For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17 ESV).
Granted, the second sentence isn’t as well known as the first, but the message is clear. God loves the world, especially the people of the world. This love is universal. It is not limited to one part of the world, one class of people, one stratum of society, or one race of humanity. This love was given, not to be rationed. Shared to bring salvation, not to separate people from grace.
So, why is it so hard for believers — for those of us who claim allegiance to Jesus, the only Son whom God sent — to live out the love our Father has demonstrated?
Fear of other cultures, races, and perspectives that see life and faith differently from us receiving God’s love just as we have.
Fear that the love God has shown toward others will be wasted because we feel they don’t deserve it or appreciate it as we do.
Fear that others will target that love, try to take advantage of it, persecute those who believe in it, or misuse the grace that propels it.
Fear that our emulation of God’s kind of love will leave us too soft, too vulnerable, to those who hate us and want to eradicate any who do not see life and religion as they do.
Fear that our response to that love will be in vain because our efforts at living morally in response to that love are ridiculed as unnecessary, close-minded, and culturally insensitive.
If we are honest, at some fleshly level we fear that Paul’s promise might not be true:
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV).
Our fear indicates that the love that the Holy Spirit is pouring into our hearts (Romans 5:5) is being thwarted by our flesh.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear… (1 John 4:18 ESV).
God’s loving desire to bless all people is the foundation on which he called Abraham to become the father of a new nation, the nation of Israel (Genesis 12:1-3). When Israel refused to be his servant to the other nations and bring them to faith in the LORD God of Israel, God began to talk about a suffering servant Messiah who would bring all nations to him (Isaiah 53).
Jesus saw going through the land of the hated Samaritans as a divine necessity (John 4:4). The Lord demonstrated to his disciples, contemporary and today, that the historical, religious, gender, and racial barriers must fall. Jesus broke down every barrier between people and the Father’s love. The community of formerly shunned Samaritans proclaimed their faith in response to this love:
We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world (John 4:48).
In case Jesus’ disciples missed this lesson, he taught and demonstrated the truth again when he made a Samaritan man and a Jewish woman both heroes in back-to-back episodes in Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:25-42). Paul proclaimed it repeatedly in his ministry. He taught that God had torn down the wall that separated people and brought them together into one new holy identity through grace, empowered by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:1-22). They were one new family, each with the full rights to their Father’s inheritance no matter their status, ethnicity, or gender because of their faith expressed in baptism (Galatians 3:26-29).
God’s love was demonstrated at great risk and enormous cost (Romans 5:6-11). As disciples, we must realize that our Father in heaven is serious about us, his spiritual children, practicing this kind of love and letting that love drive out all our fleshly fear (1 John 4:16-21). The Almighty, the LORD of heavens and earth, the God that we worship, is the God of sacrificial love (1 John 4:8-12). This love must not be controlled by fear that manifests as prejudice, superiority, retaliation, or conquest.
Victory for God’s people must be seen in sharing our Father’s love regardless of the response of those with whom we share it or of our cost in sharing it. Being conduits of this love, both in word and deed (1 John 3:16-18), becomes our passion and our mission. Being children of such a God is not displayed by the size of their churches, the wealth of their members, or the worldly success of our leaders. There is one standard that shows that the Spirit of Jesus lives in the hearts of those who praise and proclaim him: they share the love they have received with others (John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:16-18).