“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.”
John 3:16 CEB
It’s probably the most quoted Bible verse in the world. I’m sure you’ve seen it on bumper stickers, signs at sports games, yelled by an angry street preacher at a busy intersection, and maybe seen the reference on someone’s tattoo. I bet as many people who know the US pledge of allegiance could also recite this verse by heart. This scripture is a key text on which so much theology and practice hinges. It’s important.
So in my few years of ministry, I’ve avoided preaching and blogging about this one verse. I mean, what’s the point of talking about something that everyone already knows about? It seems like a really straight forward sentence: God loves the world and gives us Jesus; believing in Jesus keeps you from eternal torment. Whether you agree with the implications is a matter of faith. But you don’t need to hear me talk about the Greek word for love to have an accurate understanding of this verse. (Its ‘agape’ by the way) This verse is pretty straightforward.
So I was surprised when I got a refresher course on this verse some years ago.
In my late twenties, I owned a Blue Suzuki Verona. It was a horrible car, but I dealt with it. It got me from point A to B. But eventually, the costs of repairs were mounting. A Pastor-mentor of mine, Scott Crawford, advised me that I should trade it in and get a better car. I appreciated the advice, but with no money for a down payment and money still owed on the Verona, it just seemed out of the question. But Scott wouldn’t let up. Every time we would meet, he’d show me a car he thought I should get, explain to me why Blue Book values mattered, and encourage me to go to certain car lots. It was so annoying. For the better part of a month, all Scott wanted to talk about was cars.
One day, I walked into his office and he was like: ‘I found the perfect car for you.’ I was so over the convo that I was just gonna let him talk and then change the subject. To my shock, he was suggesting I buy a brand new car. This guy had lost it. I became angry and was about to walk out of the office. He told me to sit down and listen for a few more minutes. He then passed me an envelope. It had $2000 in it. Scott said: “this is for your down payment.” He explained that some of the men in the church knew about my car issues and after collectively praying for me, decided to pool some funds to help me out. They wanted me to know that I was not alone in my struggle.
I was stunned y’all! In the silence of my shock, Scott told me, “we love you Derrick”. Now I knew these people loved me – they were my church family. But I was touching that love with my hands. For Scott and a few other men in my church, it wasn’t enough to see my need and say, “we love you.” Their love me for me, moved them to give me something. I’m sure you’re already drawing the connections to John 3:16, but I need to take it one more step further.
The money was huge, but even more significant to me was Scott. The new car I bought, the down payment I was given, and the entire journey was all because Scott decided to get involved. He even tolerated my frustration & resistance to his help. Scott loved me as a friend & brother in the faith. And to show that love, he got involved and invested in my struggle. While I’m grateful for the advice he gave and the money he raised, I am overwhelmed by the kind of person he is. Scott Crawford was a picture of holy love to me.
In John 3:16, we are told that God loves the world. That love involves God in the world and is evidenced by the gifts God gives to us. But in sending Jesus, God does more than give us great advice or provision; God gives us the gift of God. Because Jesus and the Father are one, God essentially gives us himself [or God’s self]. In Jesus, God is both involved and deeply invested in the world. This is the power of that all too known verse.
I invite you to consider that God’s gift to us is that God will not sit on the sidelines of our lives. God is with us, loves us with a holy love, and is closer than our next breath. This is worth celebrating, and repeating, and if you’re willing, believing too.