God so loves the World…

“Hate or Love” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

If you asked people who aren’t Christians to name a Bible verse then there are a few answers you could pretty much expect back,

“Jesus wept”

“Let there be light”

“The Lord is my shepherd”

Maybe even

“My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

There is only one you are likely to get as an answer, however, by giving chapter and verse rather than an actual quote.

John 3:16

That verse has been on signs at sporting events, t-shirts, posters and many other places for around 30 years now. Its words wonderfully encapsulate the essence of the Gospel, of Jesus’ teachings and life, and the reason we believe in him 2000 years after he walked the earth.

This is a verse used time and time again to bring the message of the Gospel to people in a quick and easy form.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.”

“God loved the world so much”

We promote this verse, but are we really telling people how much God loves. I mean, really telling people that?

Hate has really reared its ugly head in world affairs over the last few years. From white nationalist rallies to terrorist attacks, from the rise of far-right politicians in various European countries to discrimination of people based on race, nationality, religion, sexuality or gender, hatred in the name of political and/or religious ideals has been at the top of the agenda on news items recently.

We see people who commit acts of murder and violence because they believe God wants them to kill those who don’t worship him as they do, or because they think God has given them some sort of racial superiority over others. They are promoting a God of hatred and of violence, one who wants his followers to act in vengeance against those who don’t live up to the ideals they have put in place.

We have Christian advocates in this country whose job it is to defend Christians when they are told they can’t wear a piece of jewellery around their neck, or because they aren’t allowed to deny services to other people because they don’t like their lifestyle. These are Christians who, in a free country where church leaders still hold an automatic place in our parliament, have convinced other Christians that we are being marginalised and persecuted. All based on petty details or on standing up to things they believe God to detest.

We have churches splitting because some believers refuse to worship with others or accept them into leadership based on gender or lifestyle. Indeed, the way the church has dealt with those living “alternative lifestyles” has been shameful in the past.

The worship leader Vicky Beeching came out as gay a few years back and regularly receives comments on social media which, rather than displaying love, are filled with hatred and judgement. In her recent book, Undivided, she recounts a story of a time at a Christian youth camp during her teenage years. She was struggling with her sexuality, having been told all her life that same-sex attraction is evil, and asked for prayer at an evening celebration to be freed from her sexuality. A number of adult prayer leaders crowded round and loudly prayed for her to be set free from the demons possessing her, for Satan to let go of her. A vulnerable teenage girl being told she is possessed by demons is just awful and left her psychologically scarred well into adulthood.

Many Christian denominations have thankfully tried to move on and apologise for events like this, ones who hold traditional views on same-sex relations and ones who have more liberal views. But this sort of thing still happens. The Church is still damaging children in the name of a loving God.

The issue of homosexuality is just one area where this happens, where we use sin (if it even is a sin) to define our view of people, but with this weekend marking the LGBT+ community celebrating Pride it seemed the appropriate one to bring up.

The public know what Christians say God dislikes. The public see us denouncing things, speaking out against things – very often these things really need to be spoken out against.

But do they know what we actually believe in? Do they know what the Church is for, rather than against?

Do they know what God loves, rather than what he hates?

Do we?

Jesus told Nicodemus of people hating the light because it exposes their evil actions. This is true, but if we keep using that light to show people what we hate then we are exposing our own evils as well. We expose our own prejudices and bigotry and hypocrisy and pettiness to the extent that, rather than bringing people to God, we drive them away from him.

So what do we do?

We go back to John 3:16

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.”

God loves the world.

Judgement? That is something he reserves for those who don’t accept Jesus as his son.

But love?

Love is something he has in abundance, for the whole world, not just for the few.

Love so great that he willingly sent his own son to down to earth to die so that we can live forever. When Jesus speaks in John 3:14 of the son of man needing to be lifted up like the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, he is talking about his own death for our forgiveness.

In Numbers 21 God sent a plague of snakes to punish the Israelites for rebelling against him. However, he ordered Moses to make a bronze snake and hold it up on a pole. If those infected by the snakebite lifted their heads to look at it and believed that they would be healed, then they would live.

Jesus is also lifted up for our healing, on the cross at Calvary. When we look at him up there and believe in him then we are healed of our sin, of our rebellious nature against God. And rather than just making a bronze snake, it has taken the son of God himself to be sacrificed in the most painful, brutal way imaginable.

Because he loves us. Not because he hates us for being sinners. But because he loves us and wants us to come back to him. No matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done.

If you are rich or poor you are loved by God.

If you are black, white, Hispanic, oriental or any other race you are loved by God.

If you are male or female you are loved by God.

If you are straight, gay, bisexual, transgender or any shade in between you are loved by God.

If your politics are left, right or centre you are loved by God.

If you are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu; of any faith or of none you are loved by God.

No matter how lonely, wretched, broken, sinful, hateful, hurtful you may think you are, no matter what good or evil you may have done in your life, no matter what others think of you or what you think of yourself you are, and always will be, loved by God.

And he wants us all, every one, to come to him through his son Jesus Christ. It’s why he did what he did. The ultimate act of love and sacrifice. For you. For me. For everybody else.

And he commands us to do likewise. To love others. All others, not just the ones we like, or agree with, or like the look of. He wants us to love others as he has loved us. And that means looking beyond the outward appearances and towards the child of God which every individual human being is. It isn’t our place to deny someone entry to the kingdom of God, or to his Church, because we don’t like certain aspects of an individual or because we don’t like them. Our place is simply to believe in Christ and love others as he loved us. As Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth,

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

That is how God loves us and that is how we must love others if we truly belong to him.

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