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In Spirit and in Truth

Mention the word “worship” to some and it’s difficult (if not impossible), not to be drawn into a discussion where you stake out a “position.”  While I’m sure that has its place and the leadership of each local assembly must decide what is best for its membership, I’m also sure wise leaders recognize that if we end up worshipping our understanding of worship --- we’ve pitifully missed the mark.  Perhaps more subtle is what happens when figuring out the particulars captures more time and attention than they deserve and leaves us wanting for a grander, unified view of worship.  From my perspective, that’s where Jesus’ words from John 4 fit in. 

Jim McGuiggan has helped me to see that Christ’s conversation with the woman about worship needs to be understood in light of His earlier talk with Nicodemus (John 3:1ff).  As a descendant of Abraham, this Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin must have come to Jesus with what he thought was a strong resume for inclusion in the kingdom Christ was preaching (Mark 1:14-15).  After all, as far back as Exodus 19:5-6, fleshly Israel had been spoken of in kingdom terms, hadn't they?  Being part of the Messiah’s kingdom surely wouldn’t require much more, would it?

What a shock it must have been when Jesus informed him that fleshly birth meant nothing in regard to His kingdom (v. 3,5-6).  This is an important theme in John and is stated in the prologue:
 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God,” (1:12-13).  What mattered Jesus said, was not where you came from, but where you were going --- that you yielded to the Spirit’s recreating work at baptism and in the new life that followed (Titus 3:4-6; Romans 8:5ff). To put it succinctly, in terms of the kingdom, birth by the flesh was out and birth by the Spirit was in. 
Much of the strife between the Jews and the Samaritans was similarly based on flesh.  The roots of this went back to the Assyrians conquering the northern kingdom under Shalmaneser (2 Kings 17).  He deported most of the Israelites and brought in people from other countries (v. 24).  Soon the people were racially and religiously mixed (v. 29-33).  It would be an understatement to say that things did not improve over the centuries that followed so that by Jesus’ time, Jews traveling from Judea to Galilee usually took a detour around Samaria --- because the two groups had no interaction (John 4:9). 

In His conversation with the woman about worship, Jesus wants her to understand the same thing that He told Nicodemus about entrance into the kingdom --- it’s Spirit-based rather than flesh-based.  True worship in His kingdom will be “in the Spirit and in truth.”  It won’t matter whether your flesh is Jewish, Samaritan, or Gentile.  What will matter is that you’ve been experienced new life through the Spirit and are “in step” with Him (Galatians 5:25).  The world that has been divided by the flesh will be united by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13; Acts 1:8).  This is what our Father seeks for mankind!

And this is what Jesus died to accomplish.  Listen to what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:14-18:

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

This is the fullness of truth that Christ has brought and of which John speaks in 1:14-17.  To worship “in the Spirit and in truth,” is to worship by the Spirit according to the truth brought by Christ.  I’m suggesting that the phrase speaks more to the status of the worshipper than to their style of worship.  Paul will say in a similar context, “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,” (Philippians 3:3 ESV).

So the next time you feel a little numb over discussions of what songs we will sing, what we will do or won’t do with our hands, who will lead us and how they’ll lead us, etc., make sure you don’t miss the forest for the trees.  Or take a deep breath and look at that tree again.  Remember that while those things may be twigs and stems, the trunk of the tree is about celebrating the new humanity our Father is creating by the Spirit in accordance with the fullness of truth revealed in and by Jesus. 

This is the wholeness God seeks for us both individually and corporately.  He seeks this kind of worship (v. 23), not for Himself alone, but for Himself and us.  For this kind of worship is the death of fragmentation and the beginning of life! 

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