Day 308: John 4-5; The Woman at the Well

We continue along in the Gospel of John today and the first thing I think to write today is that it is such a shame that we didn’t talk about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus yesterday.  There is a whole lot of talk about the Spirit and all that goes along with being a believer in Christ and being born again.  What I realized though, as I was reading today is that much of what Jesus is talking about in His encounter with the Samaritan woman is an extension of this.  After a brief exchange, Jesus talks to her about receiving living water and about worshiping God “in Spirit and in Truth.”  These are all things that He had just talked about with Nicodemus.  Life in Christ, like worship isn’t about location, it isn’t about the things that you do, it isn’t even about how well you do them, it is TRULY about the inward change that takes place.  While there is certainly room for right worship and right works, they are not the main theme; they are simply a response to what God has done for us.  Really, in many ways, it is like the Shema!

We have talked about this passage in Deuteronomy so many times.  Deuteronomy 6 is one of the central themes that flows through all of the Bible and it too is about the inward change that happens, not simply about the outward actions.  The woman at the well is asking who is right about where the people worship, a mountain or the Temple.  I can only imagine Jesus head falling into his hands and thinking “you people just don’t get it!”  Fortunately, He is much more gracious than that.  He takes the time to explain to her why neither place is important as far as worship goes, but rather it is about the spirit in which you worship that is the important thing, in much the same way that it is the inward spiritual transformation (being born of the Spirit) that takes place when we become Christians.  There is nothing that we can do to put ourselves in right standing with God, but there is plenty that we can do in response to the grace that we have received!  God won’t like us more… He already counts us as righteous in Jesus Christ… which is the best place that we can be!  However, our actions after our salvation, in worship and service and life in general stand as a testimony to all that God has done for us!  Hallelujah!

I included here, for your reading pleasure, a paper that I wrote in my undergrad studies.  It is a paper about how worship is laid out in John chapter 4.  I hope that you find it worth the read!  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

——————————————————

“Music may seem to be a surface matter, mere decoration,[1]” but there is no issue or hot topic in the church that has polarized congregations across this country more than the topic of worship and worship styles.  Though seemingly a problem that the church has only faced in this current generation, it is clear in the reading of the forth chapter of John that our idea of “worship wars” is in fact not at all a new one at all but something that people of God have been facing for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  Given the extensive history of this particular issue, it would seem that there is a plethora of information that is, or should be available for the church; information that could provide direction in this time of conflict.  When it comes to comes to a discussion such as worship, there is arguably no verse that has been quoted more on both sides than that of the verses in John four.  Suffice to say though that neither side is quite sure what it is that Jesus is actually saying to the Samaritan woman at the well and both sides are taking the verses out of context to serve their own arguments.  Especially true is this on the side of “contemporary worship” proponents.  In this post-modern age of overly spiritualized life, Jesus saying that ” a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”[2] has been the rally cry for those who seek music that they say touches them in a spiritual way.  Is this what Jesus really meant by this though?  Perhaps this phrase should be examined more closely if in fact worshipers that worship in spirit and in truth are ” the kind of worshipers the Father seeks”[3].  While it is true that God the Father is seeking worshipers that worship in spirit and in truth, this is not a statement of type or style of worship.  God is seeking worshipers that will worship Him authentically, in the Truth of His Word and by the Power of the Holy Spirit.

“God desires worship – in fact, He commands it.[4]”  Worship to God actually happening is a non-negotiable fact when it comes to the debates on worship.  “I am the Lord your God,” say God in to the Israelites at mount Sinai, “you shall have no other gods before me[5].”  Jesus echoes these words and words of the Moses in Deuteronomy 6 in his rebuke of Satan in the desert when he said, “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only[6].”  These words are spoken to the people of God to make sure that their worship wasn’t divided.  There is to be no other worship than that of the worship of God almighty.  The words that Jesus speaks to the woman at the well in John 4 don’t offer any question on this fact either.  “True worshipers,” Jesus says, “WILL worship God in spirit and in truth.[7]”  This is a redirection of the idea of worship from a place or a style to the nature of worship itself.[8]

Father God is actively seeking true, authentic worshipers to worship Himself and is no longer concerned with sacrifices, locations, or styles.  Foster points out that “it is God who seeks, draws, persuades[9]” us to worship.  “Worship is the Human response to the divine initiative[10]” that must be Christ centered and God focused.  When our concerns about worship change our focus from God to what type of music we are playing, where we are worshiping, or even those that we are worshiping with, we are no longer focusing our worship on God.  In effect, this is idolatry; the idolatry of self and it is in absolute contradiction with God’s command to us to worship Him only.  However, so much emphasis has been placed on the two words “spirit” and “truth” that it is difficult for people to not focus on them and what exactly they mean.

Spiritual life has taken on a very new meaning in the last 50 years.  Since the 1970’s, the general populous have become enamored with the spiritual nature of our existence.  Although this is something that Christians need to be especially aware of, secular culture’s attempt at defining what spirituality hardly reflects how the Church is, or should be looking at Spirituality.  Gary Burge points out that the “Spirit” that Jesus is referring has nothing to do with the so called “human spirit” but has to do with worship that is directed and “dynamically animated by God’s Holy Spirit.[11]”  The actual word “spirit” uses here comes from the Greek word pneuma.  When translated, this word refers largely to spirit, breath, or wind and is the word most often used to refer to the Holy Spirit[12].  In this particular context it would be best translated as “the immaterial part of the inner person that can respond to God.[13]”  Worshiping in spirit then would undoubtedly mean that the worshipers that God is seeking, those that worship in spirit and in truth, are worshipers that are responding to God alone and not focused on or distracted by other things.  God the Father is also pure spirit, and the worship which pleases Him is spiritual worship – “the sacrifice of a humble, contrite, grateful and adoring spirit.[14]”  Clearly, this is Jesus speaking of worship as being an inner transformation, the change and refocus of the inner self, feelings, the mind, and the will to God alone.[15]

Postmodernism and truth has and continues to be a largely debated and discussed topic.  Today’s truth, as it has been undefined by postmodernism, is no longer absolute and can be completely contextual.  However, the Truth that Jesus is speaking of here is hardly contextual and is absolutely absolute.  The world truth here, when translated from the Greek refers specifically to truthfulness that corresponds to reality.[16]  Reality is simply the words that Jesus speaks later in the book of John, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[17]”  Simply put, worship in Truth means worship that is Christ centered.  Sin had separated us from communion and relationship with the Father and it is only though the redeeming blood of Christ that we can come before God and worship Him.  Paul also points to this when he writes that Jesus “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.[18]”  This is understood almost universally as Christ perfecting prayers and worship as it rises to God the Father which means that when Christians authentically worship God, they can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.[19]” Worshipers that God is seeking are those that are in Christ because Christ is Truth just as He is the incarnate Word, which is also Truth.

If these worshipers, those that worship in Spirit and in Truth, are the worshipers that God is actively seeking, why is it that we are so caught up in the so called “worship wars?”  Generally speaking, the term “worship war” is actually an incorrect term because no one is truly fighting about whether worship happens or not on a Sunday morning.  Everyone wants to worship God and it seems that everyone is comfortable with praying and hearing the Word preached as well.  Most people are comfortable with receiving the sacraments as well even if there is disagreements about the means and the frequency to which it happens.  No, the worship war in the church is actually a music war, one in which the focus of worship has been taken off of God and has set it on personal preference of style.  Why is this the case though?  John Frame points out that “Musical questions are foundational questions. These questions ask, in one way or another, ‘what is worship?’ If we can answer that, then we can decide better what sort of music is right.[20]”  Musical portions of worship is very important to people.  Many times it is the music that is remembered first in the church, that which we is remembered when we go home from church and throughout the week as well.  It stands to reason that if we are truly asking foundational questions when we question and debate musical styles, it is an important issue for the Church to not only address but handle in a Biblical manor as God directs.

However this revelation of what worship is, or should be, does not seem to have stifled the conflict and looking to scripture for help doesn’t seem to have helped as it should.  Christians seem to relate more closely to the woman at the well rather than the teachings of our Savior.  We counter Scriptural directions and Jesus’ teachings on worship with questions about the venue in which worship happens.  When worship is discussed, questions and discussion quickly digress to questions about the best church or denomination.[21]  It seems that we have to repeat again and again that worship is not about a place or a time, worship is about the heart!  Scripture, especially these verses, show that worship is deeper than outward actions, which aren’t bad in and of themselves, and is much deeper than a building, art, music, and/or design.  “God wants more than ritual.  God wants the worship of the inner person; an inner heartfelt response.[22]”  Moreover, the two Greek words most commonly used for worship, proskynein, which is used by John here in chapter, and latreuein actually suggest worship as an “all-pervasive and ongoing condition.[23]”  In and of itself, worship is more than just faithfully attended Sunday morning church services; it is more than a type of music or even a style.  Worship is life.  It is with this understanding that we as Christians can and should proceed in our discussions and debates about worship.

Echoes of Paul’s words in Romans 12 flow through this understanding of worship as being a lifestyle, not simply an event.  We are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices which he calls this offering our “spiritual act of worship.[24]”  This isn’t a onetime offering that Paul is speaking of though.  He speaks in the next verse about being transformed, a work that is done through and only by the Holy Spirit.  Work of the Holy Spirit in this light is just as much an ongoing thing as our worship should be.  Christians call this sanctification which is defined as “the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion.[25]”  Like sanctification, worship is a state of being, a continuing action.  Harold Best uses the term “continuous outpouring” in his description of worship as relentless, lavish, generous giving of one’s life as a worship offering to God.[26]  The Church can no longer afford to support, or better stated not discourage the idea that worship is in a certain place and at a certain time.  Just like our lives our changed by the saving work of Jesus Christ and continually regenerated by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, so too must our worship be continually given to God the Father.  As Burge eloquently states it, the true authentic worship and worshipers that God seeks in “not tied to holy places but impacted by a Holy Person, who through His cross will inaugurate the era in which the Holy Spirit will change everything.[27]

What does this mean for the Church then and for individual Christians struggling to discover what authentic worship in spirit and truth really is?  Furthermore, how then do we go about doing it?  First of all, it is important to point out and understand that God is pointing here to a “big picture” look at worship.  To use this passage as a way of saying that one style or type of music is superior in worship to the others is a foolish, gross misinterpretation of Jesus’ words.  Jesus is pointing towards what would be the ends, the result of worship, not at all to the means by which we worship.  There are very few places in which God speaks negatively about the means of worship when it is directed to Him.  Why is this?  Because worship is about motivation and right focus.  Isaiah writes in the beginning of his book that God is upset with His people because of their wrongful worship.  “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” God declares, “Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies.  Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates.  They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.[28]”  The worship of the Israel was wrongfully focused and wrongfully motivated.  They had lost the true meaning of what worship is supposed to be.  Christian worship is supposed to be centered on Christ and focused on God when we worship.  When we take the focus off of God and place it on what we want and desire, our ‘worship’ is a burden to God as well.

How is it then that we take the focus of worship off of God and what can we do to change this?  Our worship wars have done, in a different way, have accomplished that which the Israelites came to as Isaiah describes in his first chapter.  The focus of the Israelites was on the actions and the duty of what God commanded them to do in worship.  They didn’t look to God but to what it is that they were doing as a means of salvation and worship.  Duty and tradition was their so call worship war cry.  Sounding this call has happened again in our generation though it is not the only call that has gone out in regards to worship.  Contemporary worshipers have taken up their own rallying cry and sought to follow after what moves them and makes them feel good as well.  Notice then that in neither of these factions does God get mentioned as their source or their objective.

God is the source of our worship; He is the origin of it and the focus of it.  The Church and its churches must come back to that one truth about worship.  “In Christ alone my hope is found[29]” go the words of one song, and it has never needed to be more true than in this time of trial.  Christians everywhere must return to this truth.  As this worship war has gone on we have not only taken the focus off of God and Christ, we have made it about ourselves.  In essence, we want what we want and we are unwilling to move from our position.  Everyone has an opinion and everyone has their own things that move them, but this is not what worship is about and it is certainly not the type of worship nor the type of worshipers that God is seeking.  Worship isn’t about us, it is about God.  Whenever we place what we want and desire in front of God and make it more important than God we commit idolatry; the idolatry of self.  We have the audacity, knowing what we know about God, to place our own desires in front of Him.  This means we are not loving God with all our “heart, soul, mind, and strength” nor are we “loving our neighbor as our self.[30]”  If we were to be truly loving each other as we loved ourselves we would be loving them enough to want to sing the songs they like just as they would love us enough to sing the music that reaches them as well.  Jesus himself has emphasized the loving of each other by equating loving each other with loving God in the book of Luke.  Do we do this?  No, we argue about whose music is better and what songs we should be singing.  People want what they want and are unwilling to change or even look to the needs and desires of others.  How are we to reach out to the non-churched and unsaved people of this world if we cannot even agree with our own brothers and sisters?

Christian worshipers need to pull away from this ‘me first’ mentality.  We need to come to the realization that Worship is about God and God alone.  If we don’t return to the Lord and Christ as the focus of our worship and of our life we cannot expect to be a witness to those lost people that we are called to reach.  “The Heart of worship” is what we must seek, worship that is all about God.[31]  It is notable that neither ‘contemporary’ nor ‘traditional’ worship is designated as part of that heart of worship.  These styles of worship can both be used and are both good ways to worship God because worship isn’t about musical style, it is about the heart!  Matt Redman writes, in his song “Come Let Us Return,” that worship is about the rending of the heart, the bowing of a knee, a prayer, and a fast.[32]  The essence of worship is that which is in the heart, the interaction that goes on between God and our true selves, our Spirit.  Our worship must be in Spirit and in Truth as Jesus said or it is wrongfully motivated and not what the Father seeks.  May this be true for us and for the Church as we seek to honor, glorify and praise God through the worship of our Sunday services and in our everyday life.


[1] Sibley, Laurence C.  “Worship in Spirit and Truth: a Refreshing study of the principles and practice of biblical worship,”  Westminster Theological Journal 60 (1998): 170.

[2] John 4:23 (New International Version Bible).

[3] Ibid

[4] Boice, James M.  Foundations of the Christian Faith (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 587.

[5] Exodus 20:2-3

[6] Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8

[7] John 4:23 (emphasis added)

[8] Boice, 578

[9] Foster, Richard J.  Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998), 158.

[10] Ibid., 158

[11] Bruce, F. F.  The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmens Publishing Company, 1983), 147.

[12] Lee, Dorothy A.  “In the Spirit of Truth: Worship and Prayer in the Gospel of John and the Early Fathers.”  Vigiliae christianae 58 (2004): 280.

[13] Goodrick, Howard W. & Kohlenberger III, J. R.  The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 1584.

[14] Bruce, F. F.  The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmens Publishing Company, 1983), 111.

[15] Collins, C. J.  “John 4:23-24, “In Spirit and Truth”: an idiomatic proposal.”  Presbyterion 21 (1995): 121.

[16] Ibid., 1526

[17] John 14:6

[18] Romans 8:34

[19] Hebrews 4:16

[20] Sibley, 170

[21] Bochert, Gerald L.  Worship in the New Testament.  (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2008): 46.

[22] Webber, Robert E.  Worship Old & New.  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994): 28.

[23] Best, Harold M.  Unceasing Worship.  (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003): 35.

[24] Romans 12:1

[25] “Sanctification.”  Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sanctification

[26] Best, 19.

[27] Burge, Gary M.  The NIV Application Commentary: John.  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 147.

[28] Isaiah 1:13-14

[29] Townsend, Stewart & Keith Getty, In Christ Alone, Thankyou Music, CCLI# 3350395.

[30] Luke 10:27

[31] Redman, Matt, The Heart of Worship, Thankyou Music, CCLI# 2296522

[32] Redman, Matt, Come Let Us Return, Thankyou Music, CCLI# 4107633