culture

A Story About Water

It's important to read a story from the author's point of view—including their time and culture. If we don't see it from their point of view, we'll miss both essential and more subtle details.

Here, Jesus and His followers are traveling from Jerusalem in Judea in the south to Galilee in the north. This causes them to go through the region of Samaria. The Samaritans were considered a mixed breed of people with a false religion by the Jews.

The Jews were prejudiced against the Samaritans who responded with antagonism towards the Jews. Prejudice and mistrust between people groups have existed since ancient times.

Jesus and the disciples stop in Sychar near Shechem at Jacob's Well. Jesus stays there while His followers go to town to buy food. When a Samaritan woman comes to draw water in the heat of the day, Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water. This in itself would be unusual, as revealed in the story (below), but their conversation takes an even more unexpected turn.

Scripture

Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that he was making and baptizing more disciples than John. (Actually, Jesus was not baptizing people. His disciples were.) So he left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee.

Jesus had to go through Samaria. He arrived at a city in Samaria called Sychar. Sychar was near the piece of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s Well was there. Jesus sat down by the well because he was tired from traveling. The time was about six o’clock in the evening. [vss 1-6]

A Samaritan woman went to get some water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink of water.” (His disciples had gone into the city to buy some food.) The Samaritan woman asked him, “How can a Jewish man like you ask a Samaritan woman like me for a drink of water?” (Jews, of course, don’t associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus replied to her, “If you only knew what God’s gift is and who is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him for a drink. He would have given you living water.” [vss 7-10]

The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have anything to use to get water, and the well is deep. So where are you going to get this living water? You’re not more important than our ancestor Jacob, are you? He gave us this well. He and his sons and his animals drank water from it.”

Jesus answered her, “Everyone who drinks this water will become thirsty again. But those who drink the water that I will give them will never become thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give them will become in them a spring that gushes up to eternal life.” [vss 11-14]

(John 4:1-14 GW)

Key phrase—

The water I will give them will become in them a spring that gushes up to eternal life

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What are the specific details we're told about the situation in this story?

  • What seems to be the turning point in the conversation between Jesus and the woman?

  • How does the woman respond to the statements Jesus makes?

  • What kind of water does Jesus offer and what do you think He means by this?

Reflection...

Jacob's Well was hundreds of years old even in the time of Jesus and was quite deep. The region of Samaria was disputed land then as it is now. This is evident in the story by the woman's contentious responses to Jesus.

But Jesus immediately flips the conversation by telling her she should be asking Him for a drink of living water.

The woman doesn't back down. As Jesus so often did, He turns what seems like a typical conversation into an opportunity to reveal spiritual truth.

He offers her living water—water that continues to flow like an artesian spring—giving eternal life. This conversation and the story continue, but we'll stop here to consider how Jesus turns a contentious situation into an opportunity to share spiritual truth.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • How do you typically handle or respond to contentious people and situations?

  • We are not Jesus, but what can we learn from how He responded to the woman?

  • How does Jesus describe what He has to offer her, and us, by shifting the conversation from a focus on the physical to the spiritual?

  • Have you personally experienced what Jesus says about the living water He offers?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— When we focus on the true need of a person, we can choose to see them through the lens of God's love. We can trust God's Spirit to lead us in how to turn mundane conversations into opportunities to consider eternal concerns.

Prayer Focus— Ask the Lord each day to help you see the people you encounter as He sees them—who they are, their needs and life situations. Pray for wisdom and grace to turn everyday conversations into opportunities to share your faith.

©2018—Word-Strong

A Self Diet

Dieting and weight loss have become a stand-alone industry. I'm amazed by the onslaught of ads and commercials everywhere I look—TV, social media, billboards. Physical fitness programs are often linked with specialized diets.

I don't know why I'm amazed by all the focus on diet and fitness. It all lines up with our cultural obsession with self and appearance. Of course, even selling "healthy" junk food and trendy cars appeal to this obsessive focus.

It's a paradox of sorts. Culturally, we honor self-sacrifice and service to others by first responders and military personnel, while we elevate the value of whatever promotes ourselves for our highest satisfaction. We're values-conflicted. Self-sacrifice and self-exaltation are two opposite values.

I use to hear people say, "America is a Christian nation" or that we have a Christian heritage. Not so much anymore. Perhaps one reason is our values conflict. As a Christian—a follower of Jesus—exalting our self isn't just a paradox, it's the exact opposite of Jesus' call to follow Him (Matt 16:24). Concerned about your diet? How about a self-diet? It's the diet John the Baptizer was on, along with Jesus.

Scripture

Later, Jesus and his disciples went to the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them and baptized people. John was baptizing in Aenon, near Salim. Water was plentiful there. (People came to John to be baptized, since John had not yet been put in prison.)

Some of John’s disciples had an argument with a Jew about purification ceremonies. So they went to John and asked him, “Rabbi, do you remember the man you spoke so favorably about when he was with you on the other side of the Jordan River? Well, he’s baptizing, and everyone is going to him!”  [vss 22-26]

John answered, “People can’t receive anything unless it has been given to them from heaven. You are witnesses that I said, ‘I’m not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of him.’

“The groom is the person to whom the bride belongs. The best man, who stands and listens to him, is overjoyed when the groom speaks. This is the joy that I feel. He must increase in importance, while I must decrease in importance. [vss 21-30]

“The person who comes from above is superior to everyone. I, a person from the earth, know nothing but what is on earth, and that’s all I can talk about. The person who comes from heaven is superior to everyone and tells what he has seen and heard. Yet, no one accepts what he says. I have accepted what that person said, and I have affirmed that God is truthful.  [vss 31-33]

The man whom God has sent speaks God’s message. After all, God gives him the Spirit without limit. The Father loves his Son and has put everything in his power. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life. Instead, he will see God’s constant [continuing] anger.” [vss 34-36]

(John 3:22-36 GW)

Key phrase—

He must increase in importance, while I must decrease in importance

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What prompts John the Baptizer's disciples to question him about Jesus?

  • What seems to be bothering John's disciples about Jesus?

  • How does John answer the concerns of his disciples? What does he tell them?

  • In what way does John say he needs to decrease while Jesus increases?

Reflection...

John the Baptizer's final testimony about Jesus is consistent with what he said at the beginning of his ministry. He knew his role as the "the best man" to the groom—that is, Jesus (verses 27-28). John's own disciples were jealous of Jesus but John set the record straight for them— He must increase... I must decrease

John's testimony is what every follower of Jesus ought to hold true in their heart. A true encounter with Jesus and His grace is a humbling experience. We realize who He is and our place as a believer. As John said, "(He) is from above... I (am) from the earth (verse 31).

John's testimony at the end of this chapter (3) ties into the conversation of Jesus and Nicodemus at the beginning. Jesus told Nicodemus of his (and our) need to be born from above. It's an invitation to enter into a personal trust relationship with the Lord.

But there's a caveat. Whoever rejects trusting in Jesus will not receive eternal life. Rejecting a relationship with the Lord means continuing in a self-focused life. There is no upside to this choice. It brings exclusion from God's kingdom—His domain of gracious love and eternal life. This is a choice we all make at some point in life. If we're unwilling to go on a "self-diet," this choice is made by default.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • How is John's statement about decreasing in importance just as relevant for us now as it was for him then?

  • How is it possible for us to decrease in importance so Jesus can increase in importance?

  • In what way can this take place in your own life? How can John's example guide you?

  • Since this idea of decreasing our self importance is so opposite of what's common in our culture, what are specific steps that anyone can begin to take to do this?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This—  A personal relationship with the Lord Jesus only comes through a personal encounter with God's grace. When we truly experience God's grace, it will bring a humility and desire for the Lord's nature to increase in us and our selfish nature to decrease.

Prayer Focus—  Does your heart desire and cry out for the Lord's nature to increase within you at the cost of your own selfish nature? If not, ask the Lord to work in your heart in a fresh way by His grace.

©2018—Word-Strong

Practical Reminders

Lessons many of us learned in preschool and kindergarten still apply—be nice, share, and show respect for each other. We live in a world that seems to have forgotten these relational basics.

Even the church—the people not the institution—needs some reminders. We need to be reminded of some basics that Jesus often taught.

A Terrifying Thing

Politicians and lawyers, as well as the media, know how to take a few words someone says, and misconstrue them in order to trap and attack a person with their own words.

The usual retort or defense by the trapped person is that their words were taken out of context. Context is important! This is always true when it comes to understanding words spoken and written.

This issue of context also applies to reading and studying the Bible. But context includes more than just the words and sentences. The time frame and culture of spoken or written words are an important frame of reference for understanding them.

Most of the lack of understanding or misunderstanding of the Bible is due to an ignorance of the full context of history, culture, the Scriptures as a whole, and the nature of God.

Scripture

If we go on sinning after we have learned the truth, no sacrifice can take away our sins. All that is left is a terrifying wait for judgment and a raging fire that will consume God’s enemies.

If two or three witnesses accused someone of rejecting Moses’ Teachings, that person was shown no mercy as he was executed. [vss 26-27]

What do you think a person who shows no respect for the Son of God deserves? That person looks at the blood of the promise (the blood that made him holy) as no different from other people’s blood, and he insults the Spirit that God gave us out of his kindness [grace]. He deserves a much worse punishment. [vss 28-29]

We know the God who said, “I alone have the right to take revenge. I will pay back.” God also said, “The Lord will judge his people.”

Falling into the hands of the living God is a terrifying thing. [vss 30-31]

(Hebrews 10:26-31 GW) [Context– Hebrews 10]

Key phrase—

Falling into the hands of the living God is a terrifying thing

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What is the strong warning given? What is not available "if we go on sinning?"

  • How is rejection of the Mosaic Law compared to rejection of the New Covenant of grace?

  • What are we told insults the Spirit of God? What result can we expect if we insult God's Spirit?

  • How is all of this reasoning tied into the last strong expression of this warning?

Reflection...

I've seen this portion of text (the 4th of 5 warnings in Hebrews) used to discourage and scare people, which brings both condemnation and confusion. It is a strong warning and exhortation to be sure but is intended to encourage believers to persevere not despair.

This should be clear from the context of this whole chapter (10) and the following chapter (11), as well as the purpose of the whole book of Hebrews.

Once the Mosaic Law was completed and replaced (Matt 5:17; Heb 8:6-13), its provision of forgiveness and atonement was null and void. Trying to go back to the Law meant rejecting the perfect atonement of Jesus brought through His death and resurrection. This would be a rejection of God's grace and the promise of God's Spirit (John 14:16-17, 26) living in us as believers.

Be careful how you handle the truth of God! Falling into the hands of the living God is a terrifying thing. Be wary of sitting in God's place and pronouncing judgment on anyone! Rather than a false confidence in religious righteousness, accept and trust God's grace.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Since none of us lead a perfect, moral life, how is this warning an encouragement?

  • Do you understand how and why the rejection of New Covenant grace to rely on the Law is a personal and grievous insult to God?

  • Can you see all of this from the context of these early converts from Judaism to Christianity?

  • Are you living in the freedom of God's gracious forgiveness through Jesus or struggling to be righteous through your own efforts?

©2017—Word-Strong


Here's a free introduction for the book of Hebrews— Intro to studying Hebrews

Encourage One Another

Criticism of the church is probably at an all-time high today. It's increased over the last couple decades and a fair amount of it is warranted.

Much of it comes down to answering the question— Does the church exist for the people or should people be there for the church?

Some of the answer to this question comes down to the consumeristic attitude of American culture. But the church—across denominations and groups—can hold a pretty myopic and monolithic view of its place and purpose.

We live in the 21st century. It may be a futile effort to try to capture the simplicity and closeness of the early church, as seen in the early book of Acts, but we can learn some relevant values intrinsic to the early church.

Scripture

We must continue to hold firmly to our declaration of faith. The one who made the promise is faithful.

We must also consider how to encourage each other to show love and to do good things.

We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming.

(Hebrews 10:23-25 GW) [Context– Hebrews 10]

Key phrase—

We must also consider how to encourage each other to show love and to do good things

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What do we need to continue to do? What should our motivation be to do so?

  • What are two things we need to encourage each other to do? How do you think this should be done and what should it include?

  • What are we to not stop doing and in what ways do you think this should be done?

  • What seems to be the reason behind the urgency for this exhortation? Is this still relevant?

Reflection...

At times, it may seem that genuine encouragement is a lost gift among believers. Encouragement is not flattery nor is it the same as a like on social media. True encouragement is personal and specific to the person we encourage.

The church is not an institution or the building where the church meets. It's a living organism called the Body of Christ and has many members—people who are followers of Jesus. Each person has a useful and necessary place and purpose within the Body (Eph 4:16).

Each of us is called to encourage one another. This includes accountability and exhortation along with gentle words of correction and comfort. Again, it's much deeper than shallow praise or congratulations.

True encouragement reminds those of us who are believers of our need to continue following Jesus together. It's one of the ways we prepare for the Lord's return.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • How is the first exhortation connected to those that follow and the ones in earlier verses?

  • How do you see these exhortations as relevant for believers and churches now?

  • In what way do they all relate to our current (American) cultural environment?

  • Are any of these exhortations difficult for you? Is one more difficult than the others?

©2017—Word-Strong


Here's a free introduction for the book of Hebrews— Intro to studying Hebrews