a creative attempt to share the good news with a huge audience, but it missed the meaning of the little word so. So in verse 16 doesn’t describe how much God loved us, but in what manner.
A few years after I saw that ad, I heard my pastor explain this commonly misunderstood phrase the way John Piper does, “It describes the way God is acting to rescue us from this condition…(of being under His righteous displeasure).” This made all the difference. God so loved means God loved in this way. And the way God loved is infinitely better than an adverb that describes quantity.
We know God loves us a lot–more than we can imagine–by the way He loved us: “He gave his only Son.” There is only one way to measure the degree of someone’s love: by observing what love does. God reveals His love by what He has already done for those who were His enemies: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
In our passage, we learn how God demonstrated His love for all peoples. He sent Jesus to the world, commanding everyone to believe that He is the sinless God-man who died a death He didn’t deserve. He took the punishment that should have been ours and paid the penalty that we owe. In love, He made a way for us to be declared righteous on the basis of His righteousness.
This is a glorious invitation to believe in the Savior and receive the inconceivable gift of eternal life. But it’s also a dire warning: everyone who does not believe in this Son will perish. A day is coming when He will return as judge with a sword in His mouth “to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15).
Meditating on this passage makes my heart rejoice over God’s lavish mercy and grace to all who believe. But also, it reminds me of how urgent it is to tell others who don’t yet believe that God showed His love by sending Jesus to die in their place–it’s so urgent.
Who are you praying for, to believe in Jesus before He returns to condemn whoever does not believe?
Today may be the day of salvation. Pray for those people, asking God to grant them the gift of faith, and grant you the boldness and winsomeness to speak and keep on speaking. He is mighty to save.
Ask God to stir your heart’s affections in response to His lavish love.
Candice Watters is Mom to Harrison, Zoe, Churchill, and Teddy. She is the author ofGet Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen and editor of the Fighter Verses blog. Together she and her husband Steve co-authored Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. The Watterses are passionate about encouraging parents to disciple their children.