By Pastor Glenn Pease
Keith Miller in his book The Scent Of Love tells of the young intern who was brilliant and competitive, and wanted to get his hands on the toughest cases that came into the hospital. One day a man was brought in very sick. His temperature was high, his blood count was down, and his fluids were out of balance. He was in bad shape, and this young doctor said, "I'll take him." He started working on the sick man and got his temperature down. Then he got his blood count up, and his fluids in balance. Everything was going quite well, but suddenly the patient died.
The supervising physician came by just as the intern was covering the patient, and he noticed he was furious. He watched unobserved from the hall as the young doctor grabbed the chart at the front of the bed, took a pen out of his pocket, and scrawled something across it. Then he stormed angrily out passed the supervisor, and never said a word. The older physician could not resist going into to see what he had written. It said, "This patient was in better condition when he died then when he first came to me." This is in the same category with the statement, "The operation was a success, but the patient died." It sounds strange, but this is the goal of the physician of the soul-to make sure people are in better condition when they die.
Corrie Ten Boom got the warning that a Jewish orphanage was to be raided, and all the babies killed. She quickly got some of her Dutch boys dressed up in Nazi uniforms, and sent them to the orphanage to demand that the babies be turned over to them. With tears they were handed over. The people did not realize that they were really saving the babies. All were given to families to raise. One of the boys involved in this clever rescue said to Corrie that he believed the most important work of his life was the saving of those babies. Corrie said to him that as important as it was, the more important work is saving people forever by telling them of Jesus. She put her hand on his shoulder and said, "Pete, every Christian is called to be a soul winner for Jesus.....and in your life there will come a times when you will see that as the most important work for you.
Six months later he was arrested, and given one week to live. The day before he was executed he wrote this letter to Corrie. "All the boys in my cell are sentenced to death. I am so glad that I could tell them about Jesus and they have accepted Him. I know that when they shoot us tomorrow, we will all go to heaven, because we have brought our sins to Jesus and He has made us all children of God. We know that the house of the Father with many mansions is our very close future. I see now that the most important work for a Christian is to win souls for eternity. Like the young doctor, this young physician of the soul could have written their death certificates with these words: "These boys were in better condition when they died then when they came to me." Jesus could have written this concerning the thief on the cross as well.
This is the ultimate need of all mankind. We cannot solve the problems of the world. It will be a fallen world until Jesus comes again, and it will be a world of unsolvable problems and crooked paths we cannot make straight. But we can make sure that the victims of this fallen world are in better condition when they die, then ever before. That is the great human need that Jesus addresses in John 4. He does not offer the woman at the well marriage counseling, or some advice on self-esteem therapy. After being rejected by five husbands, she no doubt had a head full of psychological problems. Jesus did not inquire if there were children involved, and offer her family guidance, or legal advice on how she could get out of Samaria and start a new life. This woman may have had more problems than we could imagine, but all Jesus offered her was a spring of water that would well up to eternal life. He was not solving all her problems, but He was offering her the chance to be in better condition when she died, than she ever was before she met the Messiah.
The point I am getting at it this: Man's greatest need is for eternal life. There are a great many studies on man's basic needs. He needs food, air, water, shelter, clothing, and he needs love and security, self-esteem, and a host of other things for the ideal and balanced life. But the bottom line Biblically is, man needs God. He needs to know he is a child of God, and a part of a family that never ends. This woman at the well had five families that ended, and we do not know what state she was in with her present family. Jesus offers her a chance to be a part of a family where she will be loved permanently. Her wells kept running dry, but Jesus offers her a well that will never run dry. He offers her a place where she will always belong. This meets her basic need for love, acceptance, and security.
This whole passage is about meeting needs, and it leads us to focus on another principle truth about evangelism-the purpose of evangelism. Let's review the key truth that Jesus is teaching us in John 4. We have looked at-
1. HIS PASSION FOR EVANGELISM.
2. HIS PROCEDURE IN EVANGELISM.
3. HIS PROSPECTS FOR EVANGELISM.
4. HIS PURPOSE IN EVANGELISM.
This last one is our focus now. There are literally thousands of definitions of what evangelism is. I have written a couple myself. Here are some of the most famous:
1. The Madras Foreign Missions Council, "Evangelism is so to present Jesus Christ to the world in the power of the Holy Spirit that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, accept them as their Savior and serve Him as their Lord in the fellowship of His church."
2. The World Council Of Churches, "Evangelism is so making Christ known to men that each is confronted with the necessity of a personal decision, yes or no."
3. Toyohiko Kagawa, "Evangelism means the conversion of people from worldliness to Christlike godliness."
4. Albert W. Beaven, "Evangelism is simply the contagion of enthusiasm for Jesus Christ.
The methods which we employ are only channels through which this enthusiasm flows."
5. Archbishop Temple, "Evangelism is the winning of men to acknowledge Christ as their Savior and King, so that they may give themselves to His service in the fellowship of His church."
6. Samuel Boon of Siam, "Evangelism means living, doing, and talking for Christ."
There are many ways to say it, but when you reduce it to its essence, evangelism is simply meeting mans basic need for salvation, or the need for eternal life. When this purpose is achieved, there will be many changes in time, but the ultimate value will be, people will be in better condition when they die than they were before they met the Great Physician. As we watch the Master at work in fulfilling the purpose of evangelism, we see how the entire process is need oriented.
Jesus deals with each person He encounters according to their need. Find a need and meet it was His strategy. In John 3 Jesus said to Nicodemus, "You must be born again." This analogy of coming into the kingdom of God by the process of a new birth has so dominated the minds of modern Christians that they have completely ignored the fact that Jesus never once referred to it in dealing with the woman at the well. His analogy here is tailored to meet her need, and He uses the analogy of drinking at a fountain that never runs dry. For Nicodemus, and millions of others, the concept of being born anew is just what they need to grasp the Gospel. But for others, the need is to see being saved is like finding a fountain of water that quenches the thirst for love, meaning, and acceptance. Still others need to see it as being a lost sheep found by a loving shepherd, and being returned to the fold.
There are different analogies used in the Bible to describe the experience of being saved, because the people who need to be saved have a variety of individual differences. Jesus did not treat people like pieces of plastic coming along in a assembly line, all alike, and all needing the same label attached, or the same hole drilled in the same place. People are all different, and though they all have the same ultimate need, they have very different temporal needs, and these need to be addressed in witnessing to them, and leading them to have their needs met in Christ. We should all have a sort of canned presentation of the Gospel prepared, but we need to be aware of the importance of being flexible, and not so locked in to a specific presentation that we ignore people's differences.
If all you ever say to people is, you must be born again, you are not being Christ like, for He only used that as one of several analogies of salvation. So use them all, and vary them with the circumstances, and the nature of the people you are dealing with. This woman was at the well in the heat of the day, and she was obviously in great need of water, so Jesus takes this need and builds His presentation of the Gospel around that need. Jesus said you need living water, and this got her attention, for that was her most relevant need just then. A wise witness will observe and listen so as to know something of the needs of the person he is witnessing to. If the Gospel does not speak to a felt need, you can count on it,
it will seem irrelevant to the person you are talking to. If the purpose of evangelism is to meet a basic need, then you have to be dealing with a persons need to get anywhere in achieving this goal.
You can never catch fish unless you appeal to a need. They need food, and so you offer them bait, and a variety of bait for appeal to different fish. You also have to appeal to a need to be a fisher of men. That is why Jesus has so many different names and titles in the Bible. Each one makes Him just what people need at a particular time in their life.
To the lonely, Jesus is the friend.
To the lost, Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
To the sick, Jesus is the Great Physician.
To the ignorant Jesus is the teacher.
There are many other examples, and the point is, Jesus is what people need, but He has to be presented according to the specific needs of the individual, and that is why we need to pay attention to people's needs, for they are the doors of opportunity to share the good news of Jesus. All that Jesus is doing in this context revolves around need. He exposes her record of failed relationships, not to embarrass or condemn her, but to make it quite clear that she has a need for love and acceptance, which she just can not quench. She has been trying to satisfy her thirst for love by one relationship after another, always hoping the next one will meet her need. We do not know the details of why five men divorced her, but he chances are good that it was because she could never be satisfied, and was always looking for another man. She could have been like many in our day who expect to find love
and life's meaning in sex alone.
We do not want to minimize the value of sex, and its place in God's plan, and try to pretend it is not a major need. We are just pointing out that people who become obsessed with sex make it an idol, and destroy all their relationships by an insatiable quest to quench their thirst for love at this one well. People need a love that is more powerful and more permanent than sex. That is what this woman needed, and that is what all need, and that is the love that Jesus offered her, and offers to all.
This woman went from man to man expecting her thirst to be quenched, if she could just find the right man. Jesus did not question her need, and say it was not legitimate. He did not say she did not need love and satisfaction. He just said she was drinking from the wrong well, and seeking to satisfy her need by means of externals. The only water that can satisfy is living water, and that comes from a well from within. This is the very essence of what the Gospel is all about. It is about the inner life. The world system is a system of externals. The meaning of life is in what you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste, and so it makes sense that they drink at the wells of sensualism and materialism.
The people we contact every day in the world are people who are thirsty, and who are seeking to quench that thirst by getting all the pleasure they can if that means drinking at the well of immorality, then so be it, it is the only well they know. The purpose of evangelism is to help them see a better well. A well that can meet their deepest needs, and save them from a futile search that makes them slaves rather than liberated people. Jesus came to give this woman life and life abundant. That is, a life set free from the slavery of being compelled to go from one relationship to another, always looking for that external setting that would satisfy. When we find our deepest needs met by water within, we are free from this external compulsion. Jesus is that well that provides the living water, and when He is in our lives, we can find satisfaction from within. We can know we are loved and accepted, and feel secure without the constant reinforcement of externals.
We thank thee, Lord, for Pilgrim days,
When desert springs were dry,
When first we knew what depths of need
Thy love could satisfy.
The purpose of evangelism is to help people change their focus so they find their needs met by the kingdom of God which is within them, when they receive Christ as Savior. The Well Within is the goal. The well without is the focus of the world, as it was with this woman. What she needed most, and what all people need most is, The Well Within-an inner source of the water of life that meets our deepest needs and quenches our thirst for love. The purpose of evangelism is to point to Jesus as this Well Within, and make Him so appealing that people want to open their lives and welcome Him in.
Those who drink of this well will never thirst again Jesus said. This does not mean people who take Jesus as their Savior never feel thirsty. Jesus Himself felt thirsty, and asked for a drink. The needs of life go on, and we all need external water, and we all need external love, acceptance, and the materialism of the secular life is still an important part of the Christian life. But the ultimate need is met in Christ, and we no longer need to live under the delusion that some external can satisfy the meaning of life. The need for God,
for love, and for eternal life are all met in Christ, and we never need to thirst again for these needs to be met.
This woman had plenty of needs after she welcomed Christ into her life as her Messiah. She still needed to come to the well and get water. She still needed to bring her sex life under the control of God's law, and make a commitment to the man she was living with.
She had a list of needs she had to meet in the external world. But she had a well within that satisfied her ultimate need for love and life in God. Billy Sunday, the great evangelist, once wrote to the mayor of the city where he was going for a campaign. He asked him to send him the names of citizens in special need of prayer. The mayor sent him the city directory. Everybody is in need of prayer, and everybody always will be, as long as history lasts. Just knowing this need makes it easier to witness to all people.
The Gospel is not, come to Jesus and you will never need to come to the well again; you will never need human love again; you will never need the acceptance of society again; you will never need a job, food, a place to live, and friends again. Not at all! These needs go on for all people, as they did for this woman at the well. The Gospel is, you don't have to look for the meaning of life in all of the wrong places, for you have found it in your relationship to Christ. The meaning of life is found in Jesus, who by His death for your sin has reconciled you to God, and given you eternal life. The good news is, you will be in better condition when you die than you ever were before you came to Christ, and began to drink from the well within.
Jesus did not scold this woman for her futile search for water to quench her thirst. Nor is it our calling to blast people for their foolish quest to find the fountain of life in all of the externals of the world. Our calling is to witness to a source of water that quenches the thirst for meaning, and sets people free from the slavery to externals. All people have a deep need for a relationship with God. Back in the days of the death of God movement someone said, "Isn't it strange, we've gotten rid of God, and yet something is still missing." There is a thirst in man that can never be quenched until he feels right with God. Even atheist feel this. Bertrand Russell was one of the most famous atheists of this century. Listen to what he wrote, "Even when one feels nearest to other people, something in one seems obstinately to belong to God, and to refuse to enter into any earthy communion-at least that is how I should express it if I thought there was a God. It is odd isn't it? I care passionately for this world and many things and people in it, and yet...what is it all? There must be something more important, one feels, though I don't believe there is."
He didn't even believe in God, but he admitted he had a thirst for God, and a need for God to make sense of life, and to make it complete. Everyone you know and meet has this basic an ultimate need to know God, and to be reconciled to Him. Every need people have is a door by which we can enter into their lives, and point out their greater need. If you want to make the Gospel relevant, make it need centered. Find a need and meet it. The purpose of evangelism is to do what Jesus did with this woman at the well. Appeal to the need for water that satisfy people's thirst, and then point them to the only water that can meet that need, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will be to all who receive Him, The Well Within.