Lessons From Samaria – John 4
Christians talk a lot about evangelism. It is a primary topic. You aren’t living Christian if you aren’t evangelizing but popular efforts to evangelize don’t compare closely to Jesus’ results or His words. According to Him numbers do count (no pun intended).
Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear MUCH fruit; so shall you be my disciples. John 15:8
No fruit, little fruit or occasional fruit equals no discipleship. Fruit is the acid test of your discipleship and lip service brings no glory to God.
By the way, personal growth and character development, which are types of fruit, are not what Jesus had in mind here. A few verses later He said…
I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit… (v. 16)
Very similar to:
- Go and make disciples… Matt. 28:19
- Go into all the world… Mark 16:15
- Preach in every nation… Luke 24:47
- I send you to remit sins… John 20:21 & 23
- Be witnesses to the uttermost… Acts 1:8
And you don’t have to be sophisticated to be effective. Knowledgeable disciples are NOT more likely to bear fruit than beginners. The fact is God can use anyone anywhere to reach souls. I got saved when a lost person – my best friend – shared just a piece of salvation truth – all he knew. One thing he mentioned was hell. I was so concerned I had to learn more.
God used a lost man to bring me to salvation. Go figure. The most important qualities for an evangelist are humility and vulnerability. Jesus modeled both.
Besides, personal growth should happen concurrently while bringing others to Christ. Evangelism and growth catalyze each other. If one is NOT happening neither is the other. If one IS happening so is the other.
Unfortunately, I haven’t always lived up to this rule. Some of my projects have born much fruit and some have born none. I have gone through lengthy periods where no souls were saved but I don’t justify that as normal or acceptable. I keep trying and so should you.
One reason we fail to see many souls saved is our tendency to be selective. We target people who are:
- Likeable or attractive (no jerks or social rejects please)
- Agreeable to us philosophically (no democrats, socialists or communists please)
- Morally within limits (no divorced, adulterers or homos please)
- Financially stable (no lower class or homeless please)
Jesus didn’t model that approach. Instead of avoiding these people He sought them intentionally, first. Very close to the beginning of His public ministry He walks right through Samaria (on His way to Galilee from Judaea) and the Bible says He “needed” to do that. While there, He stops at the local well and starts a conversation with a Samaritan woman who qualified in at three ways as an undesirable if not all four. His intent was evangelistic.
She was mouthy
Jesus asked her for a drink of water – a humble approach for a Jewish male in those days – and her response was anything but subservient. The cultural norms of the day didn’t encourage women to speak their minds publicly so this woman’s response was “mouthy” to say the least.
Why do you, a Jew, make a request for water to me, a woman of Samaria? John 4:9
We don’t know how poor she was but she sure didn’t entertain a slaves attitude. She wasn’t about to hand over a drink of water to an unknown male (especially a Jewish one) before she got some answers. On “Women’s Lib” issues she was well ahead of her time.
I wouldn’t suggest it was wrong for her to speak her mind but it wasn’t the done thing in her day.
She was disagreeable philosophically
There was a long history of antagonism between the Jews and their half brothers, the Samaritans, going all the way back to the days of Nehemiah. The friction was so intense there was a constant guard up between the people of these two groups.
Its unlikely that even Jewish females would address Samaritans in a friendly tone of voice. Most would walk around this situation. Jesus walked right in and used a very different approach.
He disarmed her with an unassuming attitude. Not only was He humble enough to ask her for a drink, He obviously was willing to “soil” Himself by drinking from a Samaritan vessel. This got her attention, opened her up to the discussion and eventually changed her life forever.
She was morally off limits
This woman had been married five times and at this meeting was living with a sixth man to whom she wasn’t married. Extreme in our day, unheard of in theirs! And Jesus knew this going in. She didn’t wear any large red letters on her chest but all her friends knew the situation and Jesus, being God, knew it also. This, however, was not information that made her proud. If anything it was shaming. She would rather strangers not know these facts.
But, Jesus did reveal His knowledge of her situation late in the conversation and it made her feel accepted not shunned. Her thought would have been:
“He talked to me, even though He knew everything about me, without condescension!”
Jesus was harvesting this woman’s soul not making judgments on her life. He didn’t avoid her OR treat her as damaged goods.
Note: We don’t know that she was divorced from all five husbands (some may have died) but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think divorce had occurred in some cases.
She might have been poor
We can be sure this woman wasn’t wealthy; she carried her own water but we don’t know just how poor she might have been. She had no children to help and she might have been old having lived through six men so she wasn’t a mother of debutantes. What we can say is that Jesus certainly wasn’t targeting the affluent in this community.
But she was influential
This woman had friends and among them she had influence. On the strength of her testimony about Jesus her several friends not only believed, they also trekked out to the well to see for themselves. Once they met Jesus they begged Him to stay a few days, which He did.
In all of this the disciples were confused. They acted like normal bigots in similar situations, watching while quietly grumbling. Today we admire Jesus’ effort to win such people and make lofty statements about His willingness to reach out to enemies but we rarely “go and do likewise.”
If you have run out of prospects among your friends maybe you should start working on your enemies, using religiously questionable methods. If you want to be like Jesus you must humble yourself enough to effectively evangelize your antagonists even if it means ruffling the feathers of tradition.