“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” Only is a good word to ponder. When we have many of something, it is easier to be generous. When we are down to one item of something, it is much more difficult, and it requires sacrificial love to part with the only. When we move to persons, only becomes even more precious and more difficult to give up or lose.
It is interesting to see this use of the word “only” in relationships. The Greek word that occurs in John 3:16 (monogenēs, Strong’s # G3439) is found four times in the New Testament and once in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, dealing with this kind of relationship. We can get a sense of the cost of “only” by looking at these occurrences.
Jephthah made a foolish vow to sacrifice what first came out of his house after his successful battle. The first was his daughter. The text of Judges 11:34 describes her as his “only child.” What a tragic vow and great loss!
As Jesus drew near to the city of Nain, a dead man was being carried out for burial. The dead man’s mother was a widow, and he was described as her “only son” (Luke 7:12). Her loss was great until Jesus raised her son.
Jairus implores Jesus to come to his house to heal his daughter because she is dying. She is described as his “only daughter” (Luke 8:42). Faced with a great loss, Jairus turns to the one who could save her. Jesus raises this only daughter from the dead. Loss is turned to joy.
When Jesus returns from the Mount of Transfiguration, he is met by a man whose son was seized by a spirit and thrown into convulsions. He begs Jesus because this son is his “only” (Luke 9:38). This is a case of suffering that Jesus heals, and he relieves this father who has an only son.
Hebrews 11 recounts Abraham’s faith in offering Isaac. He was in the act of offering up “his only son” (Hebrews 11:17). This may seem confusing because Abraham also had his son Ishmael, but Isaac was “only” in a special way beyond biology. Isaac was the son of promise. The promises that Abraham had received were to be fulfilled through Isaac. In that way, he was Abraham’s only son.
God’s only Son stands in a unique relationship with the Father. It takes sacrificial love to give the only Son, to watch him suffer at the hands of cruel men, and to let him die for sinners. Such is God’s great sacrificial love for our sake.
— Russ Holden