Teaching series from John

Living Water

John 4:1-41

Teaching t22477


Brief background of book—lots of personal conversations. Last week, we listened in Jesus’ conversations with Nicodemus. This week, we listen in on His conversation with a Samaritan woman. Let’s see how it starts (read 4:3-10). I think John put these two conversations back to back to make a point. Consider the differences between these two people:

Nicodemus initiated a conversation about spiritual things with Jesus at night. Here, Jesus initiates a conversation with the woman who seems spiritually uninterested at midday. Yet Jesus creatively engages with both of them about spiritual things.

Nicodemus and the woman are at opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum. He was a wealthy and respected Jewish male. She is a poor and socially outcast Samaritan woman (noon at the well). Yet Jesus treats both of them in a respectful and straightforward way.

Nicodemus and the woman are at opposite ends of the religio-moral spectrum. He was religiously devout and morally upright. She is pretty irreligious and morally compromised (as we’ll see). But Jesus points them both to the same solution, though He uses different terms for it. To Nicodemus, Jesus says: “I don’t care how good you are—you still need to be born again.” And to the woman, Jesus says: “I don’t care how bad you are—I still want to give you living water.”

Let’s see how Jesus describes this living water, and how we can receive it...

What it is & how to receive it

First, Jesus explains what it is. Read 4:10-14. Jesus is obviously using “living water” as a synonym for salvation—just as He used “new birth” with Nicodemus. In this way, He makes salvation something relevant to her life (rather than abstract). It also tells us four very important things about this salvation:

It is essential for spiritual life. “Living” is zoe (not bios), which refers to spiritual life. Just as physical water meets an essential physical need, so this “water” meets an essential spiritual need. (In Jn.7:37-39, Jesus identifies this “living water” as God’s Spirit indwelling our spirits so that we can know God.)

It is available in abundance. Physical water comes from an external physical well (4:11 - phrear), and therefore remains something we must keep drinking. But this “living water” becomes an internal artesian well (4:14 – pege) which springs up perpetually/eternally and is therefore always available to the one who has it.

Its Source is Jesus. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it was who said to you... you would ask and He would give you living water.” As God’s unique Son, Jesus alone has the authority and power to dispense the Holy Spirit.

It is a gift to whoever asks (“... you would have asked Him, and He would have given you...”)—not something that must be earned by working for it.

So that’s what “living water” is, and Jesus has already told her how to receive it, but she doesn’t really understand what He’s talking about. She still thinks He’s talking about some kind of magical physical water, and says—maybe sarcastically—read 4:15. So Jesus helps her to think more deeply by saying something that must have really blown her mind (read 4:16-18).

Jesus is not self-righteously rubbing her nose in her sin. He is lovingly exposing her thirst for love relationships, and how her attempts to quench that thirst have failed. She has looked for the right thing (love) in the wrong place (romantic/sexual relationships). She has gone to this “well” over and over again—but it has never satisfied her.

How relevant this is! People are thirsty for love, and romantic/sexual relationships are where most people “drink.” Some give love in order to get sex; others give sex in order to get love. But the thirst in our souls is greater than any human partner can satisfy. Failed romantic/sexual relationships are the greatest symptom of a spiritual thirst that only Jesus can satisfy.

How would you respond if someone saw right into your soul and said this to you? Read 4:19,20. She may be trying to change the subject, but it’s more likely that she’s saying: “OK, you’re a prophet and you’ve exposed by deepest thirst. I guess I need to start going to church—but which church do I go to?” The Samaritans and the Jews had had a centuries-long (often violent) dispute about the proper place of worship. Can she just start going to the church/denomination in Samaria, or must she go all the way down to Jerusalem?

Jesus’ response is not what she expected (read 4:21-24). He says: “It doesn’t matter any longer where you worship God. The Jews had the right location for the temple—but that’s no longer an issue. God is a spiritual Person, and what matters most is that you come to Him personally (“in spirit”) and honestly (“in truth”). If you are willing to come to God this way, He wants you just the way you are.”

She seems almost wistful in her response (read 4:25): “It would be great if what You say is true, but only the Messiah has the authority to settle this question. We’ll just have to wait to see what He says.” Imagine her face when Jesus responds (read 4:26): “I am the Messiah! Just ask Me for My living water, and I’ll give it to you.”

In that moment, she silently asked Jesus to give her His “living water”—and her life was never the same again. We will see evidence of this through her subsequent behavior. But before we go on to look at this, let’s summarize what Jesus says about how to get His “living water.” You don’t have to perform any religious observances. You don’t have to clean yourself up morally. You just admit to that you are spiritually empty inside, and ask Jesus to give you God’s Spirit. That’s what I did, and God’s Spirit came into my heart, and He gave me the ability to begin to know God’s love, and God’s love has changed my life.

Are you ready to receive Jesus’ offer? He already knows how you’ve tried to satisfy this thirst in other ways. You probably realized a long time ago that these ways don’t work, and maybe you’re ashamed of or addicted to them. But God’s love is so powerful that it can cleanse your shame and free you from your addictions. The only thing that matters is your willingness to open your heart to Him and ask. You don’t even need to say anything out loud, because He hears your heart. Today could be the beginning of a whole new life with God. Will you choose it?

Tips on offering it to others

Once you receive this “living water,” the greatest privilege in your life is to offer it to others. As we look at the second half of this story, I want to focus on what it teaches us about doing this. From Jesus’ conversation with His disciples, and from the Samaritan woman’s example, we learn four valuable tips.

Read 4:27. Jesus’ disciples are amazed to see Him talking to this Samaritan woman. Why? For many reasons. She is a woman, a stranger, a Samaritan, an outcast from her own society, etc. No self-respecting Jew (let alone a rabbi) would be caught dead talking to someone like her (4:9). Yet clearly this encounter was a “divine appointment”—arranged by God the Father who wants everyone to have a chance to receive Jesus’ “living water.”

So the lesson is: Don’t “profile” people; share your faith indiscriminately. Don’t decide for yourself who is/isn’t open, who you could/couldn’t help toward Jesus. Assume people are open until they prove otherwise. Present yourself to God each day and say: “Bring me into contact with people who are looking for You. Help me to talk naturally about You and see where this leads.” This makes for an adventurous spiritual life!

We learn a second lesson from the Samaritan woman’s example (read 4:28-30). Here she is, a brand-new believer, with no training in sharing her faith—yet God works through her powerfully to lead many people to Jesus (read also 4:39-42). What was her secret? She simply followed this maxim: Share what you know with the people you know, and invite them to come hear God’s Word.

You are the expert of your own story, and your story is powerful! Tell the people who know you what Christ has done for you, etc. And invite people to “come and see” by coming to a Bible study that you’re excited about. How many of you came to Christ (in part) because someone did this with you? Who has God put in your life to do the same thing with? (PROMOTE THIS SERIES)

As Jesus continues his conversation with the disciples, He teaches them a third lesson (read 4:31-34). Just like the woman, the disciples are thinking only a physical level, while Jesus is speaking on a spiritual level. Physically, we get nourished only by taking food in. But there are different laws that govern our spiritual lives, and one of them is: Sharing Christ with others will nourish your spiritual life. Jesus teaches this truth over and over again, as we will see in the gospel of John. Christ’s life shrivels within us when we keep Him to ourselves, but it grows within us as we give it away in love to others—especially to those who don’t know Him.

I experienced this when I was in seminary many years ago. For the first three months, I spent every day just going to theology classes, studying, and discussing what I was learning with other students. But strangely, the vitality of my relationship with Christ was draining away. Then I got a job at a restaurant filled with workers who did not know Christ (not because I was so spiritual, but because I was broke!). They started asking me why I had moved to LA, why I was studying theology—and before I knew it, I was sharing my faith with several people. And even though most of them were unresponsive or antagonistic, I felt spiritually stronger than I had felt for months.

Is your spiritual life dry and weak? Do you think: “I’m too weak in my faith to share it with others?” Maybe the truth is just the opposite. Maybe your faith needs the nourishment that comes from being around people who don’t know Christ and talking about Him.

We learn a final lesson from Jesus’ continued conversation with His disciples (read 4:35-38). The Samaritan woman and her friends were walking toward Jesus and the disciples. She and Jesus had already “sown”—Him by leading her to faith, and her by sharing her story and inviting them to meet Jesus. The disciples would never have done this, but they are still invited to “reap” by reaching out to the woman’s friends. The lesson is: Sowing is just as important as reaping.

Some Christians feel bad because they have seldom/never actually led another person to Christ. They share their faith, they bring people to Bible studies like this meeting—but they have never “closed the deal.” On the other hand, some of us get to help lots of people across the line to receive Christ—but we would never have the opportunity to do this “reaping” without many people’s “sowing.” Which is more important? Both are important; it’s a collaborative work. The main point is that some people come to Christ—praise God for that, and for having any role in this great work! It’s a great privilege to be “one link in the chain” through which someone comes to Christ!


Summarize these tips. Who has something to share or add about these tips?