How much should I say? For example, should I share the gospel with a person I have just met or would that be saying too much? Conversely, if I have never shared the gospel with someone I have known to a long time, have I said too little? Is it possible to share the gospel with someone you have just met?
Let’s review the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman and seek to learn from Jesus.
We looked at was the importance of going to where people are. Jesus constantly moved around reaching out to more and more people. On this occasion, He had stopped at a well when this woman approached. She was a woman, a Samaritan and rejected because of her lifestyle. None of those things stopped Jesus. The first thing He did was get her attention. Simple. He asked for a drink of water.
She was probably suspicious and maybe defensive and possibly had a bit of an attitude – remember she has been hurt and rejected. She asked how He, a Jew, could speak to her, a Samaritan. The fact that she engaged at all gave Jesus an opportunity to go a little further.
Jesus didn’t answer her question. Instead, He made an unusual statement: If you knew who it is who asks you for a drink of water, you would ask Him and He would give you living water. She engaged further. “You don’t have a bucket. Where do you get this living water? Are you greater than Jacob?” He hadn’t said much. He had dropped two intriguing hints. He has referred to “living water” whatever that is and He has indicated that He could give this water. She probably didn’t believe Him but she was beginning to engage in a conversation.
Jesus had put His finger on her need. Jesus discerned the need of her soul. He saw a daughter of God dying of thirst and He offered her living water. She was interested but she had doubts. He has no bucket. Is He to be taken seriously? Does He really believe He is greater than Jacob?
That brings us to Jesus’ next comment in this conversation: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Do you see how He is progressively going deeper and deeper? All He had said, in the previous comment, was that he could give her living water. But she showed interest, so He made a bigger claim – in fact, a really big claim. He clearly distinguishes His water from the water from the well. He is not talking about H2O. People who drink well water always get thirsty again. But the person who drinks His water will never be thirsty again. Big claim.
As if that is not enough, His water will be like a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Second big claim. The third big claim was that He could give this water. Fourth big claim: It is available to everyone. We need to talk about what that means but first let’s note the woman’s reaction: Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.
Jesus has stimulated a desire in her. This woman was not just physically thirst. She was spiritually thirsty. The water from the well is not going to satisfy her spiritual thirst. She could drink the well dry and still be thirsty inside because she was thirsty for love; she was thirsty for acceptance; she was thirsty for forgiveness although maybe she had long since given up and thought there was no hope for her redemption. She probably didn’t even understand how thirsty she was or how to satisfy that thirst but this man talked about a different sort of water that satisfies deeply and forever. Sir, give me this water.
She doesn’t understand. She thinks she won’t have to come to the well again. She hasn’t got it all figured out but that doesn’t matter. She knows she wants it.
Or am I wrong? Maybe she is just attracted by the convenience of not having to come to the well each day, in the heat. Maybe it is quite superficial, pragmatic, selfish. Even if that is the case, she wants it. So, keep watching to see what Jesus says next.
But first, what about this water? What is it? Do you understand it better than this woman did? Do you have this water that satisfies for ever and that wells up to eternal life?
I suggested last week that what she needed, and what Jesus was offering, was salvation, new life. This woman had been rejected by man after man. Five husbands. She was in a de facto relationship possibly still searching for love and possibly still not having found it. She had been rejected by her own people because of her promiscuity. She couldn’t go to the well with the other women. She was lonely. She couldn’t go to the synagogue because she was a sinner. She had no hope of forgiveness. She possibly felt that God had abandoned her.
She needed to know the love of God. She needed to know that she was forgiven, that God saw her not as a sinner but as a daughter. She needed to know that all the bad decisions of the past had not stopped God loving her and that God was willing to take off her all of those things from the past and throw them away so that she could have a new start. She needed to know that she could put her shoulders back and lift her head because God had declared her His forgiven daughter who had come home.
We were designed to have a relationship with God. If we are not in that relationship, something fundamental is wrong. Saint Augustine, in the fourth century, famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
Jesus talked about a thirst. Augustine about a restlessness. Pascal talked about an emptiness, what he called an “infinite abyss”.
When a person is reconciled to God, that yearning that has eaten away inside is satisfied. The restlessness becomes rest. The emptiness is filled by God Himself. Our spiritual thirsty is satisfied forever.
There may still be hard times. We might be foolish and wonder away from God but if we turn back and confess, we discover again that we have not stopped being His children. We need never go back to that state of restlessness or thirst because of alienation from God. Jesus satisfies forever.
Just as water stimulates life in a barren desert, this water Jesus promises produces new life. The new life is the abundant life, the life filled with God’s Spirit, that gets more and more wonderful as we walk more closely with God and that leads, in the end, to the even greater reward of eternal life.
Are you experiencing the new life that Jesus gives? Has your thirst been quenched?
In terms of “how much should I say?” Jesus took the initiative to be there. He started the conversation. He tossed in an intriguing, slightly cryptic comment. She picked up on it and questioned it. Jesus had broken the ice and raised a spiritual topic just enough to see if she would take the bait. She did.
So… He went deeper. Because she had shown herself open at least to a conversation, He expanded on what He had simply hinted at. In other words, Jesus got more specific as He was given permission. He was looking for the signals. She showed willingness. He took the conversation further – a lot further.
What if the woman had told Jesus to get lost? Other people did and Jesus moved on. When Paul was rejected by the Jews in the synagogue he went to the Gentiles. Although, if she had, I suspect that Jesus would have tried again. Maybe He would have given her another chance. There is a tension between knowing when to stop and truly wanting the other person to find the satisfaction she craves.
I believe there is a lesson for us there and it applies to more than just the gospel. This is not only about evangelism. Take the risk of initiating something and see if there is a response. Take the risk of raising a more difficult topic. It might be that a relationship has been broken and you say something to see if there is openness to a fuller conversation. Take that risk. If there is openness we can be more explicit.
It might be that you initiate a relationship with a neighbour. You chat over the fence. You invite him for a meal. At some point though you discover that he is in danger of losing his job, there have been other big changes in his life and he is bemoaning life’s uncertainties. You might just say, “I sympathise. Wouldn’t it be great if there was something in life that was rock solid?”
Using last week’s tests, is it relevant? Intriguing? Sincere? Kind? It is fairly innocuous and may even solicit no response. On the other hand it is a wee teaser. Maybe he will pick up on it. Even if he said something not very promising like “Faint hope!” that might be enough to follow it up. You might say, “If there was something, would you be interested?” If he showed interest there, then you have permission to be much more explicit. If not, then maybe you wait or maybe you take another approach.
Jesus obviously felt that He could talk about the gift of God, about eternal life, about the necessity to drink of the living water. He made four extraordinary claims: this will change your life miraculously; it will lead to eternal life, and I am the One who can give it to you. It is available to anyone who will drink. That’s a description of the gospel.
Do we feel that way about the gospel: this will change your life miraculously; this is the means to eternal life, Jesus is the One who can give it to you and it is available to everyone? Is the gospel really the power of God for salvation? Does the gospel still work? Or are we apologetic and embarrassed about it?
“How Much Should I Say? Should I share the gospel in this conversation?” Sometimes we need to be patient and keep our mouths shut, just working on the relationship and looking for permission.
Other times, given the opportunity, or given a push from the Holy Spirit, we should declare the whole gospel boldly. Sometimes we should be careful about saying too much but other times we should guard against saying too little. We need to speak boldly about the gospel and about Jesus.
Paul said, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes…” (Rom 1:16)
One of our daughters, Kimberley, is a photographer. She has a colleague in Christchurch who had become a friend. Sometimes that friendship was very difficult but Kimberley hung in there. Two months ago, when our granddaughter was stillborn, Kimberley’s friend, Heather, read the facebook messages. She read Sarah and Nick’s message welcoming Victoria into the world with deep sadness and yet having a peace and wanting to praise God who is always good. She read the messages Chris and Kimberley put up which were a mixture of thanksgiving and sorrow and trust in God. Some time ago, Heather’s brother and sister-in-law also lost a child. That experience tore her family apart. They now do not speak.
Heather looked at her experience and she looked at our experience. She knew that Kimberley and Sarah and Nick were Christians and she decided that she needed to know more about Jesus. She said that if she believed in anything she believed in karma but that didn’t make sense to her now either. Sarah and Nick were “good people”. Why would something like this happen to them?
She got in touch with Kimberley and asked questions. There are one or two other people who she knows who are Christians too. She came to the point where she knew that God was real and she needed Jesus. She has been on cloud nine ever since. She is over the moon.
Does the gospel work? Does God actually make a difference in people’s lives? When Jesus said, “Drink this water and you will never be thirsty again” was that just advertising hype? No. The gospel works.
Heather has been telling her family, one-by-one, that she has become a Christian. She spoke to a cousin of her husband’s. The cousin’s response was, “I’ve wanted to talk to someone about God but didn’t know who to talk to.” Heather spoke to another photographer colleague, who said something very similar and they talked for hours. This woman who had been a Christian only five minutes was already talking to others about Jesus. And people were thirsty. Some people have been rather cooler in their response but she has spoken to people in her family and they have said, “Yes, I believe too.” They are not outwardly Christians but they claim to believe and they say they pray. And conversations have started.
Taking the risk of dropping something genuine and sincere into a conversation will reveal whether people are open or closed.
The Samaritan woman said, “Where do you get this water?” She wanted it. But is that all that is required? Jesus isn’t quite finished with her. “Go and get your husband.”
“I have no husband.”
“That is true. You have had five husbands and the man you are with now is not your husband.” Uh oh! Has he said too much? Is He about to alienate her by drawing attention to the very thing she is ashamed of? Well, we will have to see where this conversation goes – I think in a fortnight.