THE WOMAN AT THE WELL
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Your kindness to one person can change the course of history for multitudes. Gypsy Smith was one of the great evangelists of the last century, and the beginning of the 20th. He won tens of thousands of people to Christ. His life was often in the midst of the crowd, but his greatest life changing experience was a one on one encounter. He felt very conspicuous, for he was from a Gypsy family, and he was accustomed to being rejected for being different. He felt nobody cared for him but his father. But one day, as he stood outside a chapel, an older man walked up to him and said, "The Lord bless you, my boy. The Lord keep you, my boy."
The man walked away, and he never saw him again, but a lump came into his throat, and a tear to his eye, for those words of kindness made a little Gypsy boy feel accepted. In his autobiography Gypsy writes, "When I reach the glory-land, I will find out that dear old man, and while angels shout and applaud, and the multitudes who have been brought to Christ through the Gypsy boy sing for joy, I will thank that grand old saint for his shake of the hand and for his God bless you! For he made me feel that somebody outside the tent really cared for a Gypsy boy's soul." It is absolutely amazing what an act of acceptance to a person who expects to be rejected.
Jesus knew the power of acceptance in people's lives, and that is why we see Him practicing it when He encounters people who expected to be rejected. Zacchaeus was up a tree, not only because he was short of stature, but because he was short on acceptance. People would not give him ground to stand on, but would have gladly trampled on him. He was not an acceptable person, but Jesus came along and accepted him as a friend, and even ate with him. This acceptance changed this little man's life so that he became a big hit in the kingdom of God.
Even more radical is this encounter of Jesus with the woman of Samaria. Zacchaeus was despised, but he could at least be respected for being a success for what he did. But this woman was a failure. She had married five husbands, and now she was living with a man she was not married to. It is not likely all five of her husbands died, and so she was probably a divorced woman. She was still young enough to be attractive, however, for she had lured another fly into her web. She had something going for her in short range relationships, but in the long run she was a failure at keeping a relationship alive. She was a Samaritan, a woman, and on top of that, and immoral woman. We have no description of anyone else in the life of Jesus who was a greater moral failure, yet, the encounter of Jesus with this woman at the well is the longest account we have of Jesus dealing with an individual.
Spurgeon calls John 3 and 4 the key soul winning portions of God's Word, because of the focus of Jesus on individuals like Nicodemus and this woman. They were radically different. He was a male Jewish leader, and she was a female Samaritan nobody. He was socially, politically, economically, and religiously her superior, but we see Jesus treating them as equals, and as objects of His love and acceptance. The record of her encounter is twice as long as that of Nicodemus, and the reason is obvious. As a woman and a Samaritan, Jesus had to make it clear that she was not less and object of the evangelism task of the church. Jesus was being far more radical here than we know, by his acceptance of this woman.
The Jewish rabbis said, "Rather burn the sayings of the law than teach them to women." And, "Let no man prolong conversation with a woman; let no one converse with a woman in the streets, not even with his own wife." Jesus was going against the grain of His day. Spurgeon points out, "Even the Apostles were tainted at first with the horrible superstition which made them marvel than Jesus openly talked with a woman." Jesus was doing a lot of teaching by this encounter. He was teaching the woman and His disciples, and the church for the rest of history. Some of the most profound truths of revelation are to be found in this chapter. It is also a guide to the principles of evangelism. Here is the Master by precept and example showing us the means and the methods by which we can follow Him in winning the lost. We have here the authorized manual on how to be an effective witness and disciple maker. Let's look at two foundational insights that will help us make the Master's plan our plan. First note,
I. HIS PASSION FOR EVANGELISM.
Jesus was so tired that He was the only one of the group who stayed at the well to rest. The others all went into town to buy provisions. Farrar in his Life Of Christ writes, "The expression in the original is most pathetically picturesque. It implies that the wayfarer was quite tired out, and in his exhaustion flung his limbs wearily on the seat, anxious if possible for complete repose." In other words, Jesus is shot. In this state of body and mind, most of us avoid people like the plague. We don't care about any need but our own, and we are not interested in conversation that is even small talk, let alone things of eternal value. But Jesus has such a passion for witnessing that He engages this woman in extended conversation about deep spiritual matters.
He told His disciples, when they returned, that His food was to do the will of Him who sent Him. He had such a passion to touch people for God that He forgot about His hunger and exhaustion. The tragic truth is, most of us do not care enough about lost people to go out of our way to touch them, even when we are feeling our best. Intellectually we care, but we have loss the passion that compels us to care enough to act. Leighton Ford begins his book Good News Is For Sharing, by telling of his experience on the Caribbean Island of Grand Caymon. His wife lost her diamond engagement ring. She feared she dropped it on the beach. Friends helped them sift through sand where she had been sitting, but no ring was found.
They went back to their motel room crushed, not just because of the monetary loss, but because of so many loving memories tied to that ring. Then he moved some papers on the bed, and there it was. They hugged with joy, and Leighton went flying out the door, and even though it was near midnight, he banged on doors and shared the good news with everyone. He is a professional evangelist, and yet, even he does not get that passionate over sharing the good news of eternal life in Christ. He knows we don't even come close. Why? Because Christians who think they are so free, are in reality, to a great degree, slaves of the culture.
It is not the in thing to do to challenge people's convictions. It is the in thing to tolerate, and let everybody do their own thing, and believe their own thing. We like this even as Christians, for it means we too are tolerated, and are free to believe and not be persecuted. It seems only right to give others that same freedom, and so the idea of trying to persuade someone to change almost seems anti-American. The result is, we are just the opposite of passionate in witnessing, for we are apathetic. The Gospel is everywhere, and anyone who really wants to be saved can be anytime they chose. They just have to turn on the TV, or radio, or go buy a book. They are free to be saved at their convenience, so why should I buy them? We may not consciously reason this way, but we do practice this philosophy, and the end result is, we follow culture and not Christ, for we reject His passions for leading people to find a redemptive relationship with God.
Because of this lack of passion, we don't even care about our lost peers, let alone the fowl sinners like this woman at the well. We are almost pagan in our perspective, for we think that as long as people are happy, and they vote, and keep their yard nice, they are okay, and we don't have to be bothered by the fact that they are lost. People who are not drowning do not need us to make heroic efforts to save them. Only when you feel that people's lives are threatened are you moved to act with passion. Since we are captives of our culture, and do not feel a strong sense of the lostness of people, we are not moved to witness, or to go out of our way to help them find the Way.
It is not that there is a lack of books, seminars, and conferences on evangelism. They are available in abundance. What is lacking is the passion that compels Christians to act. When Baron von Hugel, the Christian philosopher, was on his death bed, he called his favorite niece to his side. He whispered to her his last words that summed up all his brilliant mind had learned in life. He said, "Caring is everything. Nothing matters but caring." Jesus cared about every person He encountered, and because He cared, He shared. He made an effort to touch their lives for God.
Stonewall Jackson had to cross the Shanondoah River in 24 hours. He told old Miles that he had ordered his engineers to prepare plans and to get them to him as quickly as possible. About 10 hours later Jackson asked old Miles how he was getting along, and he replied, "General, the bridge is built. I don't know whether the picture is done yet or not." We all need to be more like old Miles the bridge builder. He had a passion for getting the job done. If we wait for someone to come up with the perfect plan before we share Christ with someone, we will spend our life planning and preparing, but never performing. What we need is the passion that propels us to care enough to share.
It is better to try and fail than never to try at all. May God help us to be open to the passion of Christ so we are willing to try. Guilt can sometimes move us, and we can be scolded into some surface activity, but, as Lyle Schaller says, that is usually followed by his hostility, and then passive neglect. We need to focus on just one primary motive for evangelism, and that is passion for people. This is what brought Jesus into the world, and this is what moved Him to care about every individual He met, and this alone is what will make us the witness He wants us to be. May God help us to pray, "Lord fill me with your spirit of passion for people that will, in turn, give me your passion for evangelism.
Jesus had a passion for evangelism, but He did not have a zeal without knowledge. He did not use emotionalism, but very rational methods in winning people. Jesus knew psychology, and He knew human nature, and we see this clearly as we look at our second point.
II. HIS PROCEDURE IN EVANGELISM.
A game may be won by the act of sinking a ball in a basket or cup, or taking it across a goal line, but that act is preceded by a procedure. That is, there is a process by which one comes to this winning event, and so it is with winning a person into the kingdom of God. Jesus did not just throw holy water on this woman at the well, and claim her as a disciple. She had to be won, and this calls for a process by which she is taken from neutral through negative, and into positive. This can be a complex procedure, but the details of this encounter are recorded so all Christians can see the basic principles of how to go about making a disciple for Christ. We will be looking at these basics in a series on John chapter 4. The first step we want to see in this process is His approach.
The first words of Jesus to this woman are words of request. He asked, "Will you give me a drink?" You may think that it is much ado about nothing to make an issue of this, but in fact, it is a key factor in successful evangelism. Most efforts to touch a life for Christ fail at this first stage, which is the approach. If you approach people with the words, "Are you saved?" Or, "Are you going to heaven?" Or some such words, you are taking an aggressive approach that may work in some cases, but is bound to fail in most, because it is an attack approach that puts people on the defensive.
You are approaching them as a superior approaches and inferior, and you come as a threat. It is the approach of those with a Messiah complex. They have the solution to everyone's problems, and if people will just give heed, they will be delivered. They come with the image of those who have it all together, and are in need of nothing. Listen to them and you too can be among the elite. There is no denying that this does appeal to some, but the Messiah Himself does not use this approach. His approach is not only better, and more effective, it is the honest approach that avoids the danger of pride in the believer, and offense to the unbeliever.
Jesus approaches this woman with a focus on His own need. He is thirsty, and she has the capacity to meet that need. By requesting a drink from this very worldly woman, Jesus establishes a common ground with her. He is not approaching her as a superior, but as an equal. She is there to get water because she needs water to live. He is not different from her. He has this same need for water. His approach to her is the approach of acceptance. It is a very opposite of the attack approach. In the attack approach you establish immediately that you are not on common ground with your target person. You are saved, and they are not. You have the answer, and they do not. You are in, and they are out. It is two different worlds colliding, and collisions are not pleasant experiences.
The approach of Jesus says, we are in the same world with common needs. His approach builds on the likenesses of the lost with the saved, and not their differences. He gets there later in the process, but that is not an effective approach. When you make a request of another person, you have instantly conveyed to them that they are a valued person. They have what can be of help to you, and so they are of value to you. That is what acceptance is. If you do not convey acceptance of another, why should they even care to accept you, or anything you have to say?
The acceptance approach is almost always the only way to earn the right to witness to anybody. Forget all the nonsense of being superior to the lost. They may have many ways by which they can meet needs that you have. Jesus was no macho Messiah who refused to ask a Samaritan woman for help. She had a jar, and she could help Him satisfy His thirst, and He did not hesitate to ask her for that help. If you want a positive relationship with a non-Christian, you need to find an area of life where they have something by which they can meet a need of yours. You request for help establishes that you accept them, and acknowledge their worth. This puts you on common ground, and gives you a basis to go further.
If anybody had the right to take the other approach, it was Jesus. He was not only a man, and she was a woman. He was the best of men, and she was the worst of women. He was a Jew, and she was a Samaritan. He was holy, and she was unholy. He had every reason in the book to approach this woman as a superior to an inferior. But He didn't, and by not doing so, He labels that approach in any of His followers, one of audacity and pride. We all need to do a lot of self examination at this point. Do we accept people as Jesus did? Can we humble ourselves as He did to ask for help, even from an outstanding sinner? Do we look down our nose at people outside the kingdom, and convey a spirit of rejection, or do we look up to them as people of worth, and say to them, I could use your help? Until we can do the latter, we cannot get to first base in winning the lost.
Now let's not distort this, and pretend that Jesus accepted her sinful life style. He did not say, it is okay by me if you marry every Tom, Dick, and Harry you can seduce. I know you are between husbands, and working on your sixth success, but that is nothing to me. That is not what we mean by accepting the sinner. Jesus did not accept her sin, or okay it. He just accepted her as a person. A person worthy of being loved and cared about, and worthy of being redeemed. To accept another does not mean you approve of their sin. It simply means, you are willing to acknowledge your worth, and then treat them with respect. Jesus was a friend of sinners, because He accepted them, not their sin. Their sin, however, never disqualifies them for acceptance, because their sin is what makes them in need of a Savior, and, therefore, in need of acceptance.
Jesus needed this sinner to help Him get a drink, and because He was willing to acknowledge that need, He won her over to drink the water of life, and become His disciple. Get rid of your Christian pride, and look for ways you need a sinners help, and then you will be ready to approach them with a Christ like acceptance.