Benjamin R. Baclagon
Jesus was on a mission. He had gone to the land of the Samaritans. “He had to go through Samaria.” (John 4:4) Why? He was seeking out this lonely Samaritan woman, in need of salvation, needing to know who Jesus was. By verses 13-15 of John 4, the Lord had presented to this woman her need of eternal life. But first, she needed to be convicted of her own sinfulness.
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 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.”
The Samaritan woman is a picture of many who, like her, who have a religious background and religious knowledge, but whose religion was no help at all—she was still living a life of “quiet desperation”, separated from God. With the words of Jesus, she was confronted with the fact that: she was in a live-in situation with a man, and that she had had 5 so-called husbands (Was she a widow? divorcee? veteran of many affairs?).
Imagine her reaction to Jesus’ words in v. 19: “Sir,” (did she swallow hard after this?) the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. And then she goes on to change the topic: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Suddenly, the topic is about worship.
We may fault the woman for her method of avoidance. But notice here that Jesus did not say, “Woman, you are changing the topic. We are talking about your lifestyle here…about you committing adultery.”
Instead, Jesus does go on and talk about worship. Why? Because worship is still related to her situation. She was professing to be a worshipper of God, but in reality she was still an idol worshipper. Not a worshipper of idols of wood and stone, but idols of self and men. This was much evident in her lifestyle. Jesus was seeking to make this woman a true worshipper of the true and living God of the Bible.
This ought to remind us of the underlying purpose why we do missions. As John Piper memorably put it: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.”
We do missions because there are multitudes of people who are not giving God the worship that is due unto Him, and instead are worshipping idols, false gods and self and men. Verse 23 of John 4 supports this: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” The primary motive for missions is expressed in the words of Henry Martin, who said while ministering among the Muslims of Iran: “I could not endure existence if Jesus was not glorified. It would be hell to me if He were to be always thus dishonored.”
We can have different motives for doing missions. It could be compassion for the lost—and this is good and honorable. There are other reasons for doing missions which may not be so honorable. But this truth in John 4:23 is to be the primary, best and most sound reason for doing missions.
We can easily find other Biblical support for this:
In Matthew 28, what were the disciples doing when the Great Commission was given? Verses 16-18 reveals that the Great Commission was given in the context of worship. And what was the reason given by Christ for going and making disciples of all nations? “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (v.18)” The authority and worthiness of Jesus. We have missions because of who Jesus is.
In the book of Psalms, we find the writers frequently expressing their desire that God be exalted, be worshipped, be magnified over all the earth and among the nations.
Because worship is to be the primary motive for missions, those who are to engage in missions must be worshipping churches and worshipping people. And their worship must be biblical, growing and deep. Why? Because their purpose is to spread the true worship of God and the exaltation of Jesus in places and people where such worship does not exist.
For otherwise, if the church is wrong about worship, or the missionaries are wrong about worship, they would simply be spreading unacceptable worship to other places and other people.
It would be relevant thus to ask those engaged in missions: what is the quality of your worship? What kind of worship is going on in your church? Is this the kind of worship you want to spread to other lands and other people?
We need to be clear then about worship. There is a need to examine our worship. Let John 4:20-24 guide us in our discussion about this important matter:
1. There is Much Confusion and Ignorance Among People About Worship
20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.
Because God made man a worshipping creature, the topic of worship will always be relevant to him, even if he is not aware of it. As someone had said, “It is not a question of whether you will worship or not. The question is, who or what will you worship?”
Another thing to note is that much worship that men engage in focus on the external. In verse 20, of all the questions the woman could raise about worship, her question is about the proper place—what she saw, external things.
And isn’t it true that we too, like the Samaritan woman, have the tendency to focus on the external and superficial in our worship? For example, we identify worship simply with going to church, to singing, to a day and time in the week we are to do it.
Further, Jesus was very frank in telling the woman: “You…worship what you do not know…” True worship of God cannot be in ignorance, without thinking and knowing the God whom we are to worship.
2. The Coming of Jesus and His Sacrifice on the Cross is for the Establishment of True Worship
Jesus would go on to say, “Yet a time is coming and has now come…”
What time was Jesus talking about? If we would look into Galatians 4:4-5, the time referred to was the coming of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. (See also John 17:1-3). Jesus had come into the world (“has now come”), but because at the time when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman He had not yet gone to the cross, Jesus also said that “the time is coming”. “…when the true worshipers will worship the Father… ” The only reason a man can approach God to worship Him truly is because of and through Jesus Christ. (See also Heb. 10:19-25; I Tim. 2:5) We come to God and enter His presence not through Mary or some saint, not through some ritual, not even through singing. But only through Jesus Christ. All worship therefore must be Christ-centered.
3. True Worship of God Begins: When We Understand and Remember Who We are Before God, and When We Know and Remember Who God is as Revealed Through Jesus Christ
Previously, Jesus was telling the woman about living waters, “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.” The woman had sensed her need. But it’s not enough to see the need. It was necessary that she be convicted of her condition as a sinner before a holy God. Thus, Jesus would make a reference to the woman’s five husbands. “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands…” It may be like saying it this way: “Yes, you don’t have a husband—in fact, you have had five, not one.”
And then, knowing and understanding the character of God is necessary for true worship to rise. Jesus said, “God is spirit.” A reminder of how God is so unlike, and beyond man. We are physical beings, we are limited. God is not. Because He is spirit, He is not limited by space, by physical things. So unlike us…And this is the God we need to know. One may ask, how can you know One who is invisible? God has taken the initiative that we may know Him. To know God, you must know Christ.
No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:18)
And how do we know Christ? He is revealed through the Scriptures:
39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40)
4. Worship is About Giving to God, Not About Getting
The very word used by Jesus for worship here is proskuneo. The Greek was said to mean “to kiss (like a dog licking his master’s hand); to fawn or crouch to, i.e. (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore). The idea therefore is of someone giving to someone superior an act that fittingly expresses his view of their relationship. The idea, at the least, is of giving—not getting. Alas, how far we have come from true worship when our concern is what we will get, and when we believe that in worship, it is man whose satisfaction we should seek– “what does man want? or what do the people want? ”
When the Israelites were being taught the mechanics of worship, one oft-repeated instruction from God was: none shall appear before Me empty-handed (Exodus 23:15, Exodus 34:20 , Deuteronomy 16:16).
Notice also that when the Israelites worshipped, they were not even provided seats at the Tabernacle. One implication of this was that they may learn that they were there to give…not to watch, not to get..they were there to make an offering.
5. Worshipping God is Not an Option, It is a Command
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship…”
We need to be reminded again that worshipping God is not an option, not a choice. You must worship.
We need to be reminded that this is foremost in the Ten Commandments—that we are to worship God exclusively (“You shall have no other gods before Me.”).
During Christ’s temptation in the wilderness, Jesus answered Satan, saying: “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'” (Lk. 4:8)
Is God then egotistic or megalomaniac or selfish or proud? Why should He demand worship and praise? The answer is that, if it was a creature or a created being who demanded this, then yes it is egotism, pride and megalomania. But we are talking about God. God, for whom all our praises are not enough. Unlike Greek gods, He really doesn’t need the praises and the worship. To worship Him is simply how it ought to be. That God would command us to worship Him is for our good and for the good of the universe: Imagine a situation where the rightful leader doesn’t lead, and allows other unworthy evil leaders to exercise authority and to trample the rightful leader’s authority. Chaos would ensue from this. It simply is not right. God must rightfully be worshipped.
6. God is Serious about Being Worshipped in the Way He Desires
“God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Sometimes, this is explained only as worship led by the Spirit and from the heart, with sincerity. I believe that “in spirit” refers to what is inward, in contrast to the external worship the Samaritan woman focused on. Worshipping ‘in truth” means according to the Scripture. As the Lord said, Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17) Thus, in worship sincerity is good, but it is not enough. You can be sincere in worship, but sincerely wrong. Like the Chemistry poem:
Poor Willie worked in chem lab.
Poor Willie is no more.
For what he thought was H2O
In David’s time, this was Uzzah’s experience. The Israelites were trying to bring the ark back to Jerusalem. In I Chronicles 13, it mentions David and all the Israelites celebrating with all their might before God. Then the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark. “The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and He struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God.”
Several months later, they would try again. This time, as narrated in I Chronicles 15, David would point out their grave error “It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the Lord our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of Him about how to do it in the prescribed way.”
If an earthly king is given the right to prescribe how he must be approached—all the more should the God of the universe have the right to prescribe the way He is to be approached. The constant stipulation of the book of Exodus with respect to the building of the tabernacle was that everything be done “after the pattern … shown you” (Exodus 25:40).
The incident of the golden calf, carries with it the lesson that worship cannot be offered merely in accord with our own values and tastes. The same with the story of Nadab and Abihu and the offering of “strange fire” (Lev. 10);
And when God rejected Saul as king, one of his misdeeds was non-prescribed worship. Saul was told, “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22);
In the New Testament, Jesus’ condemned Pharisaical worship, saying it was done according to the “tradition of the elders” (Matt. 15:1–14).
All of these indicate a rejection of worship offered according to values and directions other than those specified in Scripture. In our mission work, it is necessary to heed this caution when it comes to the forms and patterns of worship that we follow. It would be tragic if, in our concern to reach the lost, we impart to them a way of worship that is not according to God’s pattern and thereby unacceptable.
7. Worshipping God is a Way of Life
When Jesus said, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, it should remind us that worship is not to be limited in a place or even in an occasion. Throughout Christian history, worship has happened not only on Sundays, not only in church. But even in unlikely days and places: in houses, in prisons, in the middle of the sea, in mines and in catacombs, in hospitals and leper colonies, in jungles and mountains and valleys…Worship is not to be limited in Mt. Gerizim or in Jerusalem, but in all days and places, where men and women who have been saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ lay their lives on the altar as their act of worship.
Benjie Baclagon ministers at Grace Bible Church in Nagtahan, Manila, Philippines, where he has been part of the staff since 1992. He is currently director of the youth ministry there, while regularly preaching at the church’s afternoon service. He and wife Imelda have three children: Misha, Shantel and Johann.