This Week's Focus Passage

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.’

Focus Passage: John 3:16

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.’

John 3:16 is, without doubt, one of the most well-known, if not the most well-known, verses from the Word of God. Its colossal familiarity is unquestionably due to the fact that its ambiguity has been embraced by decades, perhaps centuries, of persons coming under its influence. We do not wish to, in any way at all, deny the obvious grandeur of this glorious statement of truth from the Holy Scriptures. It is indeed a wonder that the Creator of the Universe should set His love upon anyone at all, much less that He should set His love upon the whole world. This is truly what is contained in the statement, ‘God so loved the [whole] world.’ We take no issue with the expansive latitude of the expression. We do, however, take issue with the popular understanding that this, without qualification, intends every single person in the world. It is the Reformed view, and ours as well, that it is intended here that God has so loved persons from every land and nation of the entire world.

One commentator wrote of this verse, that in reference to ‘the scope of God’s love—“God so loved the world.” It was not limited to the narrow bounds of Palestine, but it flowed out to sinners of the Gentiles, too.” Another has said, in his commentary on ‘The Gospel According to John;’

All believers have been chosen out of the world (15:19); they are not something other than ‘world’ when the gospel first comes to them. They would not have become true disciples apart from the love of God for the world. Even after the circle of believers is formed and the resurrection has taken place, these Christians are mandated to continue their witness, aided by the Spirit, in hopes of winning others from the world.

Yet a third representative writer adds his particular view of the use of ‘world;’

Its limitation here to the human race, which, according to Gen. 1, forms the center of the creation, is required even from the nature of the case. The limitation to the mundus electorum in the decisions of the Synod of Dort, and in the Swiss Formula Consensus, is opposed not only by the parallel passages where “all men,” and “all” without exception, correspond to the world here, but it is also absolutely irreconcilable to our text.

And a fourth is brought in to demonstrate the vast array of opinion over this matter:

The word thus has many shades of meaning. This diversity must be kept in mind in studying this Gospel, because the boundaries between the classifications are not hard-and-fast. John moves freely from one to another, or even uses the term in ways that may evoke more than one of its possible meanings.

The variety of perspectives exposed by these differing opinions, each seeming to have sound reasoning, remind us of the danger of accepting the first argument that we ever heard or read in our early pilgrimage. We had at one time thought that the case was well made by those holding to the doctrine of grace from the Calvinistic perspective. Their arguments and contentions seemed substantive and satisfactory in demonstrating that ‘world’ does not mean to include all and every.

We have since learned the great importance of the ‘analogy of Scripture;’ that it is never safe, nor wise, to be satisfied with one verse of the Word to support any doctrine. We must compare Scripture with Scripture. We might add that it is also safer and wiser to consult a number of views and compare commentator with commentator; theologian with theologian; preacher with preacher. This mandates that we do not confine our studies to only those whom we expect to agree with our own point of view. We are cheating ourselves, and perhaps cheating the truth, when we so limit our study. We have already decided what the outcome should be, and so consult both Scripture and men only with a desire to support that outcome. Rather than approaching the Word of God with such motives, let us endeavor by the grace of God to approach the Book with the strongest desire to learn and know the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. Only then shall we be true workmen needing not to be ashamed.

So what do we find in the analogy of Scripture? What does the Word of God have to teach us with respect to the verse in question? Does John 3:16 really mean to teach that God gave His only-begotten Son that the entire world might be saved? Does it teach that the Lamb of God laid down His life to satisfy the justice of God for all mankind; for every single individual among the sons of Adam? ‘What saith the Scriptures’ in response to these questions? Is the satisfaction of Christ intended to satisfy the justice of God which is against every sin of every individual? There are only three possibilities open to us as viable answers to these queries. If Christ paid the debt, satisfying the justice of God for all mankind, and His atoning work has been done for all men indiscriminately, then there are but three options available to us. Either;

All men are saved, or,

Christ’s work is not sufficient to save all, or,

Christ’s work is only efficient for the elect.

We must then inquire further; are all men saved? Is the satisfaction of Christ not sufficient? Is the dying love of Christ only for those whom the Father gave to Him? What thinkest thou?

There are, of course, some in the world, even among professing Christians that manage to believe that all men shall ultimately be saved; that a God who is Love itself could never send even one person to Hell. It is extremely difficult to understand how anyone could believe such a thing when the Word of God speaks of Judas going to his place; when we witness the account of Dives in eternal torment, when we see the Son of man speaking such words as, ‘Depart from me, I never knew you.’ If then, Christ died for all, yet all are not saved, we restrict the efficiency of the Son of God, and the value of His blood to save. The option that remains is the true option; ‘Jesus Christ died for sinners, of whom none, not even one, shall be lost.’

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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