God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)
1. Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman in Sychar.
2. Many Samaritans believe in Jesus the Messiah.
3. Jesus heals an official’s son.
The history of the Samaritan woman, contained in these verses, is one of the most interesting and instructive passages in John’s Gospel. John has shown us, in the case of Nicodemus, how our Lord dealt with a self-righteous formalist. He now shows us how our Lord dealt with an ignorant, carnal-minded woman, whose moral character was more than ordinarily bad. There are lessons in the passage for ministers and teachers, which they would do well to ponder.
We should mark, firstly, the mingled wise sensitivity and humility of Christ in dealing with a careless sinner.
Our Lord was sitting by Jacob’s well when a woman of Samaria came there to draw water. At once He says to her, “Give Me to drink.” He does not wait for her to speak to Him. He does not begin by reproving her sins, though He doubtless knew them. He opens communication by asking a favor. He approaches the woman’s mind by the subject of “water,” which was naturally uppermost in her thoughts. Simple as this request may seem, it opened a door to spiritual conversation. It threw a bridge across the gulf which lay between her and Him. It led to the conversion of her soul.
Our Lord’s conduct in this place should be carefully remembered by all who want to do good to the thoughtless and spiritually ignorant. It is vain to expect that such people will voluntarily come to us, and begin to seek knowledge. We must begin with them, and go down to them in the spirit of courteous and friendly offensive. It is vain to expect that such people will be prepared for our instruction, and will at once see and acknowledge the wisdom of all we are doing. We must go to work wisely. We must study the best avenues to their hearts, and the most likely way of arresting their attention. There is a handle to every mind, and our chief aim must be to get hold of it. Above all, we must be kind in manner, and beware of showing that we feel conscious of our own superiority. If we let ignorant people fancy that we think we are doing them a great favor in talking to them about religion, there is little hope of doing good to their souls.
We should mark, secondly, Christ’s readiness to give mercies to careless sinners. He tells the Samaritan woman that if she had asked, “He would have given her living water.” He knew the character of the person before Him perfectly well. Yet He says, “If she had asked, He would have given,”—He would have given the living water of grace, mercy, and peace.
The infinite willingness of Christ to receive sinners is a golden truth, which ought to be treasured up in our hearts, and diligently impressed on others. The Lord Jesus is far more ready to hear than we are to pray, and far more ready to give favors than we are to ask them. All day long He stretches out His hands to the disobedient and gainsaying. He has thoughts of pity and compassion towards the vilest of sinners, even when they have no thoughts of Him. He stands waiting to bestow mercy and grace on the worst and most unworthy, if they will only cry to Him. He will never draw back from that well-known promise, “Ask and you shall receive—seek and you shall find.” The lost will discover at the last day, that they had not, because they asked not.
We should mark, thirdly, the priceless excellence of Christ’s gifts when compared with the things of this world. Our Lord tells the Samaritan woman, “He that drinks of this water shall thirst again, but he that drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.”
The truth of the principle here laid down may be seen on every side by all who are not blinded by prejudice or love of the world. Thousands of men have every temporal good thing that heart could wish, and are yet weary and dissatisfied. It is now as it was in David’s time—“There be many that say, Who will show us any good” (Psalm 4:6)? Riches, and rank, and place, and power, and learning, and amusements, are utterly unable to fill the soul. He that only drinks of these waters is sure to thirst again. Every Ahab finds a Naboth’s vineyard near by his palace, and every Haman sees a Mordecai at the gate. There is no heart satisfaction in this world, until we believe on Christ. Jesus alone can fill up the empty places of our inward man. Jesus alone can give solid, lasting, enduring happiness. The peace that He imparts is a fountain, which, once set flowing within the soul, flows on to all eternity. Its waters may have their ebbing seasons; but they are living waters, and they shall never be completely dried.
We should mark, fourthly, the absolute necessity of conviction of sin before a soul can be converted to God. The Samaritan woman seems to have been comparatively unmoved until our Lord exposed her breach of the seventh commandment. Those heart-searching words, “Go, call your husband,” appear to have pierced her conscience like an arrow. From that moment, however ignorant, she speaks like an earnest, sincere inquirer after truth. And the reason is evident. She felt that her spiritual disease was discovered. For the first time in her life she saw herself.
To bring thoughtless people to this state of mind should be the principal aim of all teachers and ministers of the Gospel. They should carefully copy their Master’s example in this place. Until men and women are brought to feel their sinfulness and need, no real good is ever done to their souls. Until a sinner sees himself as God sees him, he will continue careless, trifling, and unmoved. By all means we must labor to convince the unconverted man of sin, to pierce his conscience, to open his eyes, to show him himself. To this end we must expound the length and breadth of God’s holy law. To this end we must denounce every practice contrary to that law, however fashionable and customary. This is the only way to do good. Never does a soul value the Gospel medicine until it feels its disease. Never does a man see any beauty in Christ as a Savior, until he discovers that he is himself a lost and ruined sinner. Ignorance of sin is invariably attended by neglect of Christ.
We should mark, fifthly, the utter uselessness of any religion which only consists of formality. The Samaritan woman, when awakened to spiritual concern, started asking questions about the comparative merits of the Samaritan and Jewish modes of worshiping God. Our Lord tells her that true and acceptable worship depends not on the place in which it is offered, but on the state of the worshiper’s heart. He declares, “The hour comes when you shall neither in this place nor at Jerusalem worship the Father.” He adds that “the true worshipers shall worship in spirit and in truth.”
The principle contained in these sentences can never be too strongly impressed on professing Christians. We are all naturally inclined to make religion a mere matter of outward forms and ceremonies, and to attach an excessive importance to our own particular manner of worshiping God. We must beware of this spirit, and especially when we first begin to think seriously about our souls. The heart is the principal thing in all our approaches to God. “The Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
We should mark, lastly, Christ’s gracious willingness to reveal Himself to the chief of sinners. He concludes His conversation with the Samaritan woman by telling her openly and unreservedly that He is the Savior of the world. “I that speak to you,” He says, “am the Messiah.” Nowhere in all the Gospels do we find our Lord making such a full avowal of His nature and office as He does in this place. And this avowal, be it remembered, was made not to learned Scribes, or moral Pharisees, but to one who up to that day had been an ignorant, thoughtless, and immoral person!
Dealings with sinners, such as these, form one of the grand peculiarities of the Gospel. Whatever a man’s past life may have been, there is hope and a remedy for him in Christ. If he is only willing to hear Christ’s voice and follow Him, Christ is willing to receive him at once as a friend, and to bestow on him the fullest measure of mercy and grace. The Samaritan woman, the penitent thief, the Philippian jailor, the tax-collector Zacchaeus, are all patterns of Christ’s readiness to show mercy, and to confer full and immediate pardons. It is His glory that, like a great physician, He will undertake to cure those who are apparently incurable, and that none are too bad for Him to love and heal. Let these things sink down into our hearts. Whatever else we doubt, let us never doubt that Christ’s love to sinners passes knowledge, and that Christ is as willing to receive as He is almighty to save.
What are we ourselves? This is the question, after all, which demands our attention. We may have been up to this day careless, thoughtless, sinful as the woman whose story we have been reading. But yet there is hope—He who talked with the Samaritan woman at the well is yet living at God’s right hand, and never changes. Let us only ask, and He will “give us living water.”
1. What are the themes of chapters 1-4?
2. How did the Lord show wisdom in how he spoke to the Samaritan woman?
3. How did Jesus’ first words in the conversation lead to a conversation on spiritual things?
4. What did our Lord say that showed his willingness to receive sinners?
5. Why is it necessary that sinners see their sinfulness clearly before receiving the gospel?
1. How can we follow Christ’s example and turn ordinary topics of conversation to spiritual things? Discuss any recent examples of this you have heard. Pray for opportunities for your family to share the living water with others.
2. What does it mean to worship God in spirit and truth?