I John 4:9 - In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.
"God so loved the world." In our association with the Christian tradition, we have heard these words hundreds of times. Martin Luther referred to these words as "the Gospel in miniature." I know enough about people in general, however, to know that those words may not be quite so plain and self-evident to us as they were to the people who first heard them.
It's hard for many of us to picture a God who actually loves the world. There are so many people in it that it's almost impossible to imagine anyone loving them all. It's almost inconceivable that anyone should love the world in the sad and corrupt state in which we find it.
But, the world we live in is the object of God's love. The world we live in—God holds in His love. He is a part of this world that you and I live in. And yet, apart from this world, He can love it, that is, He can relate to it in a creative way.
Jesus was given to the world. We can think of Him, as I often do, in terms of what He did: how He lived, how He ministered, how He died, how He rose from the dead. So these words say to us that Jesus—no matter what the world may think or say about Him—was first and foremost God's gift to us and to the world.
This is also the last thing these words, "God so loved the world," say—and the most important thing. They tell us that this gift is the ultimate expression of God's love. Yet, a love that is declared, no matter how beautifully or eloquently, but declared only, and never expressed, does not amount to much. In God so loving the world, He did something for the world—something He is still doing: giving us His Son.
By that I mean He is still giving us of Himself in flesh and blood, not something abstract or theoretical, but something real, tangible, something that is happening among us, now. He does this to lift us out of our despair, to save us from the sins we commit, to untangle us from the twisted way we knot up ourselves in the world.
God is doing all of this now, and what He does shows us what He is like. We will never be able to put it into words that are adequate. We will never be able to say everything that it means. However, as God's people we will try, and when we do, chances are good God will give us the words we need. For example, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
THE PRAYER: Heavenly Father, Your love knows no limits, and You gave Your only begotten Son to prove it. Help us tell His story to a world that needs to hear it. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
From The Lutheran Layman, May 1979 issue, "God So Loved the World" by A. Walter Hanf
1. Considering the world as we know it—and who's in it—how is it that God could love it?
2. Do you think there was any other way God could have redeemed us that wouldn't have required the death of His Son?
3. How does your trust in God help keep you from entangling yourself in the world?
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