The most iconic verse in the Bible may be John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” I wonder how many people in America haven’t heard that verse. Not as many have heard what John says later: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8).
Love we see is absolutely integral to who God is, but did you notice how the the two references work backwards? Look at like this: Love is essential to who God is and it’s out of this love that he sent his Son to die. God’s love (and all true love) is not insular. It’s not looking in and loving oneself. That’s why the two greatest commandments according to Jesus are love God and love neighbor. That’s also why God as trinity is essential orthodoxy. God has been and will always be a God who overflows in his love for others. This originates with his love within the trinity and overflows onto us.
But God’s love is also missional. God loved the world so he sent his Son. When Jesus arrives on the scene, what does he do? He heals the sick. He calls sinners to repentance. He does not bruise the broken reed. (He’s loving his neighbor in a way only the God-man could) And if these were not enough to demonstrate that Jesus’ mission is an overflow of the love God, out of love Jesus willingly submits to the Father and dies for us while we still sinners (Rom. 5:1-12).
That single, historical event was a flood of missional love and it washes over us. So when Jesus gives us our marching orders, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). We are marching to the beat of love.
John 3:16’s “For God so loved” is more than a nice sentiment we paste on our bumper sticker or coffee mug. It’s a missional marching order. God loved so he sent. Jesus submits and evil cannot contain the love he sheds abroad on the world. He rises up from the dead and out of this sudden turn of events he now commands us to go. Just as he was commanded to go and love. We are commanded to go and love.
But the order in which we love is important. We do not go out and love the world without first loving our families. The missional order of love is family, church, community, city, state, nation, and world. We can see this fundamental order in the way Jesus commands his disciples to go first to Jerusalem and in the way Paul tells Timothy that when selecting elders make sure they are loving and leading their homes first. This is a first principle. Love where you are. Lead where you are. Then go out.
We teach our children “to observe all that I have commanded you” then we send them out. Everything we do to disciple our families prepares them to go—whether that’s to our communities, cities, or another country. Same goes for the church. When we gather together, the purpose is to worship God through rehearsing the gospel, but the service should always end by sending the church out into the world. God’s love is a missional love. It always sends.
We experience it in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It lays siege to our hearts. We are taught about God and the gospel. We are sent out and go. For many of us the going out will be quite ordinary. The going out will be living faithfully as mothers and fathers teaching our children. For others it may be serving on a city council, or a state senate, or Congress. For others it may be opening a business and loving your neighbor through creating an excellent product or offering an excellent service. For some it may mean taking a job as an international contractor in the Middle East and partnering with a church there. Or going out as the church sent to a country with little or no gospel presence. Or visiting the sick, weary, and downtrodden in your local hospital.
The go is to teach the gospel. That’s of first importance, but the practical, daily implication of hearing and rehearsing the gospel trickles down into our lives as we learn to obey everything Jesus commands—the most important being loving God and neighbor. You cannot love your neighbor if your love isn’t constantly teaching and sending out—if it’s not a missional love. It always comes back to love because God is love.
Originally published at Borrowed Light
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and writes for CBMW Manual, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and other publications. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and offers freelance editing and book formatting services. He is a member at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC.