John 4 – Jesus and the Woman of Samaria
The story of Jesus and the woman at the well is interesting and significant. On the surface, the story doesn’t seem remarkable—Jesus merely asked a woman for a drink. However, in doing so, Jesus broke several cultural and religious customs of the day. The extraordinary conversation that followed can help us understand today how to break through barriers to witness more effectively, the importance of carefully choosing our words and timing, and the lifelong effects our words can have – for good or for bad.
It was noon on a hot day when Jesus stopped near Jacob’s Well in Samaria. He was traveling from Judea, and weary after walking roughly 65 miles (104 km) on the road to Galilee. He still had a long way to go. Jesus’ disciples had gone to get food from the city. Jesus was sitting alone when a Samaritan woman approached the well with her clay pot in hand. An amazing encounter is about to unfold. The following six practices Jesus employs helps to ensure the encounter ends well.
1. Jesus decided to take a risk and love to the best of His ability
Jews were not permitted to speak with Samaritans, and women were not permitted to speak to men without their husbands present. And yet, Jesus ignored the rules, took a risk, and opened the door for a discussion by asking the woman for a drink
The surprised woman tried to remind Jesus that his request went against the known rules. ”How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9)
At this moment, Jesus demonstrated He cared more about reaching the woman than about societal rules and cultural norms. His concern impacted the woman who was likely considered an outcast by both the Jews, and her own people (noted by the fact that she was alone, and drawing water noon rather than in the early morning with other women). Fearing coming across as different, intolerant, or fanatical can inhibit a Watchman’s message today, and cause us to falter when we have an opportunity to share the truth in love. How much more effective could we be if we focused less on how society perceives us and more on winning a soul?
2. Jesus responded to the woman in a way that made sense to her
Jesus began the conversation by speaking to the woman about something she was familiar with—water. The Apostle Paul employs this practice when he preaches on Mars Hill in Acts 17. Here, Jesus told the woman that if she knew who He was, she would be asking Him for a drink – a drink of living water. His phrasing was disarming, peaked her interested, and invited further discussion.
The Samaritan woman likely came to Jacob’s Well every single day. Drawing up the water and carrying a full, heavy jar back and forth in the dusty heat was no simple job. Jesus spoke of offering her water that would cause her never to thirst. By speaking in terms that meant something to her, Jesus’ words caused the woman to want to know more.
The discussion was able to move toward addressing serious spiritual matters because Jesus chose words that were meaningful to His audience. It is vital that we pray for discernment when reaching out to someone so that we approach each witnessing opportunity in a way that will resonate with the hearer.
3. When the time was right, Jesus confronted the woman’s sin
“Jesus said to her, ’Go, call your husband, and come here.’ 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.’” (John 4:16-18)
Timing is essential. The best statements or points, spoken at the worst, tend to be overlooked or lost. It’s unfortunate when good points are lost—it’s far worse when the person is lost. Don’t be too eager to “win” a round in the conversation. Wait, listen, and ask Christ to help you open your mouth when ears are ready to hear. Note: An evangelist with the gift of exhortation (such as John the Baptist or the Prophet or Elijah) is often called to preach a bold message with little anticipated response. Their calling is to preach and then move on. For most Watchmen, the calling is to share in one-on-one and small group settings, with a high emphasis on dialogue and building relationships with the lost. There were times when Jesus preached to thousands, but most often in the Gospels, we see His messaging is dialogue-based, gentle, personal and relational.
When Jesus sensed the opening to speak the truth regarding the woman’s sin, His approach was gentle but factual: “the [man] you are with now is not your husband.” He did not tell her she was a horrible person or that she should have known better. He did not offend the woman or make her defensive. Jesus’ love, gentleness, and compassion led the woman to acknowledge her sin, which prepared her heart for what would come next.
4. Jesus didn’t end the conversation by exposing the woman’s sin
I’m so glad the story doesn’t end with Jesus saying something like, “I just wanted to be sure you knew you were living in sin.” Jesus didn’t just walk away after the woman acknowledged her sin.
How many times have our attempts to speak the truth into someone else’s life ended with them feeling judged and beaten down? The conversation cannot end here.
Watchmen must be able to offer hope to ease the burden of sin that all of us carry. Jesus was able to tell the woman that He was the Messiah and that a glorious day of worship was coming. On this side of the cross, we can tell people about the incredible gift that Christ offers to all of us through Jesus’ great sacrifice and resurrection. We can speak of our great hope and the One Who gave it to us. When speaking truth to someone in a difficult situation, we must make sure we are prepared to offer hope and a light at the end of the dark season they are going through; it’s the best way to show love.
5. Don’t be discouraged if you are part of the sowing rather than the reaping
“For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows, and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (John 4:37-38)
As exciting as it is to see the harvest, we must remember that sometimes our role in someone else’s life is to plant the seeds. This is honorable work that has eternal benefits. Speaking in love may not change hearts and minds overnight, yet the Lord sees and honors those who sow in His name. Let us continue to share His love, even if we never see the harvest on this side of heaven.
6. Share the truth in love – share from the heart – share what you know
“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” (John 4:39)
Jesus reached out to a questionable woman on the side of the road and ended up speaking with her about the most intimate details of her life. This conversation is the longest one-on-one interaction in the Gospels that Jesus has with anyone!
His kindness and boldness saved her soul and gave her a new purpose. His kindness caused her to open her heart. His boldness caused her to reach out (in boldness) to her community. She was likely an outcast among her people. She must have shown extreme excitement and enthusiasm to motivate others to come see Jesus. Many did and were saved. Her actions caused a ripple effect of salvation decisions.
We may not always have the perfect words, and that’s ok. Sometimes the strongest witness we have and the best way to share truth in love is to share what God has done in our lives. Before we memorize one verse, we can share how He has forgiven us and washed us clean.
We can share how He has given us new hope and new purpose. People appreciate earnest words more than perfect ones, so don’t be afraid to share from your heart. Let us strive to be like Jesus—bold enough to share the truth. Let us be like the Samaritan woman: brave enough to own our sin, turn from it, and tell the world what Christ has done for us.
Don’t let your lack of knowing everything prevent you from sharing anything. Lead with love and ask Jesus to fill in the gaps.
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