In our article last week, we learnt of our Saviour’s compassion for the lost. John tells us that “he must needs go through Samaria” (Jn 4: 4), not so much because it was a more direct route to Galilee but because of the compelling need to minister to the Samaritan woman and her despised people.
Our Lord’s simple request for a drink introduced a discourse with the adulterous woman – “He having a more violent thirst, and a stronger desire, after the welfare of her immortal soul” (John Gill). Jesus’ kindness and gentleness opened the way to the heart of this needy soul who was ostracised even by her own people.
What further lessons can we glean from our Lord’s ministry to the Samaritan woman?
o Awakening spiritual interest
Jesus’ next statement in verse 10 – “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water” – shifted their conversation to spiritual matters. He directed their discourse to a common spiritual topic – “living water” which is the “gift of God”.
Patiently, the Saviour explained to the woman that the water of that well could only provide temporal satisfaction. But the “living water” which is “the gift of God” would satisfy her completely: “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (v 14).
“Riches, and rank, and place, and power, and learning, and amusements, are utterly unable to fill the soul. He that only drinks of these waters is sure to thirst again. …There is no heart satisfaction in this world, until we believe on Christ Jesus Who alone can fill up the empty places of our inward man. Jesus alone can give solid, lasting, enduring happiness. The peace that He imparts is a fountain, which, once set flowing within the soul, flows on to all eternity. Its waters may have their ebbing seasons; but they are living waters, and they shall never be completely dried” (J C Ryle).
Still thinking of physical water, the woman asked Jesus for “this water” so that she might be spared the trouble of drawing it: “The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw” (v 15). She was slowly opening up to the kind Stranger.
Though she spoke ignorantly, Jesus was not put off, but graciously instructed her and directed her to Himself.
“It is beautiful to observe the spirit in which the Savior answered this poor outcast. He did not enter into an argument with her about the prejudices of the Samaritans, nor did He seek to defend the Jews for their heartless treatment of them. Nor did He deal roughly with her and reproach her for her woeful ignorance and stupidity” (Arthur Pink).
o Confronting sin
The conversation that had started with a simple request for a drink had now progressed to a sensitive and more personal level. When Jesus revealed His knowledge about her “five husbands” (v 18), it began to dawn on the woman that this was no ordinary man, but a prophet, for He knew all about her: “The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet” (v 19).
“From that moment, however ignorant, she became an earnest, sincere seeker after the Truth. The reason was evident. She felt that her loathsome spiritual disease was discovered. For the first time in her life she saw herself. … Until men and women are brought to feel their sinfulness and need, no real good is ever done to their souls. Until a sinner sees himself as God sees him, he will continue careless, trifling, and unmoved. We must labour and use every means to convince the unconverted man of sin, to pierce his conscience, to open his eyes, to show him his sins. To this end we must expound the length and breadth of God’s holy law. To this end we must denounce every practice contrary to that law, however fashionable and customary. This is the only way to do good. Never does a soul value the Gospel medicine until it feels its disease. Never does a man see any beauty in Christ as a Savior, until he discovers that he is himself a lost and ruined sinner. Ignorance of sin is invariably attended by neglect of Christ” (ibid).
In His ministry to the Samaritan woman, the Lord moved from the basic need for “water” to the woman’s spiritual need for “living water”. Though He knew of her immoral background, He did not condemn her but graciously pointed out her sin.
Let us learn from the Lord’s example on how to minister to needy souls. Deal kindly and patiently. Introduce the Gospel by raising questions or statements that can turn the conversation to spiritual things. We may start by asking, “Why do you think our world is in such a mess?” or “The Bible has much to say about the end times.”
The goal of sharing the Gospel is to bring the hearer to acknowledge his sins and see his need for the Saviour. May the Lord grant us wisdom and sensitivity in our Gospel ministry. (… to be concluded).