- Tabitha Caplinger
For God So Loved
Most of us who grew up in church can recite John 3:16. But what about the verses after…
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
John 3:16-18 ESV
For God so loved the world…not blamed or despised... but LOVED. Take a minute and let that sink in.
God was motivated by love. He saw our brokenness, and sin which separates us from Himself, and He responded to it with love. To really think about that is staggering.
How often is that our response to the sin of broken humanity and humans?
It’s easier to condemn. We’ve told ourselves our condemnation is righteous and justified. We think that we somehow earned our salvation so everyone else has to earn theirs. We fear slippery slopes and are uncomfortable when confronted with our own sin, so we hyper-focus on everyone else's sin. So we condemn.
But if God didn’t come to condemn…If that wasn’t His priority, why do we make it ours?
As His followers, shouldn’t we be motivated by love if He was?
We can say yes, but living the yes is hard. Why? Because we struggle to accept God's love. We forget that He is motivated by love toward us...and everyone else...or we don't trust His love is enough for us because we know how imperfect we are, so how could it possibly be enough for anyone else? We view God as mad or disappointed in us and so we offer that same view to others. (This is why theology matters, y'all. What we believe about God and His nature and His values impacts how we present Him to others.)
But God is love. Real love isn't just something he feels or does...it is central to who He is.
“Love is patient and kind;
love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing,
but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV
Love never fails.
We treat it like it does. We treat love like it isn’t enough. Like it’s weak. But agape love is anything but weak.
That’s the problem. We confuse God’s unconditional and sacrificial love with lesser human versions. His love isn’t mere emotion or etiquette. His love is deep and wide. His love meets us right where we are…in our mess and mire…and yet refuses to leave us there.
His love finds us and gently speaks truth to us…real Truth…Truth that sets us free from even the prisons we didn’t recognize. (Notice the capital T. Because the first truth we have to speak is the person of Jesus and His saving work on the cross.)
The world doesn’t need condemnation shouted with fear and disdain. It needs love entangled with truth and spoken with kindness and a humility that recognizes its own brokenness and need too. It needs hearts that view the world through the eyes of a Savior whose goal is drawing us all back to Himself.
Without Jesus, we are already condemned. The message of the Gospel doesn’t double down on that fact but rather reaches down and lifts souls up.
In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning writes, "To evangelize a person is to say to him or her, You, too, are loved by God in the Lord Jesus. And not only to say it but to really think it and relate it to the man or woman so they can sense it. This is what it means to announce the Good News."
Yes, we must understand our need for God in order to accept Him as Savior and Lord. But helping others see their need for Jesus, I think, begins by remembering we need Him too. We need Him just as much ten years after we are saved as we did the day before we met Him. We remember it was His kindness that led us to repentance and so we offer kindness to lead others to Him. We gently point them to our Good Shepherd without fear of the wolves. How? By remembering He does the saving, we don't. We are ambassadors, not debaters. We keep in the forefront of our minds that His perfect love was and is enough to conquer our sin, and it is enough to conquer the sin of the whole world.
As the song says, “what the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Love already came. And died. And rose again. Love lives in His followers and should pour out of us.
Yes, the world is dark.
Yes, the world needs truth.
But it needs the Truth of the gospel wrapped up in love. Because that is God; absolute truth entangled in absolute love.