In his conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus told her:
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. - John 4:23
But what does this mean? What does it mean to worship in spirit and truth? Let’s take a look at each individually.
The word used for spirit, pneuma, has many uses. This word is used when describing one’s own spirit or soul, when describing the Holy Spirit, and even a mere movement of air (like breathing). So when Jesus uses that word, which meaning does he intend? We certainly do worship him with our breath when we sing songs or even when we speak highly of his name, though in reading this passage, that may not be the intended meaning. More than likely, he is describing both the Holy Spirit and our own spirit when he uses this word here.
How can this be so? Jesus actually tells Nicodemus something that hints at this reality in a prior chapter:
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” - John 3:6
Those who are born again, or saved, are born of the Spirit. Since we are born of the spirit, we are also spirit. When Jesus foretells of those who will worship in spirit, he is speaking of those who the Holy Spirit has quickened to worship him in a way that no creature was ever able to. Our thoughts and feelings are changed forever, with eternal love and gratitude for our Savior, and that emotion is to be translated in to the motivation for all that we do.
The truth is something God’s word lifts very high. The oft cited ten commandments even commands not to “bear false witness,” or to proclaim something contrary to the truth. Jesus describes himself as the way, the truth, and the life. This sort of truth can bring to mind the ideas of facts, knowledge and tangible, observable things. And most surely one of the ways this verse can be rightly understood is that our worship of God is to be an act of the mind, something that is informed by who God is and that reality.
However, there’s an alternate way this word for truth, alētheia, is used. Strong’s concordance provides one definition as “truth as a personal excellence; that candor of mind which is free from affectation, pretense, simulation, falsehood, deceit.” In this usage of the word, we can see that truth can also mean here a sincere, honest worship. It’s a way of worship in which you aren’t attempting to get something from God, but rather offering all you have in light of his glory.
Jesus often used words with multiple meanings. Some times, his intentions are clearly defined and the correct meaning is apparent. At other times, his choice of words will often leave room for two different, but noncontradictory truths that can be understood and obeyed fully. The only way to learn these truths is by careful and joyful study of God’s word, led by the Holy Spirit.
We often see worship as an activity we do together only on Sunday mornings. However, worship can take many forms, and one such form is in reading and delighting in God’s word. Spend some time this week reading the words of Jesus or of one of those God chose to pen his word. Your appreciation of God’s greatness will be renewed and your spirit refreshed in worship of Him.
Post by Jared Gibson