Of all the unlikely occurrences there are what I call the 3:16s of the New Testament. Strangely, this single address seems to have very many powerful verses, verses that explain many aspects of the gospel. I have found this phenomenon to have occurred at least ten times, and I would like to explain one of them each time. Together we will see that the verses do much to explain the entire gospel, hitting on many main doctrinal points.
How do I explain this phenomenon? I don’t. I understand the numbering of verses happened much later in history, and I fully understand that they are not meant to be inspired. Rather they are meant to give us the address, or location, of that which is inspired. And yet, as a life-long reader of the Bible, I noticed that so many of the 3:16s were powerful verses and I took a wild notion to collect them. This collection of ten 3:16s will powerfully portray the gospel, and it does leave me wondering about the power of our God being displayed in so many ways, even through the numbering systems that man later encumbered the Scriptures with.
The first verse of 3:16 is found in what I have termed “The Announcement”, the validating cry of John the Baptist as he beheld the Christ. It is found in Luke 3:16, “John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” John the Baptist, coming in the spirit and likeness of his forerunner, Elijah, makes the open announcement to the world about the Lamb of God. Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, proclaims John in the gospel of the same name. The announcement was the most momentous since the creation of the world, and will be eclipsed only by the return of the Son. The Divine Solution to the problem of sin was at last revealed to the Jews, and the wait for the promised Redeemer was over.
The second occurrence of 3:16 is what I term “The Validation”, immediately happening subsequent to The Announcement. John the Baptist is not the only one to testify of the coming of the Christ. The voice of the Father is heard saying this is my beloved Son, hear him. Along with the voice, not given in 3:16, is the testimony of John, verifying his recognition, saying, “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him” (Matthew 3:16). Accompanying that, the voice of the Father is attested to in the very next verse, the first of three times, “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”.
The third significant verse of 3:16 is the one you most likely thought about when you saw the title of this piece; it is John 3:16, often called the miniature gospel. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If I had one verse to give to my unsaved neighbor and one only, I would quickly pick this verse, because from that one verse it is very easy to explain the whole gospel. It is a verse given first to Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, who was trying to understand who Jesus was.
The fourth verse is one that is not so well-known, but in many ways is the simple complete message of the gospel. It is found in 1 Timothy 3:16, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” This verse covers the facts: 1) God was manifest in the flesh, 2) justified in the Spirit, much looked at by the angels, 3) preached to the Gentiles, 4) believed on by many in the world, and 5) received up into glory. It is difficult to see how more basic doctrine might be poured into a single verse.
The fifth verse of 3:16 that I would like to look at is found in 1 John 3:16, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” This verse points to we Christians the utter importance of our loving one another, even to the point of following the example of Christ, who gave himself for us. If the church was following this one verse how completely different we would be!
The six verse of 3:16 is about the separate life Christians live, a two-fold process that takes place through the Spirit, but also through the believer’s choices. It is, (1 Corinthians 3:16) “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” Here Paul is reminding us of the dual nature of our sanctification. First, we were separated by the Spirit indwelling in each of us, and that came to us at the highest of prices, that the very Son of God should give himself for us (v. 17). Second, we are to stay away from things which would grieve that Spirit living in us. How marvelous it is that the very presence of God should fill our very lives!
The seventh 3:16 is found in James, and says, “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” It is well said that pride goes before the fall, but I might add that it is pride which is behind nearly every sin. One of the great marks of intellect is having the ability to compare and we strive to inculcate it into our very young with teaching the famous Venn diagram, and through teaching them to compare in so many imaginative ways. The ability to discriminate between good and better is a good thing for us to learn. But it is this same ability to compare that provides a high dive into the cesspool of pride when we seek to compare ourselves with others. Paul points to the Corinthians, many of whom preferred one leader over the other, and Paul insists that such comparing is sin. James reminds us that comparing our virtues to others only leads to “every evil work” and we are better Christians when we seek to diminish the envying and the strife. Blessed is the peacemaker.
The eighth important verse of 3:16 is found in Revelation. It is the verse many Bible scholars agree is written of our own age, and unfortunately is a common characteristic found in our churches. It says, “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” As an American who has never been out of his nation (seldom out of California), I tremble over this verse when I think about American Christianity. I hear from missionaries that American Christians are missing so much that is important to Christian living a called life. We are too comfortable in our Sunday worship and our daily neglect, and if we are not careful, we will find ourselves being lukewarm.
The ninth 3:16 occurs in Colossians, and may be thought of as a prescription against the lukewarmness that we were warned about in Revelation. It says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” You cannot be a lukewarm Christian if you are allowing the Word of God to fill your hearts, and singing hymns through your day. The result of living such a life will provide testimony to your fellow believers that indeed the grace of God is found in you, and that you are endeavoring to be the hot Christian, rather than the lukewarm.
The last verse of 3:16 is found again in Timothy, this time the second letter. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Our foundation stone is to be the Word of God, and though we may have doctrinal differences with fellow believers, we are commanded to love one another. As the old song says, “And they will know we are Christians by His love”. The Word of God needs to be our foundation for building that life where, as Colossians bids us, the word of Christ is dwelling in us richly. How poor we are when we wait until Sunday to open our Bibles! We have been given a vast treasure in the Word of God, and dutifully paying daily attention to it will help us to grow into that mature saint.
I notice several things about these ten 3:16s, and I would like to comment on them a bit. I notice the first four 3:16s seem to have to do with the person of Christ: his presentation to the world, the love of God for the world in presenting him, and ending with the simple message that God is made manifest in the flesh. The remaining six all have to do with Christian sanctification: that we should love one another, that we should strive to keep ourselves separate from the things of the world, and that, in the last two, we should be found “dwelling” in the Word of God. I also note that Timothy was twice blessed with powerful 3:16 verses, one describing the gospel and teaching Timothy the simple gospel, and the other describing the power of the Word of God. Perhaps Paul was teaching deliberately to Timothy a simple way of presenting the gospel with the admonition to have it all bathed in the richness of the Word of God.
I cannot explain the mystery of the 3:16s, and I do not know if we might choose some other verse address that might be meaningful, but I do rather doubt that any other address should have this complete of a foundation for the Christian. A study of these verses should provide a rich reflection of the glory of God presented in Christ Jesus.
And it is altogether fitting that I should close this very short reflection with a salutation from 2 Thessalonians 3:16, “Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.” May it be so!