16"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."
The underlined portion above literally looks like this: Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον. A more literal translation would read like this: 'For this is how God loved the world'.
Most English translations follow the "For God so loved the world..." Inadvertently in this translation the word 'so' is often thought of as "so much," whereas in the Greek it is more like "thus." Perhaps a better translation is then: "For God thus loved the world: He gave is one and only Son..."
I bring out this distinction not because I am needlessly nitpicky but because the subtle distinction conveys an important truth about the nature of God's love.
Let's ask this question: "Does God love the world?" The answer: "Yes, God loves the world." Follow up question: "How does God love the world?" Follow up answer: "God shows his love for the world in this supreme fashion: He gave his one and only Son to the world, to live, suffer, and die for the world."
Before the creation of anything the Triune God enjoyed Infinite Love among the Persons of the Trinity. The greatest and most intense love imaginable existed always in the Trinity. To separate and not experience love among the Triune Persons was unthinkable. To be separated from everlasting, intimate love would be the essence of Suffering, or the experience of Judgment.
The giving of the Son by the Father and the Son's willingness to be given to the world are the twin expressions of the greatest love imaginable. To say it slightly different, both the Father's willingness to give up his Son and the Son's willingness to take on flesh and be separated from the love of the Father on the cross constitute the very definition or essence of Highest Love Possible. It's not possible, in other words, to show a greater love than what was displayed in the giving of the Son. If love can be quantified in a numeric scale from 1 to 1,000,000, John 3:16 is saying that it is 1,000,000.
I guess in a way we are back to "God so loved the world" in the sense of "so much." Perhaps I need to amend what I just said above: the love of God is both "so much" and "thus" after all.
Let's pray: Father God, we confess our lack of true appreciation and estimation of the kind of love you have for us and the world. We confess that your love is Supreme. There is no greater love than the actual love that was shown in the offering up of your Son. May we see the coming of Jesus and Jesus' life, ministry, and suffering as ultimate acts of everlasting, divine love. We are overwhelmed by such unimaginable love. May your love soften our hearts and move us to love you more and well this season of Christmas. In Jesus' Name, Amen.