My last post was based on the story of the Woman at the Well (John 4:7-42). This section of Scripture is usually treated as an evangelistic passage, and of course that's primarily what it is. So why did I use this passage to talk about how we serve God?
It was simply because, for the first time, I recognized the logical flow of the passage.
It's easy to look at Jesus' interaction with the woman and think that He abruptly changed the subject. They started out talking about His request that she serve Him, and then switched to talking about eternal life. But is that the way she would have heard it, without the benefit of the hindsight and Christological knowledge that we bring to the story when we read it?
I don't think she perceived anything about eternal life at first, in her strange conversation with this unusual man. When the talk left the realm of mundane service and became religious, she still thought of it as religious service.
Where should we worship?
In hindsight, we know Jesus was talking to her about the gift of His Holy Spirit and eternal life. But does that negate the element of service that permeated their conversation? What if salvation and service are not really such different topics? What if, in fact, they're intimately related?
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Jesus' request of the woman was a simple one, and one that she could provide. And this was a woman who was accustomed to providing for men (John 4:17-18). Drudgery was very much a woman's lot in those days, and it was far more grating work than I've ever known. She knew all about waiting on someone hand and foot.
She didn't think Jesus' request itself was strange. Drawing water was women's work, after all. His request was strange only because of who He was, and the fact that their cultural constraints should have kept Him from talking to her at all.
If He had made a different request of her, she would have thought it just as bizarre. So at first the issue was all about service in her mind. Not water, as we tend to think, but service. And it was a service she was confident she could provide, even if she found the circumstances awkward.
How many lost souls are confident (or at least hopeful) that they can provide what God wants? How many strive to earn His salvation?
That's where Jesus meets us with an offer, just like He met her. An offer that, to a listening ear, lifts everything to a higher plane.
You see, water may have been the desired outcome of the service…but the woman could only have given Jesus physical water. What He offered to give her was much more than that. It was living water. He was the one who showed that it's the type of water, not the service itself, which makes all the difference…and that He only wants what He Himself can provide.
The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14)
If you read yesterday's entry, you know that Jesus gives us what He demands of us, so we can meet His demands by His grace.
When Jesus changed the subject, it was not so that he could make her forget about serving. It was so that she could see Him as the source of all eternally meaningful service (and of course, as the source of eternal life as well).
Once He gave her His living water, the tenor of her service changed. While she no doubt continued to perform womanly tasks for his benefit during the two days that He stayed in Samaria, her works no longer came just from her hands. They flowed from her heart. And they came not from the dead, dirty heart which she had originally brought to the well, but from the very spring that He Himself had placed within her when He gave her a new heart (John 7:38).
This service is like living water that does not need to be drawn. It flows, naturally.
Legalism draws by the sweat of its brow, and all it can bring up is the same water that will leave you thirsting once more. A saved heart overflows because of the limitless Spring at its source, and the water it pours out is alive with God's own power.
Salvation and service are intimately related, but not for the reasons that many people believe. No amount of sinful drawing can bring up living water. But no history of sin can stop the Spirit's flow. (Current sin may provide a temporary bottleneck, but the Holy Spring will soon clear that away and continue its drenching work.)
When Jesus talks about looking at our works as proof of our salvation (Matt 25:34-36), he doesn't look at our bucket-hauling. Any lost soul can do that. After all, Jesus was often a guest in people's homes. Many hands waited on Him. No one was saved by bringing Him a drink or latching his sandals.
Jesus looks at our Spring-flowing. He looks at His own work in us, the outpouring of His own Spirit. The works do not save. They are legal evidence that we are saved. Human eyes may or may not be able to see the difference between dead works and Living Outflow, but God knows the ones who are indwelt by His Spirit (John 10:14, John 10:27-28). He sees the source of our works.
Only the children of God can do works in God (John 3:21).
Eternal life and true service are both the natural results of the Holy Spirit's presence within us. One is His work within us, and the other is His work through us. Both are His works. So if we have the Spirit, we have both salvation and true service. If we do not have the Spirit, we have neither salvation nor true service, no matter how many good works we try to do. The difference isn't the labor…it's whether or not the water we dish out is earthly or Spiritual.
That is why the Apostle Paul described his own endless toil for the Gospel as, "striving according to His working which works in me mightily" (Col 1:29, emphasis added).
And that's why Isaiah said, "LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us (Isa 26:12, emphasis added).
And that's why Jesus could say, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt 11:28-30).”
I have occasionally felt the Spirit clearly working through me, and it has been a joyous thing. But too often I still labor on in my flesh. Oh may I learn to stop sinfully bottlenecking the Spirit's flow, so that my burden would be exchanged for His light one, and He would work more freely through me!