John 4:16-24 The Worship Controversy


Few aspects of church life cause more controversy than worship. Should we stand or sit? Should we clap or verbally praise? Are we spectators or participants? Should we sing hymns or contemporary songs? Should we have a worship team, a choir, or both? Well, the list of issues goes on . . . All these issues may be important, but they are secondary to the issue of what is true worship.

It is Jesus Himself who tells us what real worship is. While He was sitting by Jacob’s well near Sychar in Samaria, a woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her (John 4:7), “‘Give me to drink.'” Jesus’ request opened the way for a very fascinating conversation between Jesus and the woman of Samaria. During the conversation, an ancient controversy over worship came up. This gave Jesus the opportunity to say how we must worship.

One, we must not limit worship to physical factors.

The Samaritan woman brought up the worship controversy. Jacob’s well is at the foot of Mount Gerizim, so Jesus and the woman could see the mountain before them. The woman said (verse 20), “‘Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, but you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.'” Jesus responded by dismissing the importance of the location. He said (verse 21) “‘an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.'” In other words, it is not important where you worship. All of human reliance on a place is useless.

Two, we have the joy of worshiping God in Spirit.

Jesus said that “‘God is Spirit.'” We can look at this fact in two ways. First, God is Spirit in the sense that He is completely spiritual in essence. He is Spirit in nature. Second, God’s Spirit is the “medium” of His relationship with people. We connect with God through His Spirit.

Given this fact, we must worship in Spirit. This word Spirit can refer to God’s Spirit, your spirit, or to your spirit inspired by God’s Spirit. I like the latter approach. When your spirit, or mine, is touched by God’s Spirit, true worship occurs.

Three, our worship must be in the framework of truth.

The word truth can refer to truth as opposed to falsehood. It can refer, also, to faithfulness. In addition it can refer to the person of Christ. Jesus is the truth! True worship is based on Jesus as the truth. He is truth and He proclaimed the truth.

We must worship in truth in the sense that it must be based on God and His Word. Beyond this, we must center our worship upon Christ who is the embodiment of truth. Finally, we must live the truth. It must be expressed in our lives.

Four, we worship now and look forward to the future.

Jesus said, “‘an hour is coming, and now is'” when people will worship in Spirit and truth. When Jesus spoke, it was prior to the cross. Nevertheless, it was possible even then for people to worship in Spirit and truth. After the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, there would be even greater expressions of worship.

Today, we worship the Christ who completed His atoning work on the cross. Even so, there will be greater worship when He returns. We will be with Christ, and every knee will bow at his name.


Controversy over worship is as ancient as worship itself. It seems to be human nature to focus on a physical place, a style of worship, a form of music, or many other related things. Such controversies can keep us from true worship All of these things have their place, but the essence of true worship is to worship God in Spirit and truth. Let us keep this uppermost in our minds when we express our worship to God.

Copyright © George M. Flattery

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