According to Jim Smith, the most well known verse in the Bible is also the most frequently misunderstood: John 3:16, “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.”
During Faith and Learning, Smith took students at Friends University through this popular verse word by word, examining the true meaning behind certain terms.
Love. The Greek word agape means to love something to the point of self-sacrifice. This is the kind of love that John 3:16 is talking about. In our culture, we have no way of differentiating between agape love and eras love (the romantic, emotional kind of love). Because we use the same word for both meanings, they are often confused with one another.
Believe. The word “believe” in this verse refers to active trust in the Lord. It is having confidence that the Lord is on your side and is working for your good.
Perish. To perish is to fall apart. It is a life that is ruined. Many times the belief for this word is that it means we will go to hell. Instead, God is saying that those who believe in him will not have a ruined life, but a flourishing life.
Eternal Life. For many of us—myself included—this word immediately triggers an image to appear in my mind of what I think heaven is going to be like. Something like sitting with God up in the clouds, watching the baby angels play in the fluff. But in reality, eternal life is referring to the kind of life God possesses. It is a good and a beautiful life, one that can be attained here on earth because God has opened that door of opportunity for us. We can strive to live a life comparable to that of Christ.
So what does this mean for us? It means that we can live a life that is no longer ruined but is safe, secure and full of joy. This won’t be achieved overnight, but by taking time and practicing exercise that open our minds to God, we can live in confidence of the Holy One who delights in us.