Dialogue with God
Jesus’s conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4 illustrates well the essence of worship with God as a relationship of communion with him. But where this passage helps us further is that it explains the nature of this all-satisfying communion with God. After Jesus uncovers the fact that the woman is seeking for satisfaction in sources that cannot satisfy, the conversation shifts to worship. This might seem like a completely different subject than what they were discussing, but actually, it continues the discussion by allowing Jesus to further explain the nature of the kind of communion with God that both satisfies the thirsty soul and brings honor to him:
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
There is much I could say about this idea of worship in spirit and truth, some of which we will notice in a later post, but for our purposes here, I want to emphasis the two-part structure of this worship—spirit and truth. These two elements are essentially connected grammatically; without one you cannot have the other. You cannot simply worship in spirit, and neither can you simply worship in truth. God is seeking those who will worship him in spirit and truth.
So what, then, is Jesus communicating here by describing this twofold structure of worship? First, Jesus is at least implying here a trinitarian basis for true worship. We already saw this in Ephesians 2:18—”For through him [Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Jesus is alluding to something similar here when he says that the Father is seeking those who will worship him in spirit and truth. The term spirit here is a word that simply means breath, and while I think it primarily means other things that we will talk about in a moment, the word can also refer to the Holy Spirit, another member of the trinity. And then while the term truth refers to God’s revelation, which we will discuss in a moment, remember what Jesus said of himself in John 14:6? “I am the way and the truth and the life,” so he is at least partially alluding to himself here with the word “truth.” The nature of the gospel and the nature of true worship is by necessity dependent upon the tri-unity of God. We come to the Father through the Son in the Spirit.
But the other importance of recognizing the trinitarian essence of worship is the fact that each member of the trinity has a relationship one with another, and when we are converted, we are brought near by the blood of Christ to join in with that relationship. Jesus communicated this later in John 17 when he prayed to the Father that those who believe in him “may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one”—once again, this is relationship language to describe the nature of the gospel and the nature of worship as communion with God through the Son in the spirit.
And then the final idea that Jesus is communicating with the phrase “spirit and truth” leads us to a critically important related point about the nature of communion with God; this phrase emphasizes the dialogical structure of worship. Worship that is communion between God and his people is not a monologue, it is a dialogue. God speaks—truth, and his people respond—spirit. While the term spirit, as I’ve mentioned, may imply the Holy Spirit here, the word can also refer to our inner spirits, and I think in the context of this passages, that is Jesus’s primary point. The woman had asked him about the proper outward physical place and method for worship, but Jesus emphasizes that in addition to the truth of God’s revelation being a necessary part of the worship God seeks, so also the inward response of our spirits is necessary for true worship.
Next week we will unpack this two-part, dialogical structure of worship.
About Scott Aniol
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.