“The Greatest Gift”
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
—John 3:16 (NKJV)
William Temple accepted that ‘God is Love’ is ‘a precious truth but affirming no divine act for our redemption.’ He concluded that ‘God so loved that He gave’ is ‘the whole great truth’. Acknowledging God’s loving, greatest action we confess: ‘This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him’. We can talk about God’s acts and His mighty works or deeds—for all of which we are grateful—but because God gave His only Son, we join with the Apostle Paul to declare: ‘Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!’ The greatest gift that could also be considered as the gift of the greatest cost.
God gave us the amazing gift of His Son because of His abundant love for humankind. Is love really the greatest? Surely something more powerful is called for, some demonstration of God’s power that would bring humankind into line and give Him the obedience due? According to Peter Abelard, a 12th-century French theologian, the Cross was that revelation of God’s power: ‘the incarnation and death of Christ are viewed as the highest expression of God’s love to humankind, the effect of which is to awaken love within us, and motivate us to live in free obedience to God.’
C.S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves starts from the statement ‘God is Love” but then divides love into Gift-love and Need-love. He continues: ‘Divine Love is Gift-love. The Father gives all He is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father, and gives Himself also to the world, and for the world to the Father, and thus gives the world (in Himself) back to the Father also.’ This gentle appeal of love will bring a freely given response whereas a more coercive one would arouse only resentment.
More recent translations and paraphrases do not use the word begotten—they say ‘one and only son’ or ‘unique son’—yet it is a word that helps our understanding of the uniqueness of God’s Son. Today, the use of ‘begotten’ may be confined to the Nicene Creed or when singing some Christmas Carols. C.S. Lewis explains: ‘to beget is to become father of; to create is to make…when you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself.’ Lewis continues by giving examples —a man begets human babies, a beaver begets baby beavers, and so on. He also elaborates on how something that is created is made different. God is God and what He begets is of Himself, but ‘when God created mankind, He made them in the likeness of Himself.’ Having labored the point of the ‘only begotten’ Son I hope we can all appreciate the greatness of the gift.
The film Saving Private Ryan is based on a true story illustrating the policy of ‘sole-surviving son’ designed to protect lone remaining family members form military duty. For a family to lose every son was deemed too great a price for a country to ask. God in His great love ‘did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all.’ While we embrace God’s gift and recognize His love for His world, we can also understand why modern thinking struggles with the idea of such a sacrifice. However, with any gift we do not have a debate with the giver about why they have chosen that particular gift—we simply accept the gift.
God’s gift of His only Son is amazing, and, as hymn writer Isaac Watts put it, ‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’
Love came down at Christmas…
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all the world,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
Many Blessing to you this Christmas season,