The Expository Files

The Most Famous Verse in the Bible

John 3:16

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16). Actually, I am only guessing that this is the most famous verse in the Bible. It is certainly more famous than "It is better to live in the corner of the roof than in a house with a contentious woman" (Proverbs 25:24). In fact, it may well be the only Bible verse that many have ever heard. If you only know one verse, it's a good one to know, though only as a starting place.

It certainly states powerful truth in a brief manner. The Lord meant for it to, but He did not mean for anyone to stop there. The rest of the New Testament elaborates on its simple message. Someone must be brain dead to hear this verse and not be challenged to find out more, because while it contains wonderful truth it does not contain all the truth that can and must be known and obeyed to reach heaven. If it did, then none of the rest of the Bible would've been written.

What are some of the things we learn from this most famous of all verses?

The Magnitude of God's Love
"While He (Jesus) was still speaking behold a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold a voice out of the cloud saying, 'This is My beloved Son, with whom lam well-pleased; listen to Him!" (Matthew 17:5). The Father in heaven was so proud of His Son. Jesus was doing flawlessly. Satan was being defeated at every turn. Jesus was perfectly reflecting the Father to the world. God was extremely pleased with His beloved Son. That is one of the reasons it is going to be so difficult to watch His Son die to pay for our sins.

Our most famous verse says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.." His wonderful Son suffered so that we might live. Every drop of blood; every stripe; every groan of our Lord on the cross tells us of the magnitude of God's love for the world. The Bible tells us of the skies darkening as Jesus hung on the cross and cried out "My God, MyGo4 why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Though there was no answer given at the time except continued darkness, we all know the answer: because that is how much God wanted to save us. He must love us very much.

The Scope of God's Love
"The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9). Out of the whole world, pest and present, is there anyone that God wishes to perish? No, not a one! Even as we think of the worst criminals of history; still, not a one of them does God wish to see perish. Not even the ones who crucified His own Son! And certainly not the ones that have perhaps mistreated or slighted you at some time.

"For God so loved the world..." states the most known verse. It is a world of sinners in need that God loves. The term world refers to all of humanity. God's love is perfect and reaches out to all when none of us deserve it at all. It does no good at all to point out the need of the world for God and His love without realizing that we, as part of the world, are equally in need for the same reason.

The Fairness of God's Love
"And opening his mouth Peter said: 'I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him." (Acts 10:34,35). Men and women make many unfair judgments about their fellow human beings. Sometimes these prejudices are based upon appearances such as skin color. At other times on a person's ethnic background, language, nationality or economic strata. Or it may merely be that one person reminds us of another person that we do not like, so we decide not to like them either. Jesus, during His ministry, seemed to enjoy taking someone the people didn't like, like a publican or a Samaritan, and making them heroes in His parables.

Our famous text states, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes... ." There is no partiality in the gospel's invitation (Romans 1:16) and there will be none at judgment (Romans 2:4-11). There had better be no partiality in our hearts toward others. Souls are much too important!

The Limits of God's Love
"Then He said to those on His left 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;" (Matthew 23:41). God's love ought not to be taken for granted. It ought not to be thought that God's love is so powerful that it will automatically save everybody, or even almost everybody; or even that it will automatically save anybody! It will not! In the verse above Jesus describes the judgment rendered on those who had neglected to be what they should have been. Jesus does not accuse them of doing anything bad; but only that they had failed to do much good when they had opportunities.

Again, our famous verse says, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him... ." God saves believers!

But what is a believer? The Greek word means someone who is actively trusting. It means more than to merely acknowledge something as true. It means to act upon that which we have come to believe. In this case, it is to put our confidence in Jesus by yielding our wills to His as we obey His commandments. You are not believing in Jesus until you are doing what He says!

Perhaps a good illustration is that of a doctor and patient. When does the patient put his trust in the doctor? Is it when he first gets sick and thinks about calling the doctor? No! Is it when hedecides a visit to the doctor will help? No! Is it when he makes an appointment? Well, that is the beginning of it, but he still hasn't put his faith in the doctor because the doctor hasn't told him to do anything yet. It is not until the doctor prescribes some treatment and the patient follows the doctor's instructions that he has actually put his confidence in the doctor's medicinal know-how. And, by the way, if the patient fails to follow the doctor's orders then he is not really putting his trust in the doctor whether he kept his appointment or not!

It is the believer that God saves. Those who do not put their trust in Jesus will be lost, not because God does not love them, He does; but because God's love will not save those who do not believe and obey (John 3:36; Hebrews 5:9; 11:6).

The Results of God's Love
"These things I have written unto you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13). Because of God's love, our lives can lead to complete and eternal victory! Knowing this will certainly give the faithful man or woman of God confidence, peace and a sense of security here and now, not to mention that day in the future when faith shall become sight.

Our most famous verse says, "...that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." This is our hope. Let none convince you that it is not worth the sacrifice. Our lives will either come to eternal, conscious devastation or a glorious, everlasting life. That there is any alternative at all to perishing is attributable unto the love of God.

God gave His Son so that nobody need perish, and nobody should, but many will. Why? Because they do not live by faith. This most famous verse in the Bible doesn't tell us how to be saved or how to live by faith. That is not its purpose, and the Scripture gives us that needed information in other places. It does tell us that God has acted in our behalf and why He has so acted. Smile, God loves you.

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 7.8; August 2000