“But the hour is coming, and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23,24)
You will remember that Jesus spoke these words to a Samaritan woman at a well at Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.His disciples has gone to town to buy some food. He was tired and thirsty, and He asked the woman for some water since she had the equipment to draw water from the well.
This episode starts an unusual and a remarkable conversation. It was unusual in that Jews and Samaritans were not on speaking terms, due to longstanding historic hostilities. It is unusual because this woman is a prostitute. She has slept with many men, and Jesus points out that the man that she is with at the moment is not her husband. But as Jesus asks for water from this Samaritan woman we find here an amazing conversation on the nature of true worship.
Now the Samaritans were descendants of Jews of the Northern kingdom of Israel, after 722 BC after the conquest of their territory by the Assyrians. They had subsequently interbred with the nations around them, and had also developed a mixed religion. They had built a separate worship place on Mt. Gerizim and they rejected all of the Old Testament except their version of the first five books of Moses. That religion therefore contained similarities with the Jewish faith, but it had mixed in elements of idol worship and the embracing of a system of worship that was far from the true worship of God. This story then is about a woman who learned the meaning and practice of true worship as she came to know the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a divine appointment. It was a life changing experience. It was a movement in which she moved from the death of the soul caused by false worship into the life giving knowledge of Spirit revealed truth as it is in Jesus.
So then the basic fact here is that Jesus is talking to a woman who is lost in a system of false worship. To begin with, she did not know who Jesus was. He was, to her just another Jew, but there was already something that drew her attention to the fact that He was different. He spoke to her, a Samaritan and a woman, and thus her surprised response: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” [v.9]. He asked her for some water, which came from an ancient well that Jacob, whom the Samaritans also owned as their ancestor and father, had dug.
But Jesus was going to do more than just ask for water from the well of their common ancestor. He was going to make her a radical counter offer. He would offer her living water. That thought fascinates her. Living water? Water which shall never make you experience thirst again? That sounds like a good idea. “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” [v.15]. But she does not really understand who Jesus is and what He is talking about. He needs to take her a little further.
“Go and call your husband…”. Here begins the process of helping her to see that He is more than just a tired and thirsty Jew looking for water. She answers, “I don’t have a husband.” Jesus replies, “That’s right. But you’ve had five, and the man who you are with now is not your husband.” She was shocked! How did He know this? There is only one possibility. “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet”! A prophet is a spokesman of God. The true prophets of God always challenged the nation to return to true worship. False prophets always led the nation into false worship. So this discussion and Jesus unusual knowledge of her domestic circumstances leads to the heart of the matter for which Jesus had come to speak to her: the nature of true and false worship. False worship leads away from God. True worship leads us to God.
She initiates the discussion. She says in v. 20: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you [Jews] say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Please note, that from this point onwards Jesus never goes back to the issue of her adulterous life. He had come to the topic that was really important.
At this point it is important to understand that the whole world may be divided into two classes of people: true worshipers and false worshipers, and Jesus is now here to make the vital distinction between the two, and we shall learn that that vital distinction lies in Himself.
Verse 21 is the turning point: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” Jesus says that true worship is not confined to a location or place. At one time Jesus pointed out that those that were worshiping in the temple of God in Jerusalem (Matthew 15:8) were indulging in false worship. “This people honour me with their lips but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me.” True worship comes not from attending a holy place. True worship originates in the heart. So Jesus reminds the woman that true worship is not about her mountain of worship (Mt. Gerizim) or the Jewish mountain of worship (Mt Zion).
How you worship is vastly more important than where you worship !
Verse 22 introduces the question of whom or what you worship. “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” Here Jesus begins to make the vital distinction between true worship and false worship. The Samaritans rejected all the Old Testament except for their version of the books of Moses. Their knowledge of God was deficient and so their worship was deficient.
Incidentally, the Jewish system of worship, though they had the full revelation of God was also deficient (see Nicodemus in John 3) because they failed to see in their full Scriptures the Lord Jesus Christ as their Messiah. Jesus had to point out in John 5:39,40: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
True worship comes from the heart and it must be based on a true perception of God in Christ. V.23 brings the discussion to a climax: “But the hour is coming, and now is here , when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
What does it mean to worship in spirit and truth?
For the answer to this we need to go back to John 3 and the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus. Here Jesus shows Nicodemus that true spiritual worship, based on true spiritual understanding begins when you are born again (John 3:1-8). It is the Holy Spirit that makes the crucial difference. He helps our spirits to truly worship, because He shows us who Jesus is. It is the Holy Spirit who gives life to our spirits, and so when Jesus says that true worshipers worship in spirit, He means that true worship only comes from spirits that are made alive by the Holy Spirit.
No amount of church attendance, singing, raising hands, hearing good preaching will make you a true worshiper. You must be born again by the work of the Holy Spirit. He must change your idolatrous heart into a heart that loves God your Father and Jesus as your Mediator and the Holy Spirit as your Life Giver. That is what the Bile teaches. That is what you must believe and practice. Real worship comes from the spirit within and is based on true views of God.
Worship must have heart and worship must have head. Worship must engage your emotions and worship must engage your thought. Head without heart produces dead orthodoxy. Heart without head produces emotionalism that easily leads to spiritual deception.
True worship comes from people who know God and who love Him deeply!
Let us investigate the word worship a little further, to help us to see what true worship leads us to do.
The word “worship” comes from an ancient Anglo- Saxon word “weorthscipe“. It literally means to attribute worth to someone – hence “worth – ship“.
The following words are commonly translated as worship in the English language:
(i) The Hebrew word “shachah” and the Greek word “proskuneo“, indicate a bowing down; a prostration before God.
(ii) The Hebrew word “abodah” and the Greek words “leitourgia” and “latreia”, which indicate the rendering of service to God.
Worship is both, a bowing down and a rendering of service to God. The act of worship has to do with yielding oneself up for the service of God.
Worship is therefore an attitude and an act. The worshiper knows who he/she is before God, and because of this they prostrate themselves before God. This attitude of the heart ultimately governs your attitude in worship. This is what leads to a life that worships God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23, 24).
This is at the heart of our Sunday worship. The seventh day in particular is designed to focus our attention on God, and having bowed before Him in worship, and rightly instructed in the Holy Scriptures we disperse to serve Him throughout the week as we live consciously in the presence of God as we work, eat, play and sleep.
APPLICATION: A right understanding of God leads to a life of worship!
Unfortunately the meaning of biblical worship has been watered down by the contemporary emphasis on worship as ‘ singing’. Much emphasis in Namibian church is on the worship leader and the worship group. A lot of money is spend in purchasing sound equipment , instrument , lights and smoke machines so that the worship service begins to look more like a disco or a concert. Music produces feelings and many Namibian people confuse feelings with the Holy Spirit . Many of our Namibian churches sing so much that they are tired when it comes to careful listening and obeying of the Bible.
Biblical worship has been watered down as many of our churches do not place the correct preaching of the Bible, the Word of God at the center of their worship services. And sadly, even when the Bible is opened so often the Bible is not preached reverently and passionately and in the power of the Holy Spirit, because the preachers themselves are not worshipers.
The truth is that worship is more than Sunday attendance and singing. It is the living out of the truth that we sing about on Sunday. Sunday worship moves beyond the sermon, the ordinances, the prayers and songs of adoration into a life of worship throughout the week. It is living out our lives in worship for the rest of the week, as we obey God in everything.
True worshipers become better husbands, wives, parents and children.
True worshipers become better employers and employees.
True worshipers are humbled by the Word of God. They are filled with the fruit of the Spirit. Under the Word of God they are transformed into a people that love God and who love the church and who love people and who love this lost world.
They love to share the gospel with people like the Samaritan woman who is caught up in idol worship.
They are eager to introduce them to Jesus who frees them by His Holy Spirit from false worship.