John 3:16 is probably the best known verse in the Bible. When TV camera crews pan the crowds at pro football games, we often see placards referring to it. It’s important, though, to read the next verse too:
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 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.”
Many Christians understand “eternal life” to refer primarily to everlasting life in heaven after we die and “perish” to refer to spending eternity in hell. “Saved” is understood to mean saved from hell and saved for heaven. In other words, the main impact of the Gospel is to be experienced in a future world, not the present one. Can this be right?
The World Today
The Bible is clear that God loves the world that Jesus came to, not merely some future world. Verse 17 makes it clear that God’s intent in sending Jesus was to save this world that God loves. We are spiritual/ physical beings. Is it surprising that salvation needs to be both spiritual and physical? The spiritual and physical aspects of salvation, like spiritual need and physical need, are two sides of one coin. Meeting physical needs in Christ’s name provides tangible experience of Christ’s love. Can anyone truly believe in a Jesus whose love they have never experienced?
What does today’s world look like?
• 20 percent of the world’s population lives on less than $1.25 per day.
• Another 20 percent live on less than $2 per day.
• 80 percent of humanity lives on less than $10 per day and the gap between the upper 20 percent and the lower 80 percent is widening.
• 18,000 children under age 5 die daily due to poverty (UNICEF).
A huge percentage of the world’s population doesn’t need to wait till they die to perish. They are perishing right now. “Perishable goods” deteriorate if not cared for by someone. Whose responsibility is it to care for the “perishable goods” that the perishing world is today?
Abundant, Eternal Life
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus came to bring abundant life to this world; life that “abounds” spiritually and physically. Spiritually it involves not only forgiveness, but also life infused with the “fruit of the Spirit” described by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.” Physically, as a minimum, it means having the basic necessities of life.
The opposite of “abounding” is “perishing.” Perishing does not merely mean death or hell. Perishing is continuous diminishing that ultimately results in life ebbing away. It is the perfect word to describe what is happening in much of the “Majority World” today.
“Eternal,” first and foremost, describes the kind of life God wants for us now. It is eternal because it is the kind of life that spans the ages. Jesus came so humanity might experience life that abounds, because it is filled both with the physical sustenance needed to thrive and the spiritual “fruit” that cannot perish because it is made of eternal stuff.
It is a tragic mistake to project abounding and perishing into the next world at the expense of this real world we live in today. It robs us of responsibility and, when robbed of that, we are robbed of purpose. Will you join Food for the Hungry (FH) as we purpose, by God’s grace, to meet spiritual and physical needs worldwide?