This verse always brings me back to my Awana days as a kid growing up in the church. I went because I got to play dodgeball, and I stayed because of the candy. John 3:16 was the first verse I memorized as a child, and it was solely because I knew I got candy if I could recite it in its entirety. This verse is a hallmark of the evangelical church and is often quoted concerning God’s mission in sending Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. This is a critical theological principle. It is vital we understand that even if we were the only person on earth, God still would have sent His son to die for us. That is how much He loves us individually. God desires all to experience eternal life with Him, which comes through a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ.
But it is equally important that we realize the cosmic scope of God’s sending of the Son. God did not despise the world; rather, He loved the world. This love for the world is what precipitated the sending of the Son. God’s desire was that the entire world, all of creation, might be saved through Christ’s work on the cross. We in the evangelical church tend to emphasize evangelism in our conception of God’s mission in the world. But here we see God is in the business of redeeming all creation. Salvation consists of God’s work of restoring life in the world. This means our call as followers of Jesus is to participate in God’s restorative work in the world. Kirsteen Kim reminds us that we as the church are “continuing the mission of Jesus Christ which is directed through the power of the Spirit not only at the church but also at the reconciliation of all things.”