Jesus and the Samaritan WomanYears ago I had the experience of being involved with some groups of churches who approached church gatherings as a time to “fill up” with the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t the only things they saw these gatherings as useful for, but the “filling up” idea was a dominant feature and it was expressed most crudely in a particular phrase: “belly up to the bar”. As if one was to become quite literally “drunk”, inebriated by the Spirit. A gross misunderstanding and misuse of Ephesians 5:18.

Now, I have my own feelings about this particular statement and idea, which I won’t express fully here, but I have always thought about an understanding of corporate worship as a Sunday morning (or Sunday evening or Wednesday mid-week or…) “fill up” and how that affects some of us in our personal worship of Jesus, and how that effect then rolls out from the personal to the corporate in our churches, and into the public spheres of our lives.

Now, I don’t think that many of us have a “belly up to the bar” mentality about worship. I think that is an extreme expression of one particular segment of the charismatic/pentecostal population, but I do wonder if, in practice, many of us take for granted our Sunday gathering of worship and fellowship, and somehow think that we are, like a car, filling the tank for the week. We may stop to drop a couple bucks in at some point during the week if the tank runs low, but we may rely mostly on the fill-up once a week to get us through.

A friend and I were discussing years ago whether Sunday gatherings are meant to be an overflow of worship and gratitude as a result of the previous week’s work and experience, or whether our experiences of the week were to be an overflow from the Sunday gathering. What kind of mentality should we approach Sunday with? Is it right to even ask the question? We know the Sunday gathering is important, that’s for certain. The corporate gathering of God’s congregation has been a central influence on the people of God for millennia. But, yet, Jesus has this to say in John’s gospel: 

The woman said to him, “…Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
John 4:19-24

Did you catch it? Historically, worship has been tied to a time and a place. In this case, Jerusalem at particular times of the year. If it is still true that tying worship to a time and place somehow causes the worship to have more meaning, or be more right, or have more effect, then you and I should be travelling to Jerusalem.

But Jesus says that true worship has nothing to do with time and place. John’s gospel is the one which features the symbolic transmission of the Holy Spirit to the disciples (John 20:22-23), and the one which has the greatest passages about who the Holy Spirit is and what He will do (John 16). Jesus seems to be purposefully contrasting time/place worship with spirit/truth worship. He literally says that the day is coming when you will no longer worship in Jerusalem, but you will worship in spirit and truth. Time/place is antithetical to spirit/truth. That’s a huge statement. The centrality of Jerusalem to right and proper expression of worship, as far as the Biblical narrative is concerned, simply cannot be overstated. But then, Jesus is kinda known for making flip-the-world-on-its-head sorts of statements. He doesn’t seem to be bothered one wit that he’s just said something which could be considered blasphemous had he been talking to a committed and faithful Jew.

Jesus is dismantling the entire debate of location, style, accoutrements, time, etc. by throwing a trump card. It’s not about a special time and special place with special things and special people. In fact, any place is as holy and pregnant with the potential outpouring of the Spirit as his people worship him as any other place. Any other time is as good a time for God to be truly worshiped and to manifest himself and inhabit the praises of his people as any other time.

Here’s the deal. Acts 2 didn’t happen at the temple. It happened in the home, spilled out of the home and into the streets where no one expected anything to happen. This is Biblical symbolism at its clearest and best.

Remember the veil in the temple? Remember it was torn at the moment Jesus exhaled his last breath on the cross? A great missional transaction occurred in that moment; a great transaction which made possible two great realities. 

  1. God himself destroyed the wall of separation which kept us from his presence. Glory to God!
  2. God left the building, so-to-speak. And so every moment of every day, no matter where you and I are, no matter what you and I are doing can now be transformed into a moment of indescribable potential for true worship to occur and for the Spirit to break through.

Jesus paid for it on the cross. On a hill outside Jerusalem (Hebrews 13:12) where people were executed. It’s where he displayed the greatest single act of worship in history. Don’t let his purchase go to waste today.

I was once asked: “Isn’t it disingenuous for a Christian to develop a friendship with someone if there is an ulterior motive of leading them to Christ?”

The suggestion being made was that the value of the person and the friendship itself should be the driving force. Any ulterior motive for the friendship necessarily subverts and devalues both the friendship and the person being befriended.

At the time I was asked this question I wasn’t sure about what I thought, but thought that it was an interesting point being made.

As I’ve thought about it over the years though, I’ve come to the conclusion that the point being made is a red herring. Here’s why:

People do not have what might be called “intrinsic” value, actually no created thing or entity has intrinsic value. People have value that is conferred value. It is a value that is conferred on them due to the fact they are made in the image and likeness of God. This is what fundamentally drives a desire to appreciate, understand and get to know other people; we actually see something of the nature and character of God which attracts us to them or piques our interest in getting to know them as friends.

But there is a problem: this value, which has its origin in our invaluable God, has been marred by sin. And any and all relationships I might build with other people, any friendships I may pursue, are actually marred by this same sin. They can never know me rightly and I can never know them rightly due to the infection of sin. It is as if a great cancer has ravaged each of us so that we do not see who we actually are, but only the husk of what we were. The effort then is to remove and kill the cancer so that life in its fullness and relationship in its fullness can be restored and enjoyed.

If, in any friendship, we are trying to pursue the knowing of a person, it seems reasonable that we would want to remove all barriers in getting to know them and in our appreciating and understanding them.

This is quintessentially demonstrated in marital relationships where there must be no “fig leaf” of separation if the married couple hopes to develop a lasting, fulfilling, honest, beautiful relationship over their lifetime together. The couple must both be getting know Christ better and better and be expressing this knowledge of Christ more and more in order for this to occur. As Christ is pursued more and more, as He is glorified in the marriage, the relationship becomes deeper, richer and truer. Back to friendship.

If I am going to cultivate a friendship with anyone that gets better, that improves; becoming more open, honest, loving, giving, etc., it only stands to reason that it is essential to the dignity of the person and the friendship that I, as a follower of Christ, be in the friendship with an ulterior motive, actually a primary motive, i.e. that they may come to know Christ. That is my purpose. Why? Because this is what serves the friendship best. This is what preserves and improves the friendship best. This is what recognizes and appreciates the dignity and value God has placed in the person most vigorously.

In fact, the relationship cannot progress beyond the level of pleasantries if Christ is not the goal. It is the image of God which is under restoration in this other person and in me, therefore to pursue a friendship absent Christ would actually be a disservice, a dishonoring of the conferred value which God has bestowed on both me and this person.

Would I wish to see this dignity, image and value ever fully restored and redeemed? Would I wish to fully experience who this person is in all their conferred God-like-ness? Would I wish to know them as God has meant for me to know them and visa-versa? Then I cannot enter into any relationship where this pointing them, leading them, introducing them to Christ is not the goal. Anything less, and this relationship can only become a sin-marred perversion of what it was meant to be. Dishonoring to them, to me and to the God who lives in perfect triune relationship with Father, Son and Spirit. Rich, beautiful, joyful and good.

The purpose of friendship then?making sure that Christ stays at the center; that He remains the primary motive. Once we have come to know the truest friend, we will then be released to be a true friend.