April 26, 2017

Private Faith

This last Sunday we looked at the story of the Samaritan village of Sychar.  We have often heard the story of the women at the well, but John chapter 4 is more about the village than the woman.

Looking at this story and, again, paying attention to what we know about the characters, the historical background, and how John is writing to his original audience, we see much more than a conversation at a well.

John seems to be following up in a theme where Jesus is confronting all of the expectations of a religious system and the inadequacies of those faulty expectations.  First there were the religious onlookers at the baptism, then Satan's faulty expectations, then the religious system at the temple, then Nicodemus, followed by the dedicated disciples of John and the pharisees who would compare Jesus to John.  Finally, we see a Samaritan village, who are a people known for their dedication to their religious expectations as much as they are an outcast from their Israelite neighbors.  The story is about how the village responds to Jesus' illumination to their faulty faith system, not about a woman who becomes an evangelist.  Personally, I doubt that the woman came to faith at that point at all.

What we looked at is how the faith that Jesus gave us and taught us was never intended to be purely "personal/private".  The scripture is replete with exhortation to guard, steward, use the faith for the benefit of the Bride.  Not the individual members of the Bride, but for the Bride communal.  Ephesians chapter four tells us that the gifts of the faith, which can only be experienced through the practice of faith, are for the building up of the Body.  For unity.  For maturity.

We see both the positive and negative results of faith when lived out respectively in community or isolation.  The woman lived a life of isolation (5 husbands, now with a man not her own). No one in town was holding her or the other men accountable?  They were a devout people.  What was supposed to happen to an adulteress or adulterer in a devout Jewish faith community?  Their idea of a private faith was not helping anyone mature in God's purposes.

She obviously knew a little of the law and of her faith, she defaults to this intellectual conversation when caught off guard by Jesus' direct intrusion into her life.  Her isolated faith however, did not allow her the habit of accepting direct accountability or for being authentic.

The village was at fault as well.  They allowed an atmosphere of unaccountability and they obviously turned their eye the other way (you can't not know about the five husbands in a small town).  The statement by Jesus was obviously an accusation of sin of some kind, not just being widowed five times.  So how did hat happen?

People treated faith like it was personal - nobody else's business.  Just between me and God.

John pointed out in the entirety of his Gospel account so far that that type of religious thinking didn't work.  Jesus was calling people to something new.  The temple was failing the people.  The religious teachers and leaders were failing the people.  Faith must impact the community and be lived out in the community.  It is not just about you.  It isn't about you being good enough and that's okay - even if everyone else around you is going to hell.

At the end of this weeks story, we see a whole town coming to faith together.  The woman still appears to be isolated on the fringe looking for affirmation because of her "important part in the situation",  not because of her inclusion.  Someone has to tell her (parenthetically - out of place with the flow of the story) that they are not believing because of her anymore, but because of their own experience.  Why would we see that in the text unless she was hanging around trying to receive some kind of recognition for it?  The text already tells us that Jesus stayed two extra days at their request to learn from Him personally and that many believed because of it.  The statement to her then (for John writing it) becomes redundant unless it is a rebuke.  Then we hear nothing else about her.

Faith in isolation allows us to look and feel like a part of the group, but no real change, repentance, growth or accountability necessarily has to take place.  No one is there to affirm such things are genuinely taking place through fellowship and accountability in the actual walk.

I fear that many of our brothers and sisters in the pews and at the church functions are like this today.  Maybe some of us are.  We take part in ministries, and belong to small groups, but nobody could really tell you who you truly are and what you are truly like in the moment of trial and temptation.  We react harshly to true accountability.

But Faith in community is the expression that the apostles write about, the Faith to be fought for, the catalyst of true societal and individual change.  That is what Scripture teaches us, and that is what I believe John teaches his original audience in the story of the Samaritan Village of Sychar.

Is your faith genuine, alive and active?  Do people know you because of what you say about yourself or because of what they actually experience with you in community?

With you for His glory,