devotional studies on the Father from John’s gospel
John 4. There are several references to the Father in this one story:
‘Jesus said to her ‘woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.’ 4:21
‘the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.’ 4:23
There is so much to be said here. Three times in four short verses the Father is mentioned. The flow of conversation suggests that Jesus’ first mention of the Father relates to the woman’s talk of ancestors; ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain’ she says.
This statement of hers is a ‘I’m just doing what was handed to me from my people…’ ie firstly if this is wrong, it’s not my fault and secondly the higher powers (of my people and the past) decide who we are and what we do.
Jesus’ reply to these statements is essentially: I’m talking about God. Let’s not miss the point of it all – you and God the Father. Where people would like to talk in abstract, third person terms Jesus makes things personal. ‘God the Father is my father, he’s who I listen to and you should too’.
The woman may have thought that referencing her ‘fathers’ (ancestors) was enough to shift the discussion away from here, Jesus isn’t satisfied with her doing that. God isn’t a remote and religious idea, he is a father. In fact he is the Father. He is the one from whom all fathers derive the name father and Jesus is quick to bring things round to this personal, everyone’s true heritage and ancestry, father. But things don’t end there. Jesus then says that the time is here when we will worship the Father in spirit and truth before going on to reveal that the Father is in fact seeking such people to worship him.
What does the phrase ‘in spirit and in truth’ actually mean though?
Worship ‘in truth’ seems abvious enough and in the context seems to mean ‘rightly’. She’s raising the dispute over where people ought to worship God (as in ‘where is right?’). Since, her argument goes, we’ve worshipped God on this mountain for hundreds of years surely God doesn’t mind. He hasn’t stopped us doing it, after all. Surely there’s the some truth in that, she argues.
Jesus doesn’t get into a discussion over that. Instead he says in effect ‘that may be, but now God is seeking worship in spirit and in truth. The reply makes it sound like he’s saying ‘you worship in spirit, (as in you worship where you think is right, with honest intentions) they worship in truth (the ones who worship in Jerusalem), but God wants both.
Taken this way ‘spirit’ refers to integrity of motive – with your whole heart. But lest this becomes reduced to ‘do whatever feels best and God will like it’ he says that truth matters as well. In other words ‘obeying God and coming to him on his terms and in the way that he has described’ is important too.
True worshippers do both. True worshippers have their heart and soul in it and also their heads and their will. Because you care about God, (your heart and soul) you surely also care about what’s right by him too.
For the purpose of my study on the Father all this leads me somewhere rather exciting.
- The Father values truth and tenderness equally. He wants right feeling and right thinking from his people. By right feeling I mean simply that feelings are involved and not left on the shelf/at the door. God is not after cold robots dutifully singing songs but people who allow their hearts to get caught up with him. To get caught up in him.
- The Father is seeking and desires. Dos does not want robotic worship because he it not robotic. The Father desires and seeks and feels and cares and loves. He is not cole and distant, emotionless and driven by base animal instincts: ‘Must have more worship!! Must have more worship!’ – No! My Father seeks what he desires since he is a being full of ‘heart and soul’. He is a person after all.