Adoring Like Jesus

John 4:20-24

October 9, 2005 | Brian Bill

Two newlyweds were preparing to enjoy their first baked ham dinner in their new apartment.  After buying it from the store, the wife put the ham on the cutting board and chopped off both ends and threw them away.  The husband was mystified and wanted to know why she did this.  The wife told him that she didn’t really know but that’s how her mother always did it.  She wondered if it had something to do with bringing out the flavor.  The husband wasn’t satisfied with this answer so he called his mother-in-law.  She didn’t have a good reason either except to say that her mother did the same thing and it always seemed to work pretty well.  The husband was still not happy with the answer and so he called his wife’s grandmother to get to the bottom of it.  In her quiet voice she said, “Oh that’s simple.  I cut the ends off so it would fit in my pan.”  

Sometimes you have to go back pretty far in church history to find out why we do things the way we do.  Why do we always begin with announcements and then music and then the offering and then the message?  This morning, we’ve taken our service and put it on the cutting board.  The elements will be the same, but the order will be different.  It’s our hope that it will help bring out the flavor of worship.  Here are four reasons why we’re doing this.

  • When the order is too predictable we can get passive.  For some of you that means since the sermon is first today, you can get your nap in early and then wake up in time for the music!
  • Every element in the service is an expression of exaltation.  Preaching, praying, praising and participating in the offering all make up our corporate worship.  Even our announcements, properly understood, are avenues to adoration.
  • Worship is not necessarily synonymous with music.  Many of us tend to equate the two but as Matthew 2:11 makes clear, the wise men worshipped Jesus without any music at all.
  • The Bible gives us flexibility in the forms of worship.  John Piper refers to the “stunning indifference” of the New Testament writers to issues of form and practice in corporate worship.  In other words, there’s no one right way to worship.

In a 2001 survey, George Barna noted that 92% of churchgoers said that worship is very important to them, but most believers have a difficult time connecting with God and feel frustrated about their inability to adore Him.  I heard it put this way: 

Some go to church to take a walk.  Some go to church to laugh and talk.

Some go to church to meet a friend.  Some go to church, their time to spend.

Some go to church to meet another.  Some go to church, a fault to cover.

Some go to church for speculation.  Some go to church for observation.

Some go to church to doze and nod.  The wise go there to worship God.

As we come to “adoration,” the fourth element of what it means to be an IMPACT Christian and an IMPACT church, we could say that this is actually the most important aspect.  Everything else flows from the foundation of worship.  

  • Instruction without worship is just information
  • Ministry without worship is meaningless
  • Prayer without worship is powerless
  • Caring without worship is coercion
  • Telling others the gospel without worship is trite

Let’s begin with what is probably the best definition of worship ever written.  According to William Temple, to worship is…“To quicken the conscience by the holiness of God; to feed the mind with the truth of God; to purge the imagination by the beauty of God; to open the heart to the love of God; and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”  We all need to learn about worship.  It was Irwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, who said, “If we haven’t learned to be worshipers, it doesn’t really matter how well we do anything else.” One day Jesus had an opportunity to explain what adoration is all about.  Let’s listen in on His conversation with a woman who wondered about worship in John 4:20-24.  If you did not bring a Bible with you, you can pick one up under the chair closest to the center aisle.  Our passage is found on page 753.  Before we read this section of Scripture allow me to set the context.

In verse 4 we read that Jesus “had to go through Samaria.”  What you need to know here is that Jesus was in Judea and is now headed north toward Galilee.  The Jews and the Samaritans were enemies and avoided all contact with each other.  In fact, when Jews wanted to travel, they would take a long 3-day detour just so they wouldn’t have to go through the land of the Samaritans.  The Jews looked down on the Samaritans because they were of mixed descent, the result of intermarriage between some of the Jewish tribes and pagan nations.  In addition, the Samaritans only used the first five books of the Bible, while the Jewish people recognized the entire Old Testament Scriptures.  As we will see, they also differed on where worship should take place.

It’s interesting that Jesus “had to go” through Samaria.  And the reason He did was because He was intent on seeking out someone who eventually became a worshiper.  This was a divine appointment.  After traveling for a long time, Jesus sat down by a well about noon.  Just then a Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well.  Incidentally, it was very unusual for someone to come at this time of day to get water because most women came early in the morning.  The reason she came in the middle of the day is because she didn’t want to be seen by anyone.  She was treated as an outcast because of the way she had been living.  

Amazingly, Jesus broke cultural, racial and religious mores by first speaking to a woman and second by addressing a Samaritan.  Jesus then took this woman through a process to help her see that what she really needed was not physical water but spiritual satisfaction that only He could provide: “But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (verse 14).  

Then the Savior revealed her sinfulness by asking her to call her husband.  She admitted in verse 17 that she did not presently have a husband.  Jesus startled her by recounting her past failures and her present sinful relationship in verse 18: “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.  What you have just said is quite true.”  Jesus brought this up in order to get her to admit her sinfulness.  As John Piper says, “the quickest way to the heart is through a wound.”  In verse 19, the woman recognizes that this was no ordinary man and declared that Jesus must be a prophet because He knew so much about her.  Instead of feeling condemned, she sensed that Jesus saw through her façade and loved her in spite of how she had been living.  After confronting the truth about herself, the woman is now confronted with the truth about Jesus.

With that as a very brief background, let’s read John 4:20-24 as we see how this woman tries to change the subject from her sinfulness to a current controversy related to worship: “‘our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’  Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.’”  She may have wanted to argue religion but Jesus is going to help her face reality so that she can ultimately enter into a saving relationship with Him.

I want you to notice that the word “worship” or “worshiper” is used 10 different times in just five verses and is packed with meaning.  You may want to circle these words so they stand out.  Worship is derived from a word that means “to kiss, like a dog licking his master’s hand.”  I can relate to this because just this week we became proud parents of a 10-month old Golden Retriever.  I now have a son!  He has a lot to learn, and so do we.  When we picked him up the first thing he did was come over and lick my hand.  It was his way of saying, “thanks for adopting me.”  This word worship also means, “To fawn or crouch; to prostrate oneself in homage.”  It means to honor and respect a person of great worth and to express it in external behavior.  In other words, worship is worth-ship.  The Greek word means “to serve.”  Ascribing worth, bowing down and serving are all verbs.  Adoration is active, not passive.  It’s something we do, not something we sit back and watch others do for us. 

We’ll allow the text to create a definition of worship for us.  We’ll increase our understanding of adoration as we add the different elements spelled out in this section of Scripture.

1. Worship is not limited to a place…(20-22). 

In verse 20, the woman is either asking a question because the issue of where to worship was controversial, or it was a source of personal confusion to her, or maybe she just wanted to change the conversation: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”  The Samaritans believed that Moses mandated worship to be on Mount Gerazim, while the Jews centered their worship on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.  The Samaritans were still worshiping on Gerazim even though their temple had been destroyed 180 years earlier.  She was confused about the right place for worship.

One Sunday morning an old cowboy dressed in jeans, a denim shirt, and old boots came to church.  In his hand he carried a worn out hat and an equally worn out Bible.  The church was the largest and the most beautiful he had ever seen and people were really dressed up.  As the cowboy took a seat, everyone moved away from him.  No one greeted him or welcomed him, as the whole church seemed to look down on his appearance.  When the service was over, the preacher approached him and said: “Before you come back again, have a talk with God and ask Him what he thinks would be appropriate attire for worship.”  

The next Sunday he showed up looking just like he did the first week and was once again completely shunned.  The preacher approached the man and said, “I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church.”  The cowboy replied, “I did.”  The preacher asked, “Well, if you spoke to God about the proper attire for attending here, what did He say?”  The cowboy looked at the preacher and said, “Well, sir, God told me that He didn’t have a clue what I should wear.  He says He’s never been in this church before.”

Jesus moves us away from a place in verse 21: “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” The issue is not which mountain, or which man-made place because once Jesus offers Himself as the final sacrifice, there will be no need for a sacrificial system.  Access to adoration of the Almighty will be immediate once the temple curtain is torn in two.  In verse 22, Jesus tells her that the Samaritans worshipped a god they did not know.  Since they had elements of truth mixed with error, they were in error.  This is spelled out in 2 Kings 17:33: “They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.” Because they only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament, their view of God was inadequate and abstract.  

You can’t just add elements from here and there and expect to please God in worship.  I’m afraid that many people in our culture do just that.  If you were to sit down and ask someone what they believe, you’d hear an amalgamation of Scripture, music lyrics, MTV, trite sayings, what friends say, lines from movies, Oprah, Hallmark, and Dr. Phil.  Jesus is not afraid to address the fact that some people just have it wrong.  Not everything can be right.  Jesus is very clear that the Samaritans were in error.  This woman was in a wrong relationship and her religion was wrong as well.  Salvation is from the Jews.  Paul made this same point in Romans 9:4-5: “The people of Israel.  Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.  Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!  Amen.” 

While it’s not “politically correct” to say that someone’s religion is wrong, it is biblically correct to say so.  If someone is worshiping wrongly they cannot be right with God.  If they do not have a saving relationship with Jesus then they are lost, dead and on the road to eternal punishment in a place called Hell.  Friends, be careful about allowing universalism and syncretism to affect your faith.  Not everyone will be saved and you can’t just add elements to your belief system like picking food off a buffet table and think that you have it right.  When the Apostle Paul walked around Athens in Acts 17, he was grieved by all the false gods he saw.  But instead of just criticizing the crowds, he took advantage of their spiritual interest and said in verse 23: “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”  That’s exactly the same approach first modeled by Jesus in this passage.  

The real question is not where to worship, or even what to wear to worship, the main question is this: who are you worshipping?  Worship is not a place…

2. But is an expression of adoration to a personal God…(23a). 

Look with me at the first part of verse 23: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father…”  The Samaritan woman saw only two options as places for worship.  The Samaritan way left her feeling empty and still in her sins.  The Jewish way was foreign and far away.  Unfortunately a lot of people feel that way today.  They look at the religion of their youth as ritualistic and far away but they know that their own system doesn’t get rid of the guilt and the shame either.  But there’s another way.  True worshipers will worship the Father through the open access provided by the Son.  

You don’t need ritual but a relationship

That’s what Jesus means when He says “a time is coming and has now come…”  In the midst of her sinning and her searching, she is face-to-face with the Savior of the world.  Drop down to verse 25 to see how she eventually comes to realize this truth: “I know that Messiah is coming.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  She finally gets it.  There’s a third option.  The issue isn’t a place but a person.  You don’t need ritual but a relationship.  He exposes her sinfulness in order to embrace her as Savior.  Look at verse 26: “I who speak to you am He.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the place or practice of worship and forget the person of worship.  True worshipers worship the Father not forms.  God is more concerned with substance than with what kinds of songs we choose to sing to Him.  Jesus wanted this woman to know that the key is not religion, but relationship.  The where matters much less than the whom.  Let’s put the first two parts of the definition together: Worship is not a place but is an expression of adoration to a personal God…  Now let’s add the final part…

3. Within the parameters of spirit and truth (23b-24). 

“…In spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and truth.”  God is looking for a specific type of worshiper.  This is in the present tense, meaning God is continually scouring and searching for those who will rightly worship Him.  He seeks those who have engaged their spirits and their minds in worship that is both doctrinal and filled with devotion, when both the head and the heart are engaged.  Notice that we “must” worship in this way.  This is in contrast to the first use of the word “must” as found in verse 20 when the woman could only think of the necessity of worshiping in the right place.  We must worship the right person within the right parameters.  It’s interesting to look at the word “must” as used in the opening chapters of the Gospel of John.  

John 3:7: “You must be born again.”

John 3:14-15: “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

John 4:24: “…And His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

It’s only possible to worship if you’ve been born again.  You can’t worship in spirit if you haven’t been saved.  And you can’t worship in truth if you don’t know the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.  Let’s break this down a little bit more.

To worship in spirit…In order to fully worship God who is Spirit, we must be fully engaged in our spirit to give Him everything we have.  Our hearts must be involved, not just our heads.  Worship that is doctrinally sound but devoid of devotion is empty.  As Matthew 15:8-9 reminds us, those who are used to religion and ritual have to be careful to keep the heart healthy: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”  

Mike Turner writes: “You read over in the Book of Genesis and you’ll find the first thing that moved on the earth was the Spirit of God…but it seems to be the last thing moving in our church today.  Our services are more like wakes than worship…we’re stiff, and over starched…dried up, dormant and dead…instead of entering His gates with thanksgiving in our hearts…we walk in looking like our Father in heaven died, and didn’t leave us a cent.”

To worship in truth…Worship must also be centered on what is true.  In the context of this passage, the Samaritans had it wrong.  That’s why it’s so important to base everything on the Bible.  Jesus said in John 8:31-32: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  And in John 17:17: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”  If we belong to Jesus, will be tied into His truth as stated in John 18:37: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 

We have to be careful about the extremes here.  Remember that the kind of worship the Father seeks is emotional and intellectual.  Paul captures this truth in 1 Corinthians 14:15: “So what shall I do?  I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.”  Think of a suspension bridge anchored on one shore by spirit and on the other by truth.  There’s freedom on the bridge deck as long as the foundations are secure.  Some churches tend to focus on the emotional side while others sit like bumps on a log.  Some are so reverent that there is no rejoicing while others have so much rejoicing that there is no reverence.  I like what John Piper says: “Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and…emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates flaky people who reject the discipline of rigorous thought.  True worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine.”

God does not play hide-and-seek with us

God does not play hide-and-seek with us.  He knew all about the sin and the selfishness and the sexual immorality of this woman.  And yet, He seeks sinners just like this in order to turn them into worshipers.  Just as he drew this woman out as she was trying to draw out water, so too, He is drawing people to Himself right now in this place at this exact moment.  Why?  Because He is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.  God is looking for those who will love Him with everything they have and with all that they are.

By the way, the word “seeker” has become a well-known word in evangelical circles.  While I understand the passion behind the “seeker movement” and pastored a church that embraced this philosophy, I’ve since come to realize that it’s God who seeks us, not us Him.  He is the seeker.  He is the one searching.  If anything, people are running from God, not running to Him.  We see this clearly in Romans 10:20 as Paul quotes Isaiah 65:1: “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”   This is echoed earlier in Romans 3:11: “There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”

I mentioned the recent Barna survey last week in which most Christians say they are generally satisfied with just being “average” in their spiritual lives (  In the area of worship, about one-third said they were above average while around two-thirds said they were average or below average.  I wonder why that is.  Could it be because we associate living a life of praise with a place?  We need to see worship more as a lifestyle.  Let’s put our definition together: Worship is not limited to a place but is an expression of adoration to a personal God within the parameters of sprit and truth.

Frederick Robinson is on to something when he writes, “It is not a thing that a man can decide whether he will be a worshiper or not…we were created to worship.  The question is: what or who will we worship?”  Related to this, it was G.K. Chesterton who said, “The world is not lacking in wonders, but in a sense of wonder.”

And worship is more than music.  The question is not really, “Do you have a voice?” but rather, “Do you have a song?”  Saddleback Church has put together “10 Ways to Worship without Music” (  Let me just list them quickly for you.

  1. Worship through prayer
  2. Get into the regular habit of Bible reading
  3. Obey God
  4. Tithe
  5. Build relationships
  6. Share your faith
  7. Serve others
  8. Be thankful
  9. Fully surrender yourself
  10. Live a life of purpose

Worship is not something we come to in order to be entertained or even fed.  Worship is something we do with our lives in order to adore the One who has done it all for us.  1 Chronicles 16:29: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.” In our small group study questions for this week Pastor Dick has included a quote from Soren Kierkegaard: “We have the mistaken notion on a Sunday morning that a performance is taking place.  The minister is the actor, God is the prompter, and the congregation is the audience, deciding whether they liked what happened or not.  Actually, what takes place on Sunday mornings is that the congregation should be the actors, the minister the prompter and God is the audience.”  Friends, we shouldn’t sit passively and let others do the praising while we critique how they did with the music or the message.  The real questions are these: How did I do today?  Did I actively worship?  Did I give God glory and honor?  The only place God wants to be worshiped is within you!

Friends, worship is really a way of life.  In his book called “Emerging Worship,” Dan Kimball writes: “The average person is awake 112 hours a week.  If a person goes to a weekend worship gathering that lasts two hours, then 98.2% of their week is not in weekend worship.  To most people, ‘church’ involves only 1.8% of their time.”  You know what that says to me?  I better make sure I am fully engaged the short time I am here for corporate worship and I must make sure I’m living a life of worship outside these walls.  

One of Augustine’s famous quotes is this, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are found restless till they find their rest in you.”  Jonathon Edwards, not one to be shy about his resolutions said this: “Resolved one: That all men should live for the glory of God.  Resolved second: That whether others do or not, I will.”  I wonder how many of us will make that same resolution?

An elderly woman knew much of the Bible by heart and would repeat long passages from memory.  But as the years went by her memory started to go as well.  It got to the point where she was only able to quote one passage: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able, to keep that which I have committed, unto Him against that day.”  After awhile all she could remember was: “…That which I have committed to Him…”  Finally, shortly before she went home to be with the Lord, the family could hear her say just one word from that verse.  And she repeated it over and over: “Him!  Him!  Him!”  She had summarized her entire life in just one word: Him!  That’s what worship is: giving everything to Him.

Worship in Song

Worship in Offering

We’re going to end our service this morning with the reminder that this is really the beginning of our service.  We’ve turned everything around on purpose.  Worship here is a warm-up for worship out there – in your cars, in your homes, at your workplace, in the classroom, in your relationships.  Adoration is to be everywhere at every time, with everything that we have as Colossians 3:17 states: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  Worship is not limited to a place but is an expression of adoration to a personal God within the parameters of sprit and truth.

Would you please stand as I read the closing verses of Romans 11: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counselor?  Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?’  For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever!  Amen.”  Praise must lead to practice, doxology to dependence, singing to service, adoration to acts of sacrifice as we see in the very next verse in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.” Worship leader Matt Redman writes: “Being passionate in worship becomes lives laid down in extravagant surrender…thoughts and words and deeds thrown wholeheartedly into the mix, even when it costs us something.”  The worshippers God is seeking today are those who worship Him in spirit and in truth through lives that are surrendered completely to Him in sacrificial service.  Are you ready to do that this week?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?