Worshipping in Spirit and Truth
There’s a very famous story in chapter 4 of John’s gospel. Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman at a well. They are talking about worship—where worship should happen. Jesus tells her, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
These words must have meant a lot to John because he’s the only gospel writer who recorded them. Jesus made an impact on him. In fact, these words made such an impact that John not only wrote them down, he lived them.
To fully grasp the power of the words we have to understand a bit of the back-story. Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman. This is something important for us to know about her because in her quest to understand worship, she has only been exposed to two ways—the Samaritan way and the Jewish way. The Samaritan’s spiritual knowledge was limited. They rejected most of the Old Testament except the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament written by Moses). While they worshiped God, they did it without all the knowledge about God. They worshiped in spirit, but not in truth. Jesus, in verse 22 reminds her of this when He says, “You worship what you do not know.”
The Jews didn’t have the full answer either. While they accepted and read all the books of the Old Testament, they had the truth without the spirit. Mark records Jesus quoting the prophet Isaiah. He’s speaking to the Pharisees and tells them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.’” Jewish worship at the time was lifeless, boring and without heart. Samaritan worship was animated sacrilege.
Jesus, through the writings of John calls us into balance. We are to worship in spirit AND in truth. John writes, “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’”
Notice that John (the disciple Jesus loved) was leaning on Jesus’ bosom. He was that close to Jesus. He was “leaning back.” He was not only close to Jesus, he was pressing into Him. That’s a symbol of worshiping in spirit and truth. Leaning into Jesus—being next to Him, experiencing Him, understanding His character, His way, His will. And, “leaning back” on Him—being so close and affectionately embracing Him. That’s a picture of intimate spiritual worship.
Then, John asks him a question. He’s seeking the truth. He’s not afraid to ask Jesus a question. He’s not afraid to learn, to press for information, even at the expense of being exposed himself. That’s how we should seek God’s Truth. Confident in His love for us and also boldly seeking His Word even if it means He shows a place where we need to grow in our Christian life.
That’s worshiping in spirit and truth! Intimate, close, and pressing in while at the same time boldly seeking to know and understand His Truth from His Word.
Is that how you would describe your worship? Do you seek to press into Jesus while at the same time desire to know all of His Truth? I encourage you to be open to Jesus’ words just as the Samaritan woman was open to hearing and moved to open her heart.
In my next post I want to go deeper into spiritual worship and see the example John shows us in the sixty years we have of his writings.