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Living Water

This entry is part 8 of 15 in the series

"Fundamentals of Corporate Worship"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

For the past several weeks I have been building the case for a biblically-founded theology and practice of corporate worship. The first few posts established the bedrock foundation for all theology and practice of worship, the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient Word of God. God’s Word leads us to understand the goal of worship, communion with God. And God’s Word also helps us to understand the nature of that communion, which I will begin discussing today.

Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4 is another text that helps us to see what we have been discussing, that worship is communion with God. Like with Ephesians 2, the gospel and worship are closely linked. Notice how Jesus uses an image of drinking water to signify the nature of the gospel that he was offering the woman:

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

Remember the distinction we saw from Ephesians 2 between the clean and unclean, between the circumcised and the uncircumcised, between those able to draw near and those who are afar off—those contrasts are illustrated perfectly in this narrative. Here was Jesus, a Jewish male, speaking to a woman of Samaria—that just didn’t happen. The relationship between Jews and Samaritans was broken; a deep chasm separated them. Jews would normally take the long trek around Samaria in order to get from the south of Israel to the north, but here is Jesus going straight through, already picturing the kind of restored communion he was bringing, which Ephesians 2 later explains:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Eph 2:13–19)

And then notice how he directs the conversation with this Samaritan woman:

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Here, of course, Jesus is playing on the metaphor of water to communicate the nature of a saving relationship with him. The woman thought he was speaking of physical thirst, but he redirected the conversation to her spiritual thirst and her longing for spiritual satisfaction. God created us to commune with him, to find complete satisfaction in him alone. The very nature of sin is rejecting God as the true source of satisfaction and looking to other sources. Jesus highlights this in the life of the woman:

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

God has designed us to long for a satisfying relationship that only he can fulfil, but sinners seek all over the place for other sources of such satisfaction. This woman had gone through five husbands looking for a relationship that would satisfying that longing. Others look to material possessions or influence or success or other earthly relationships to satisfy the longing that only a relationship with God can satisfy. As Jeremiah said,

For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

This is the image Jesus draws on in his conversation with the woman. He offers her living water, that is, a source of refreshment and satisfaction that will never run dry, a “spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus would later say in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” “If anyone thirsts,” he called out to the people in John 7:35, “let him come to me and drink.” Satisfy your deep thirst for a true, deep, abiding relationship with the only one who can really do so, Jesus Christ.

So here again, Jesus is portraying the goal of the gospel as one of deeply satisfying relationship of communion with God. Yes, the gospel frees us from the penalty of sin and secures us a home in heaven, but it accomplishes far more than that—the gospel restores fellowship with God and renews our hearts to find satisfaction in him above all else.

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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.

2 Responses to Living Water

  1. Brother. You mention 7:35- as a parallel passage to the living water. If speaking of the same thing, that passage defines water as the Spirit. So then, might not Jesus’ declaration in chapter 4 be pointing to the coming New Covenant indwelling of the Spirit? It certainly has the salvific aspect, but also the new place of worship, the heart, in which the Holy Spirit/Living Water dwells.

    Thanks for the article. I appreciate your ministry of truth.

  2. Hey, Brian. Yes, that is certainly one argument put forward in support of interpreting pneuma in John 4 as referring to the Holy Spirit. I think it’s certainly possible and part of what Christ means in the discourse. I think context in Jn 4 and also grammar point more to understanding the reference as denoting quality (Timothy Ralston, for example, argues that Colwell’s Rule would lead to the latter interpretation), but I certainly see the connection between living water and the Spirit.

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