The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman offers some of the most specific information about worship in Scripture. It gives us direct statements from the Lord Jesus Christ concerning the true worship of God.
- Jesus “… left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
- Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?’ Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’
- The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’ He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied.
- Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.’ ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’
- Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.
- Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.’ The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I who speak to you am he'” (John 4:3-26).
Setting the stage for vv. 21-24:
Jesus was traveling from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north. The most direct route is through Samaria. But the most popular one for the Jews is to cross over the Jordan River, avoiding Samaria, by traveling east of the Jordan. The reason for taking the longer route is that, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9).
The tensions between Jews and Samaritans extend back to Old Testament times when a group of Jewish people intermarried with foreigners and later became known as Samaritans.
History of Samaritans
The name given to the new and mixed inhabitants whom Esarhaddon (B.C. 677), the king of Assyria, brought from Babylon and other places and settled in the cities of Samaria, instead of the original inhabitants whom Sargon (B.C. 721) had removed into captivity (2 Kings 17:24; comp. Ezra 4:2, 9, 10). These strangers (comp. Luke 17:18) amalgamated with the Jews still remaining in the land, and gradually abandoned their old idolatry and adopted partly the Jewish religion.
After the return from the Captivity, the Jews in Jerusalem refused to allow them to take part with them in rebuilding the temple, and hence sprang up an open enmity between them. They erected a rival temple on Mount Gerizim, which was, however, destroyed by a Jewish king (B.C. 130). They then built another at Shechem. The bitter enmity between the Jews and Samaritans continued in the time of our Lord: the Jews had “no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9; comp. Luke 9:52, 53).
In contempt, our Lord was called “a Samaritan” (John 8:48). Many of the Samaritans early embraced the gospel (John 4:5-42; Acts 8:25; 9:31; 15:3). Of these Samaritans, there still remains a small population of about one hundred and sixty, who all reside in Shechem, where they carefully observe the religious customs of their fathers. They are the smallest and oldest sect in the World.” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary)
This brief history helps to explain why the woman at the well was surprised that Jesus, being a Jew, would talk with her. The Jews looked on the Samaritans as unclean. Yet we should remember that there is no partiality with God. Jesus’ decision to go through Samaria was not one of geographical convenience. It was a matter of Divine Appointment for a woman whose heart had been prepared by God for salvation.
The narrative is direct
It is the noon hour (v. 6) and Jesus is tired and weary from his long journey. He stopped at a well and a woman came to draw water from it. Jesus said, “Give me a drink.”
She expresses shock that He would even talk with her. Jesus then redirects the conversation. He said, “If you knew who I am, you would ask for living water. In v. 11, she responds pragmatically asking, “Just how do you expect to get this living water since you have nothing to draw with?”
In vv. 13-14, Jesus in essence says: “You don’t get the point!” “Drink this water and you thirst again. Drink the water I give you and you’ll never thirst again.” At this point (v.15) she seems to almost humor Jesus. But he knows she is not ready so he turns the conversation again (see: vv. 16-18).
In these verses, Jesus exposes the obstacle to being a true worshipper of God. What is it? Sin. This woman must face the reality of the sin in her life. But instead (vv. 19-20) she decides to change the subject and this is typical. She starts with a compliment and then moves to a controversial religious issue. People consistently use these distractions to avoid dealing directly with their sin. Her religious diversion was over the right place to worship God. Was it Mount Gerizim, the central place of Samaritan worship or Jerusalem, the central place of Jewish worship? Her point was similar to those who say, “There are so many different religions, how can I know what is right?” But Jesus offers a very direct answer (v. 21). And Jesus’ answer introduces the subject of worship.
Three truths related to worship
- The where of worship (v. 21).
- The what of worship (v. 22).
- The how of worship (vv. 23-24).
1. The where of worship
Worship among the Jews and the Samaritans focused on right places, times and seasons. The right rituals, sacrifices, temples, Sabbaths, feast days, altars, and priesthood were paramount. Of course, these things had a proper role related to worship, but an improper emphasis was placed on externals over the condition of the heart. It is the dangerous belief that if you’re in the right place, at the right time, performing the right rituals, repeating the right words, then all is well with your soul before God!
- When God hates our worship
There were many times in Israel’s history when God rejected their worship because they were going through the motions without true devotion of the heart and life.
- Consider God’s Word to Israel
“I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-23).
- Another Word from God
“’What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies- I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me. I am weary to bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you, yes, even though you multiply your prayers, I will not listen.”” (Isaiah 1:11-15).
God hates ritual without reality
“God delights in loyalty more than sacrifices and the acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:4-6). “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit a broken and contrite heart O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
Think about it
▪ “Worship is not energized by artificial methods. If you feel you must have formalized ritual, or certain kind of mood music to worship, what you do isn’t worship. Music and liturgy can assist or express a worshipping heart, but they cannot make a non-worshipping heart into a worshipping one. The danger is that they can give a non-worshipping heart the sense of having worshipped.”
▪ “So the crucial factor in worship in the church is not the form of worship, but the state of the hearts of the saints. If our corporate worship isn’t the expression of our individual worshipping lives, it is unacceptable. If you think you can live anyway you want and then go to church on Sunday morning and turn on worship with the saints, you’re wrong” (John MacArthur Jr., The Ultimate Priority, pp. 103-104).
With the coming of Jesus, we enter God’s presence in a new and living way (Heb. 10:19-25). Our bodies are the very Temple of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19). The Church is not a building; it is a community of redeemed believers (I Cor. 3:16-17).
- “The source of most of the problems people have in their Christian lives relates to two things: either they are not worshipping six days a week with their life, or they are not worshipping one day a week with the assembly of the saints. We need both! If you go to church only when it is convenient, you will never be victorious and productive as a Christian. You can’t succeed on your own; you need to have the spiritual stimulation of fellow believers. We live in such an easy-come, easy-go, casual, flippant society that people don’t make consistent, faithful commitments, and then they wonder why they fail. The answer is clear. Spiritual success requires commitment to others.” (Ibid, p. 105)
In corporate worship, emphasis must not be on the building, the rituals and the ceremonies, but on God’s glory and the importance of being among his redeemed people.
2. The what of worship
Jesus briefly addressed the “what” of worship. (“You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” v.22). The Scripture used by the Samaritans only contained the first five books of the Old Testament. They rejected the rest. As a result, their worship was based in ignorant. It was not worship “in truth.” Imagine the Old Testament without the Psalms and Proverbs, the prophets and their prophecies of the Christ to come. Their understanding of God and his plan was profoundly inadequate.
Think about it
Because they rejected so much of God’s revelation, they worshipped in ignorance.
- Is there a similarity with the believer today picking and choosing only parts of the Bible?
- Could this lead to inadequate worship based in ignorance?
- Are the liberal scholars and their pastor students guilty of this when they reject certain words of Jesus or certain doctrines about God?
Perhaps they worship but their worship is in ignorance and therefore dangerous.
Jesus concluded, “We worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” The Jewish people had the right knowledge. Yet, as far as their worship was concerned, many of the Jewish people had the truth of worship without the proper spirit of worship (especially the leaders). The Samaritans had a spirit of worship without the truth of worship. Both are deadly to true worship. This is important to recognize as Jesus moves the discussion to the “How” of worship.
3. The how of worship
In verse 24, Jesus addresses the how of worship (“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth”). Notice that Jesus did not say, “It would be a good idea for you to worship this way.” Nor did he say, “It would be better if you worshipped this way.” Jesus said, “you must…” If you desire to be a true worshipper, the kind that the Father seeks, you must worship him in spirit and truth!
- True worshippers worship the Father in spirit and truth.
“In our free and easy democratic ways we often feel that worship in an individual matter. Each of us may worship when and how he or she chooses. It is all up to the individual. But Jesus is denying this. He is saying that our worship must accord with the kind of being God is” (Leon Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John, Vol. I, p. 145).
- What does verse 24 say about God? “God is spirit,” therefore, you must worship him in spirit.
Scripture teaches that we come to God the Father — through God the son — by God the Holy Spirit. God (being spirit) cannot be reduced to an image, an abstract truth or confined to a mountain or a building.
God is a living, personal, perfect, invisible spirit. But the central thing Jesus wanted to emphasize is that place is not the issue. Rather “those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.”
Questions to ponder
- Do you worship God in Spirit and in truth?
- What does it mean to worship this way?
Worship in spirit
Is this a reference to the Holy Spirit or the devotion of the human spirit in worship? If the human spirit, it would seem to emphasize the internal aspect of worship. This is what the apostle Paul referred to when he wrote, “God whom I serve with my spirit” (Rom. 1:9). Other scriptures address the role of the Holy Spirit in worship (see: Rom. 8:26;Phil. 3:3). Since Jesus emphasized a contrast between place of worship and the heart of worship which is spirit and truth worship.
The words for worship in the Bible are defined in terms related to attitudes and actions:
- Attitude worship includes: awe, reverence, and fear
- Action worship includes: bowing down, serving, giving glory and praising God.
Worship is responding to God in a giving way (Matt.5:2-23). One writer defined worship as: “The total adoring response of man to the one eternal God self-revealed in time.” (Evelyn Underhill).
When Jesus spoke of worship in spirit and truth, was he emphasizing worship with our total being? The Psalmist wrote, “Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name” (Ps. 103:1). Inner worship is expressed in the words: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…” (Ps. 42:2).
Worship in spirit is not some activity that we plan as part of our day or week. It is the proper internal response to all that we know God to be, to do, or to say. It involves the right spirit or attitude toward God.
Thoughts from others
- “Worship is personal and passionate, not formal and cold.” (Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship).
- “When you pray, rather let your heart be without words, than your words without heart” (John Bunyan).
- “Christ can never be known without a sense of fear and awe companying the knowledge. He is the fairest among ten thousand, but He is also the Lord high and mighty. He is the friend of sinners, but He is also the terror of devils. He is meek and lowly in heart, but He is also Lord and Christ who will surely come to be the judge of all men. No one who knows Him intimately can ever be flippant in His presence” (Moody Magazine).
The Father seeks worshippers
God is seeking worshipers who will have the proper internal response to Him. Worshipers must approach Him with the right attitude.
God reveals this very pointedly in Is. 66:1-2 – “Thus says the Lord, ‘Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being, declares the Lord. ‘But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.’”
Worship in truth
Truth must include honesty and sincerity. We cannot approach God with a deceptive and dishonest heart. We must worship God with honesty and sincerity.
- “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, and has not sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Psalm 24:3-5).
- “We may truly said to worship God, though we lack perfection; but we cannot be said to worship Him if we lack sincerity” (Stephen Charnock, The existence and attributes of God, p. 225-226).
- “To pretend a homage to God, and intend only the advantage of self is rather to mock Him than worship Him” (Ibid., p. 241).
Truth as Revelation from God
This is worship consistent with what God has revealed in scripture about Himself. It is simply not possible to correctly worship God separate from biblical truth. Such effort would lead to erroneous worship.
Think about it
- “Word and worship belong indissolubly to each other. All worship is an intelligent and loving response to the revelation of God, because it is the adoration of his Name. Therefore acceptable worship is impossible without preaching. For preaching is making known the Name of the Lord, and worship is praising the Name of the Lord made known. Far from being alien intrusion into worship, the reading and preaching of the word are actually indispensable to it. The two cannot be divorced. Indeed, it is their unnatural divorce which accounts for the low level of so much contemporary worship. Our worship is poor because our knowledge of God is poor, and our knowledge of God is poor because our preaching is poor. But when the Word of God is expounded in its fullness, and the congregation begins to glimpse the glory of the living God, they bow down in solemn awe and joyful wonder before this throne. It is preaching which accomplishes this, the proclamation of the Word of God in the power of the Spirit of God. That is why preaching is unique and irreplaceable” (John Stott, Between Two Worlds).
What is taught from the pulpit should enhance your knowledge of who God is, what he has done, what he requires, and how He works. In this way, it will strengthen your worship of God. The worship of the Church depends on the centrality of ministry in the Word of God. Without the objective truth about God in Scripture, worship is inadequate at best.
6 Questions for application
- Is your worship personal and passionate or formal and cold?
- Have you been going through the motions of worship without the internal reality?
- Do you worship God with your innermost being?
- Do you have the right attitude toward God? A humble and contrite heart that trembles at God’s Word?
- Are you honest with God or is there an area you have closed out to Him?
- Are you in God’s Word, learning, growing and being transformed?
Read it again
Jesus said, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” (John 4:23)
Two things to help us worship in spirit and truth
1. Never lose the wonder of it all
- “What is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4; cf. also, I Chron. 17:16-18, Psalm 139:1-18;I John 3:1).
- “When wonder is dead, the soul becomes a dry bone” (Bishop William Quayle).
- A prayer for worshippers – “Remove the scales form his eyes, the callousness from his heart, the stubbornness from his will to enable him to enjoy the wonder of it all.” (Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship, p. 47)
2. Appreciate and reflect on the mystery of it all (Rom. 11:33, Eph. 3:19, Phil. 4:7).
- “This is the paradox of Christian worship: we seek to see the invisible, know the unknowable, comprehend the incomprehensible, and experience the eternal. Like David, we thirst after God and we are both satisfied and dissatisfied. Like Moses, we cry out for His glory, all the while knowing that our mortal eyes could never behold God’s glory in its fullness. Like Peter, we wrestle with a tension within: we want to follow Him, and yet we cry out, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!’” (Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship p. 45).
Delivered in 1990 at Millersville Bible Church