A reader asked: Will you please explain the difference between the general love God has for the world (John 3:16) and specific love for His followers (John 14:23).
You have asked a good question; I will offer a response in just a moment. Say, have I ever told you about my daughter Hannah? Of course, I have not, for we do not know each other, but since you are here, let me tell you about my girl. She has an IQ that is through the roof! Smart? Oh, my! This girl has brains! And talk about gifted! She is an artist who has a flair for color and design. At twenty-six, she is already quite accomplished. When I was here age, I was wandering about with hair down to my shoulders wearing an electric guitar around my neck, but Hannah's ambition, if I may borrow from a Shakespearean quote, "is made of sterner stuff." What else? She's a whiz in the kitchen, married a really great man, attends church with her husband, and is so, so pretty! Do I love my Hannah? Oh, yes! Friend, I do not make a lot of money, but if Hannah needed something, up to half my kingdom would be her's. She is my daughter and I love her and I am singularly proud of her.
For a number of years, I have been a teacher of prison inmates. And over the years, I have become close to many of the men who have sat in my class. I have a special love for a number of these men and am proud to count them as my friends. But my love for them, which is sincere, in no way compares to the love I have for my daughter.
If Hannah needed a kidney, she could have one of mine. In fact, I would take a bullet for that girl any day of the week. Now you seem like a decent sort of fellow, but if you asked me for a kidney, I would say, "Yes, you can one of my kidneys, but you must first wait for me to die. At that point, you can have both of them! And take my spleen while you're at it!"
My love for Hannah is higher and loftier than my love for others. She is, after all, my daughter.
Maybe, in a rough and ready sort of way, I have illustrated the two levels of God's love. Yes, He loves the world. God brings the rain to grow the crops. God sends the sun over the horizon each morning so that the world does not turn into an ice ball. He gives radiant us sunsets and sweet, juicy blackberries and the soothing sounds of birds singing and distant stars to light the night sky and majestic redwood trees and all manner of good gifts. Even hardened atheists can enjoy delicious foods and glorious sunrises and the happy sounds children playing.
But God has a special love for those who are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. I am sixty-five and bald and highly opinionated and I can even be a bit cranky at times, but God looks at me with a smile and says, "I love Michael. He's one of my kids. I have plans for Michael. Plans to prosper Michael--not to harm Michael. I have plans to give him hope and a future. Yes, Michael is one of my kids and the devil will never steal him from Me."
If you are a believer, and I will assume that you are, God's love for you is greater than my love for Hannah. On the other hand, God is good to those who shun Him, but the Apostle Paul called such people children of wrath. If they do not accept His love, the day will come when they must accept His judgment.
We who are saved are in God's inner circle. This is a good place to be. Jesus took a bullet for us, so to speak, two thousand years ago. That's real love.