Sharing the Gospel is something that does not come naturally to every Christian. Most of us feel awkward because we do not know how or where to start. Perhaps we can learn some lessons on reaching the lost from Jesus, the Master Teacher. He not only preached publicly but also attended personally to needy souls. One such example is His special ministry to the Samaritan woman (Jn. 4: 1-26).
The account of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman is one of the most instructive passages in John’s Gospel. It outlines how Christ dealt with a sinful woman – an outcast of society. What lessons can we learn from our Saviour’s ministry to the Samaritan woman?
o His heart for lost souls
We are told in the first few verses of John Chapter 4 that Jesus left Judea for Galilee. The reason for His departure was perhaps to avoid a confrontation with the Pharisees who were perturbed by His popularity (vv 1-2).
The most direct route from Judea to Galilee was through Samaria which was between the two towns. Because of their hostility towards the Samaritans, the Jews preferred to take a circuitous route to avoid passing through Samaria. Like His fellow Jews, Jesus could have taken the longer route which would have taken some seven days. Instead, He chose to travel directly through Samaria.
John tells us that Jesus “must needs go through Samaria” (Jn 4: 4). Did Jesus take this course because it was a short cut? Perhaps. But there was a more compelling reason. The Samaritans – in particular a despised, immoral woman – needed His personal attention.
o Bridging the gulf
Jesus was sitting by Jacob’s well when “there cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water” (Jn 4: 7a). The Lord initiated the conversation by asking for a favour. Note Jesus’ first words to the woman: “Give me to drink” (v 7b). Knowing that her main purpose was “to draw water”, the Lord asked her for a drink.
“This request was made, to introduce a discourse with the woman, he having a more violent thirst, and a stronger desire, after the welfare of her immortal soul” (John Gill). Though Jesus was “wearied with his journey” (v 6), He was never weary of extending grace. He was not too weary to seek out this sinful outcast of society.
We observe further that the Lord did not begin by pointing out the woman’s sins, though He knew them all. His simple request for water opened the door to a conversation which bridged the wide gulf between them and led to the woman’s conversion as well as those of her fellow Samaritans.
o Piquing the hearer’s interest
The woman came to the well at the “appointed” time. God’s hand had providentially led her to the well at the time when the Saviour was there to address her needy soul.
Her interest was stirred when Jesus spoke to her. Back then, it was unusual for a man to speak to a woman. The fact that Jesus was a Jew made the exchange even more remarkable: “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans?” (v 9).
The Jews would have preferred to endure hardship than to be obligated to a Samaritan in any way. Their antagonism was reflected in this prohibition as noted by Bishop Lightfoot of Durham, an English theologian: “If any one receives a Samaritan into his house, and ministers to him, he will cause his children to be carried into captivity. He who eats the bread of a Samaritan, is as if he ate swine’s flesh.” The proud Jews would have had nothing to do with the Samaritans, but here the Son of God humbled Himself by requesting a simple favour from a despised Samaritan woman.
J C Ryle aptly commented: “Our Lord’s conduct in this place should be carefully remembered by all who want to do good to the thoughtless and spiritually ignorant. It is vain to expect that such people will voluntarily come to us, and begin to seek knowledge. We must begin with them, and go down to them in the spirit of courteous and friendly offensive. It is vain to expect that such people will be prepared for our instruction, and will at once see and acknowledge the wisdom of all we are doing. We must go to work wisely. We must study the best avenues to their hearts, and the most likely way of arresting their attention. There is a handle to every mind, and our chief aim must be to get hold of it. Above all, we must be kind in manner, and beware of showing that we feel conscious of our own superiority. If we let ignorant people fancy that we think we are doing them a great favour in talking to them about religion, there is little hope of doing good to their souls.”
Brethren, let us all find opportunities – however small – to share the Gospel. From the Lord’s example, we can learn how to minister to the careless and spiritually ignorant who will not, on their own, seek after God. Pray for wisdom to approach them and lay aside all our prejudices. Start with a common interest that can pave the way to a meaningful conversation. Topics of interest include family (children, grandchildren), activities (work, community projects, hobbies), shared experiences (travel, life’s struggles). Once the gulf has been bridged, it is then easier to present the Gospel. (… to be continued)