Like Button

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

So Much or Just So?

In the famous words of Jesus, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) For the longest time I understood that to mean what the majority of folk understand it to mean, that God loved the world so much that He gave His Son. That is, the "so" in that text was an indication of quantity. And then I came across this.
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matt 5:16)
There's that "so" again. It is the same Greek word from the lips of the same speaker. It is οὕτω -- houtō -- which means, as it turns out, not a quantity, but literally "in this way". Thus, the New American Standard translates Jesus's words in Matthew this way: "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."

As it turns out, this command from Christ doesn't make sense in terms of quantity. It only makes sense in terms of the quality or method. Because, you see, Jesus isn't telling His disciples simply to pump out loads and loads of good works. He's telling them to do it in a certain way. What way? In a way that God is glorified. In fact, much of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is spent clarifying this. Don't obey laws to the letter; do it to the spirit of the law (Matt 5:18-48). Don't do good to call attention to yourself; do it between you and God (Matt 6:1-21). Do good works, yes, but do them in such a way that not you but your Father in heaven will be glorified.

This same "so" is at work in John 3:16. It is not, as we have often supposed, a statement of quantity. "God loved the world so much." It is a statement of method, of quantity, "in this way". Does God love the world? Yes. In what way? That's the question. In what way? Because, you see, it's not the blanket "God loves everybody unconditionally and warmly" that we like to hear and think. It is "in this way". In what way? He gave His Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. Thus, it is a special designation, a love "in this way" that is applied to "whoever believes" and not in general. If we fail to understand what Jesus is saying, we miss this. It isn't a blanket love. It is love aimed especially at believers.

Does God love everybody? Yes, indeed. Jesus told us God loves His enemies and we ought to do the same.
"I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matt 5:44-45)
God does good to His enemies. That does not mean that He feels warmly toward them. It does not mean that Christ feels toward them as He does toward His Bride. In fact, He had better not. We are supposed to do good in a particular way, and God loves in a particular way. He has a special love for His own. We ought to recognize the truths. We are to do good and God loves the world. But we ought to be clear on the quality of those truths. We are to do good to glorify God and God loves believers in a special way. (Scripture is clear that God hates the wicked (Psa 11:5).) Both truths are found in the proper understanding of "so".

No comments: