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For God So Loved (John 3:16)

By Shawn Thomas

Angleton, Texasshawn thomas Blue Ridge Christian News


Some time ago I read an article on what the author considered to be the greatest love stories of all time in history and literature. Many familiar stories were listed: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet of course; Lancelot and Guinevere from King Arthur; Pride & Prejudice’s Darcy & Elizabeth — all stories relating great emotion and sacrifice. But I noticed one thing about them: none of these stories were real! They were all works of fiction! But the greatest love story of all time is not found in a novel. The greatest love story of all is true and is found in the Bible, which describes the love which God has for us. In what is widely considered to be the greatest verse in the Bible, John 3:16 begins, For God SO LOVED.”

The words “so loved” here are important because they tell us how God responded to us. From the very beginning God created us to know Him and love Him, but from the Garden of Eden on, all humanity sinned and turned away from Him in disobedience. None of us are an exception to that: Romans 3:23 says, For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That’s how we treated God. So how did God respond to that?

He could have, theoretically, responded in several different ways. He could have immediately wiped us all out with a lightning bolt from the sky. He could have responded to us with contempt spite or anger. But instead, the Bible says He responded with love: For God SO LOVED.” 

God’s attitude towards us, even in our sins, is LOVE. Jesus didn’t come to the world in anger; He came in love. The very next verse, John 3:17, says: For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”  God responded to us — even in our sins — with love.

We shouldn’t be surprised at this. I John 4:8 says God IS love.”  Everything God does, He does with love. So we should not be surprised that He would respond to the world with amazing, undeserved love.

One of my very favorite books is Bruce Catton’s Civil War trilogy. In it, he tells the very unusual story of General Dan Sickles, whose wife had been unfaithful to him. Sickles shot and killed the man who had been involved with his wife, but he was acquitted in what is believed to be the first case in which a person pleaded “temporary insanity.”  Sickles was for a brief time a pretty popular “hero” after that. But then Sickles did the unthinkable. When all the fallout from the trial had settled, he forgave his wife and took her back into his home. And THAT scandalized society. They could not accept the forgiveness and love he had for his wife. Sickles became an outcast. He was a member of Congress at that time, but Mary Chestnut, the South Carolina diarist, sat in on a session of Congress and wrote in her diary that as she watched the proceedings, not one person would come near Congressman Sickles.  She said they treated him “as if he had the smallpox.”  All because Sickles did not respond with bitterness and hatred towards his wife, but with forgiveness and love instead. He scandalized the world with his response to love.

But this is actually how God responded to us, isn’t it? In fact, God puts it in those same terms of marital unfaithfulness in Jeremiah 3:20, “But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me … declares the LORD.”  God made us for Himself. We exist to love and be loved by Him. But we have been unfaithful to Him. Romans 1 describes how we exchanged Him for other gods; and loved other things in His place. We have been unfaithful to God. But instead of responding to us with anger, judgment, or condemnation, God actually loved the world and came here Himself to die for us, so that we might be forgiven, and return to Him. His was a shocking response of love!

In C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape tells his “apprentice” demon Wormwood, “One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men … is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really DOES …”!  That demon had it right. God really does love us. Despite all we’ve done: “For God SO LOVED”!

And you can make that personal. Do you wonder today, because of your sin, if God could ever love you, or want you back? The answer is YES!  Once and for all, on the cross, God “tied a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree.” Through the cross of Jesus, God powerfully proclaimed, “I love you, and I want you back!” If you will admit your sin, and turn back to Him, He will receive you, and apply Christ’s sacrifice as the payment for your sin. He responded to us, even in our sins, with love.

There’s another application for us here too: if God responded to US with an attitude of love, then WE should respond to OTHERS with that same kind of love! When we have people in our lives who sin, against God, or even against us, we should respond to them the same way that God responded to us: with LOVE! That does NOT mean we don’t care if they sin, or that we accept or celebrate their sin. God is a holy God, and what His word calls sin IS sin; nothing can change that. We should care about others’ sin because it is harmful to them and others, and to their relationship with God. But our basic attitude towards others who sin should be one of compassion, just like God demonstrated towards us. We should love others enough to want to help them OUT of their sin. We should fervently pray for them, minister to them, and witness to them. But most importantly, everything we do towards them should come from a heartfelt motivation of LOVE for them — just like the love that God had for us:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”


Shawn Thomas has been a Southern Baptist pastor for almost 35 years, he currently serves as Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Angleton, Texas. You can read more from Pastor Thomas Here.

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