basic wor­ship

Having removed the clothing of time, and place and culture that we imposed on true worship, Jesus begins to weave for her new clothes. He begins to tell us what worship is really about by taking us back to the basics John 4:22. But to do so, He reintroduces culture. He separates Jews and Samaritans by their worship! Why? Doesn’t this contradict what He said in the last sentence John 4:21. No. Let us re-emphasize what we mentioned in the last chapter. We cannot appropriate spiritual truths unless they have a physical consequence. God does not take you up high without grounding you in the earth(humus), in humility. There is an important difference between what Jesus is doing in verse 22 and what He is speaking against in verse 21. Verse 21 shows how we use culture to constrain worship. Jesus flips the whole thing.

He is telling us that worship defines culture. We have been wrong to think that culture defines worship. This is the shift that Jesus introduces and it is not so much a shift but a complete reversal. A Jew does not know God because he is a Jew. Instead, one becomes a Jew by knowing God Romans 2:28-29. The implications go even even further than that: I do not define worship. Worship defines me. In fact, once I start to define worship, then I make myself most important in worship and it ceases to be about God and becomes idolatry. The only difference between a Samaritan and a Jew is not the color of their skin or the content of their character or where they grew up. The only difference that matters is their worship. It is their worship that defines each group.

Life In One Sentence

Verse 22 is an amazing verse. Jesus not only sums up the entirety of Christian life but also captures the daily struggle. He does this all in one sentence. You can think about verse 22 as the body of Christ’s answer to the Samaritan woman. Verse 21 is prelude and verse 23-24 is an elaboration. Verse 22 can be broken up into three parts. Part 1: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know.” Part 2: “for.” Part 3: “salvation is from the Jews.” We’ll address each part somewhat separately.

As we’ve discussed before, the human task in worship is submission. The thing we submit to is then able to act through us. This is true both in idol worship and the worship of God. One of the problems with worshiping idols is that you never know what you’re submitting to (See: Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing) and you’re never quite sure what is acting through you. Idolatry always involves at least submission to oneself and our desires are never singular. So that any given moment, in the worship of idols, one could be an agent for many powers including oneself. Now idols, as we have mentioned, can be anything ranging all the way from money to one’s family. It becomes an idol when you submit to something God didn’t tell you to submit to.

In true worship, however, the Christian submits to God and only God acts through the Christian. So we could therefore para-phrase Part 1 of verse 22 to say: You submit to what you do not know and you do not know what acts through you; we submit to God and God acts through us. The goal of the Christian in every moment is worship. The entirety of Christian life is summed up in the struggle to ensure that everything you do begins with submission to God and ends with God acting through you.

Everyone Worships

The content of Jesus’ speech in verse 22 is of course very important. There are many things happening here but two things are immediately visible to me. First of all, Jesus lumps the world into one group and then divides them up. Both parts of Part 1 involve worship. We can therefore conclude that everyone worships since both sentences contain the act of worship in them. Jesus then divides the world into two kinds of people. Those who worship what they don’t know and those who worship what they know. So no matter who you are or where you’re from, you are a worshiper. The place of separation lies in the following question: Do you worship what you know or do you worship what you don’t know?

Knowledge Before Worship

The second thing Jesus does is declare that there is a relationship between seeing/knowing and true worship. There is an intimate relationship between knowing God and worshiping God. The greek word used for “to know” here is eido which means knowing, seeing, beholding and perceiving. You can therefore define true worship as the worship that arises from beholding/knowing God. False worship is worship that arises out of an ignorance of God.

So lets say I go to church every Sunday and sing the songs and everything. Let’s say I can heal the sick and the blind and all sorts of miracles. But if I don’t know God, I am an idol worshiper Matt 7:21-23, 1 Cor 13:1-3 and the same as a Samaritan. (We will talk about how you know that you know God later.) The Samaritans worshiped without seeing or knowing what what they were worshiping. They worshiped in futility. Their worship could never bring them out of ignorance.

Note, however, that their ignorance didn’t stop them from worshiping either. This tells us just how important worship is to human beings. We breathe in air and we breathe out worship. No one needs to know anything in order to breathe and everyone knows those who don’t breathe are dead. But how you breathe is very important. Just ask someone who suffers from asthma or someone with COPD. Any athlete will tell you that if you don’t know how/when to breathe in and how/when to breathe out, you’re wasting your strength and energy.

As we have discussed extensively, all of us are prone to having idols. We can worship them with all our might but these idols will not remove our ignorance. Instead, they further confirm and reaffirm our ignorance. The picture to use here is that of someone treading water in the middle of the ocean or someone lost in the wilderness (like Hagar and Sarai). In these situations, you can always go somewhere but the question is where will you go and will you be dead before you get there? Remember, no one walks a dry path deep into the desert. No. We find ourselves lost in the desert by following a trail of unreliable springs.

Submission Vs. Futility

There are those who believe that all religions and all beliefs are the same and that all gods are the same as God or will lead to a knowledge of God. Well this verse contradicts all that in a fundamental way. You can believe anything you want but this will never lead to any knowledge of God. You’ll just be treading water till you get tired and start to sink. As we’ll talk about next, our minds will strive in futility to turn ignorance into knowledge through many methods. But the mind is not a philosopher’s stone. It cannot turn ignorance into knowledge any more than darkness can be turned into light. Paul says as much Ephesians 4:17-20. We will elaborate on this later.

There are those who believe that Christians should leave their brains at the door. They believe that deep thought prevents faith. But Jesus reveals here that an ignorance of God is inimical to faith in God. This means that you have to know God and everything about Him. An analog would be how we strive to know everything about a loved one. Now God says in Deut 10:12, Matt 22:36-39, James 4:8 that we cannot love Him and cannot know Him unless we bring our entire being into the picture.

This, at the very least, means that your mind has to be fully engaged and undivided in the pursuit of knowing Him. Hence, the proper relationship between the mind and faith is that of servant(the mind) and master (faith). The mind submits to faith and thereby becomes fully engaged.

We’ll talk later on how one comes to know God but lets say here that knowing God begins and ends with God knowing you Psalms 139:23-24.

“Is it not indeed from the LORD of Hosts that the labor of the peo­ple only feeds the fire, and the nations weary them­selves in vain? For the earth will be filled with the knowl­edge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
- Habakkuk 2:13-14

Wanna reach out and ask me some ques­tions? Or do you want clar­i­fi­ca­tion on some­thing writ­ten here? If so, write me a let­ter. I’d love to hear from you and I’ll respond. I bet your hon­est ques­tion will pro­duce insights that will ben­e­fit other read­ers.