John 3:16, one of the most-neglected parts of the Bible (although just last weekend I heard an excellent sermon on it). At least, the first part of it is. This part of the verse is so often skipped over en route to the ‘gospel in miniature’ (Luther) in the second part.
For God so loved the world…
God loved the world, the kosmos. God didn’t merely love the people of the world, as if kosmos here just means all people, whoever they are. God loved the kosmos. In John’s Gospel, the term kosmos is used with a degree of ambiguity (sometimes the weight of the term is on the world of human beings, sometimes it carries a negative connotation reflecting the fallenness of the world), but here in 3:16 it has to mean ‘world’ in the sense of 1:10: the kosmos was made through him. This is where this Gospel itself begins, with the theology of creation:
In the beginning was the logos…through him all things were made.
It ought not to surprise us that God loved, and still loves, the kosmos. Sometimes Christians struggle to explain God’s motivation for acting in salvation for a lost world: ‘why would God love such a sinful world? why would God go to such lengths for rebellious, sinful people?’ It must be just down to God’s gracious character… Yes, of course it’s in God’s character to love (‘God is love’ is one of the most profound statements in the Bible), but John’s Gospel points us to a more immediate answer, one rooted in the creation theology of the Old Testament. A proper appreciation of human sinfulness and the fallenness of the world must be balanced by a proper creation theology. The Bible as a whole begins with the same two words (in the Greek) as John’s Gospel…
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Here is the foundational truth, expounded in Psalm 24: ‘The earth belongs to Yahweh’. After the creative activity of God, in Gen 2:1 the whole kosmos is finished. God saw all that he had made, and behold it was very good. The goodness of the kosmos is not extinguished by the Fall. God’s delight in, and love for, the kosmos does not cease at the Fall. God’s love for the kosmos persists, burning just as brightly. God loves the kosmos: its complex matter, its beauty, its long-fashioned geology, its intricate climate; its flora, from giant sequoias to the purple heather; its creatures – birds, mammals, fish, insects; and humans themselves, created to rule – their God-like qualities seen in creativity expressed in the arts and in design, and in their relationships. God loves the world, despite its fallenness. And God’s love for his creation is fundamental to his action in salvation. John’s Gospel begins with these fundamental truths: all things were made through the logos, and God so loved the kosmos which was made through the logos, that the logos himself became flesh, became a human being and came into the kosmos. Not in order to condemn the kosmos, but so that the kosmos might be saved through him.