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Whom Does God Love? PDF Print E-mail

Many Christians believe that God loves each man woman and child in the world. The beautiful verse of John 3:16 is often quoted to prove that this is so. The verse says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Let us, who love the Lord and the truths of His Word, and who would be faithful to Him and His Word, examine whether this verse is teaching that God loves all men. We believe that it does not, and that God's wonderful love and grace in the Lord Jesus Christ are for His elect children.

Obviously, the word world is appealed to as the proof that God loves all men. Is not the world all mankind? The verse is thus understood to be really saying, “For God so loved all men, that He gave His only begotten Son...” We ask however, does the term world actually mean all men? We need to note something very important. It is this: the Bible does not use the term world to mean all men. It is not used in that sense. Let us look at some verses of Scripture to show the truth of what we mean, and that its use here does not mean all men.

In the High Priestly prayer of Christ Jesus in John 17:8-9 we read the Lord Jesus saying, “For I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from Thee, and they have believed that Thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given me; for they are thine.” Evidently the term “world” here is not the same as in John 3:16. This is evident from the Lord Jesus not praying for this world. The world He loves of John 3:16, (and by implication prays for here), is obviously different from the world for which He does not pray. Obviously world here cannot mean all men. The Lord Jesus makes it very clear that there is a distinction between His disciples, who believed that the Father had sent Him, who had been given unto the Saviour, and who are the Father's, on the one hand, and the world of men who are not given unto the Saviour on the other hand.

We may also look at 1 John 2:15-17, where we read: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. and the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” We note again that the term world here obviously cannot mean all men. A distinction is drawn between those who have the love of the Father in them and the worldly who do not. The same is true of 1 John 5:19, “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” The term world here is obviously not the world of John 3:16 that God loves and for which He sent His Son to die.

That the word world does not mean all men without exception we also see when we turn to such passages as John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

If world here means all men, then it means all men are no longer sinners, and so are all saved. This is, of course, not true. It means the world of His people. John 6:33 “For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” Again, if world here means all men, then it means that Christ gives life to all men - that all men without exception are saved. Again, this is not true.

From the above passages it is obvious that the Bible uses the term world in different senses, yet it never uses it to mean all men.

We also must not forget that the Lord in His Word not only speaks of His love but also of His holy and just hatred. Now if it is true that God loves all men, head for head, then it must also be true that He hates no man. This is not so however, for we read for example in Psalm 5:4-5 and Psalm 11:5, the following: “For Thou are not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with Thee. The foolish shall not stand in Thy sight: Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” & “The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence His soul hateth.” In Romans 9:10-13, we read “And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth; it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”

From these passages about the Lord's just and holy hatred as well as the earlier ones about His love, we can see that it is incorrect to understand “world” in John 3:16 to mean “all men”. God as clearly said that there are some men for whom He has a holy and righteous hatred. There are some men who are the object of the Lord's love and some that are the object of His divine hatred.

We thus conclude that God does not love all men. He loves His Church - those for whom He died and who come in time, by His grace, to believe on Him. (See John 10:11 & Ephesians 5:25)

John 3:16 speaks not just of love, but of divine love; God's love. The Lord's love is not merely a type of limited human love. It is the saving love of the almighty God, the sovereign unchangeable God. We thus ask, if this almighty God places His inseparable love ( Romans 8:35-39) upon any, is it possible they could be lost? This cannot be, for Christ plainly tells us in John 6:39, 10:27-28 & 17:12, “ And this is the Father's will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”; “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.,” & “... those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost ...”. We really have to choose between God loving all men, and then accept that this love is powerless to search out and save, or that His love is so almighty as well as particular for His people, that He loves only them and truly and effectively saves only them. We, in the light of Scripture choose the latter.

What does John 3:16 mean then? When it says, “God so loved the world”, the word “world” must mean the created universe. (Greek: kosmos, referring to “orderly, harmonious, systematic universe”). Many individual men may be lost; but mankind as represented in His elect, is saved. John calls this new human race the world to show, and emphasise, that it is not from the Jewish people alone, but from all nations and peoples of the world God calls His people. The people who make up the world of John 3:16 are all those, and those only, who will become believers.

God does not merely save a number of individual men, He saves a race - the whole world! With the salvation of God's elect, the whole creation is saved, as we can read in Romans 8:19-23. This explains why, though some men are lost, the world is nevertheless saved. Not those who are lost, but those who are saved constitute, together with the rest of creation, the world of God's love.

Arthur Pink, the well-known Bible commentator, puts the matter thus:

“Turning now to John 3:16, it should be evident from the passages just quoted that this verse will not bear the construction usually put upon it. ‘God so loved the world.’ many suppose that this means, the entire human race. But ‘the entire human race’ includes all mankind from Adam till the close of earth's history: it reaches backward as well as forward! Consider, the, the history of mankind before Christ was born. Unnumbered millions lived and died before the Saviour came to the earth, lived here ‘having no hope and without God in the world,’ and therefore passed out into an eternity of woe. If God ‘loved’ them, where is the slightest proof thereof? Scripture declares ‘Who (God) in times past (from the tower of Babel till after Pentecost) suffered all nations to walk in their own ways’ ( Acts 14:16). Scripture declares that ‘And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.’ ( Rom. 1:28). To Israel God said, ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth.’ ( Amos 3:2) In view of these plain passages who will be so foolish as to insist that God in the past loved all mankind! The same applies with equal force to the future ... But the objector comes back to John 3:16 and says, ‘World means world.’ True, but we have shown that ‘the world’ does not mean the whole human family. The fact is that ‘the world’ is used in a general way ... Now the first thing to note about John 3:16 is that our Lord was there speaking to Nicodemus, a man who believed that God's mercies were confined to his own nation. Christ there announced that God's love in giving His Son had a larger object in view, that it flowed beyond the boundary of Palestine, reaching out to ‘regions beyond’. In other words, this was Christ's announcement that God had a purpose of grace toward Gentiles as well as Jews. ‘God so loved the world,’ then, signifies, God's love is international in its scope. But does this mean that God loves every individual among the Gentiles? Not necessarily, for as we have seen the term ‘world’ is general rather than specific, relative rather than absolute ... the ‘world’ in John 3:16 must, in the final analysis refer to the world of God's people. Must we say, for there is no other alternative solution. It cannot mean the whole human race, for one half of the race was already in hell when Christ came to earth. It is unfair to insist that it means every human being now living, for every other passage in the New Testament where God's love is mentioned it to His own people -search and see! The objects of God's love in John 3:16 are precisely the same as the objects of Christ's love in John 13:1; ‘Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His time was come, that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.’ We may admit that our interpretation of John 3:16 is no novel one invented by us, but one almost uniformly given by the Reformers and Puritans, and many others since them.” (The Sovereignty of God).


Rev. Chris Coleborn

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