In 1965 Jackie DeShannon first recorded a popular song titled, “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” That sentiment and need is still true more than fifty years later. We don’t have to look far to see that love is in great demand but short supply. Families are struggling, churches are dividing, and our governing officials seem always to be at odds. People have taken to the streets with angry protests. The threat of “wars and rumors of wars” seems more relevant today than ever as reports of unspeakable war crimes are broadcast on television frequently.
In light of increasing local and global hostility and conflict, the simple yet elegant phrase from John’s Gospel—“For God so loved the world”—seems incomprehensible. We find it challenging to love those who do not return our love; but God’s love embraces a world in rebellion against its Creator.
The little word “so” in John 3:16 is often overlooked, but it is critical to our understanding of the radical nature of God’s love. “So” in most English translations is an attempt to translate a Greek word that denotes “manner” or “degree.” We could translate it as “in this way” or “to such a degree.” Here is an attempted paraphrase: “God loved the world to such an amazing and unthinkable degree that He sacrificed His only begotten Son!” To our human way of thinking, it is unimaginable that God would give His beloved and only Son for a world that is in continuous rebellion against Him.
The Greek word used for love in John 3:16 is agape. “Agape, as Godlike love, stands in total contrast to all other ideas of love in a fallen world. While they are manipulative, because largely self-centered and working for self-interest, self-gratification and self-protection, agape is completely unselfish. It is based neither on felt need in the loving person nor on a desire called forth by some attractive feature(s) in the one loved; it is not afraid to make itself vulnerable, and it does not seek to get its own way by covert ruses and psychological ‘games’. It rather proceeds from a heart of love and is directed to the other person to bless him or her and to seek that person’s highest good (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4-7).
Its source is God, and its pattern and inspiration are Jesus Christ (1 John 4:7-9).”1
Love is the motive behind God’s redemptive work. Love is expressed in His mercy and forgiveness. Out of God’s love flows His grace. For that reason, it is important that we attempt to understand a love that is unlimited in every dimension.
— Ken Hemphill, Unlimited
Good Questions Have Groups Talking are available that go along with Ken Hemphill’s book, Unlimited. They are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service.