“A Heart Condition?”

1 August 2004

Texts: John 4:15-19; Matt. 15: 10-20 & Psalm 12

 

            Last week we visited John 3.  This week we find ourselves in John 4 with Jesus ministering to the woman at the well in the third of eight private interviews recorded for us by the Apostle.  If these encounters were indeed private (for the disciples had gone away into the city to buy food v.8), we learn something important about the source of this information.  The source is none other than the Lord Himself.  We do read that the Lord and His disciples stayed in Sychar, where Jacob’s well was situated, for a couple of days--at the request of those who had come to believe on the self-professed Messiah-ship of Jesus Christ.  Apparently, it was then Jesus explained this interview to His disciples, including John, and John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit recorded it for us.  While many useful sermons have been preached on this passage, what I am led to focus on is this woman’s heart condition--for she represents us all in the possession of a proud heart--and her loose lips, are like our unmanageable tongues.  She is, evidently, a very articulate and opinionated individual.  Highly intelligent, no doubt, she is worldly and unruly, if not, again, unmanageable.  However,  she is not peculiar in this regard at all; nor is the remedy for her heart condition any different from the remedy for all the rest of us: full and free redemption by Christ‘s death on the cross.

 

            The keys to understanding all this are found in several passages of Scripture.  In Proverbs 6:12-19, we not only read about the seven things that God abhors, we also learn that “perversity is in his/her heart.” A wicked tongue expresses a diseased heart.  The passage I’ve just referred to is strong, but necessary soul medicine.  We are all prone to slide into such sin unless we examine ourselves closely.  Unless we guard carefully against the tendency to externalize and to project our own sin, our mouths will be full of harsh judgments towards others and unwarranted kindness towards ourselves.  Frankly, we commonly tolerate more sin in our own selves than we will in others.  So, the woman at the well represents us fully in these regards as we shall see.  Psalm 12 picks up on this theme of perversity powerfully:

            They (the sons of men) speak falsehood to one another; With flattering lips and with a double             heart they speak.

But I particularly want to speak to verses 3 and 4 for they provide a diagnostic tool for understanding the heart condition of the woman at the well and us, too--flattering lips, a double heart and unruliness. David continues:

Psa 12:3  May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, The tongue that speaks great things;

Psa 12:4  Who have said, "With our tongue we will prevail; Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?"

Similarly, verses 5 &6 allude to the cure, the only cure for our wretched condition of lost-ness:

 

            Psa 12:5  "Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, Now I will arise," says the LORD; "I will set him in the safety for which he longs."

            Psa 12:6  The words of the LORD are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.

 

            I shall state the cure plainly. Apart from a visitation from the Lord--the appropriation by faith of Christ’s atoning work and the resulting implantation of the purity of God in the form of the Holy Spirit--there is no cure for us.  We are utterly dependent upon the grace of God to deliver us or we shall destroy ourselves and oppress everyone around us.  The proud heart is a fierce adversary, full of fury and recklessness.  In contrast to the words of a proud, deceitful heart, are the pure words of the Lord which like the pure silver (refined seven times)  are a perfect reflection of the heart integrity of the speaker, full of grace and truth.

 

            Let’s return to the diagnosis briefly.  The symptoms of defilement, as we saw, are speaking falsehood, flattery and a deceitful heart--but the boastful, puffed up self is the basic problem: "With our tongue we will prevail; Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?"  Who is lord over us?, the contemptuous heart demands.  That is the compelling question in our text today, the one question which must be answered if there is to be any hope of spiritual recovery at all.

 

            Matthew 15 is an important passage for us to consider because it ties together the Scriptures already alluded to and the encounter in John 4.  It opens with an exchange between Jesus and some of the Pharisees from Jerusalem.  Apparently they have heard that Jesus’ disciples have been eating, from time to time, with ritually impure, or unwashed hands.  As the moral watchdogs of Judaism, they have been discussing this amongst themselves to the point where a delegation is now sent to Jesus.  Jesus deals with them roundly.  He asks them why they are holding others to a standard which they themselves do not keep.  Specifically, Jesus questions why they render the commandments of God null and void by alienating their aging parents from any claim to provision from their children--the children, of course, are claiming to have dedicated their parents’ portion “to the Lord.”  Why would people do such things?  Well, Jesus declares they do these things because their hearts are rotten:

Mat 15:8  'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. Mat 15:9  'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'" (Citing Isaiah 29:13)

The issue is not an external one (dealing with ritual cleansing and the washing of hands), but an internal one.  Defilement issues from a diseased heart--here financial assets are selfishly being hoarded, but those who have a heart to please God would want above all else to “honor his father and mother.”  In a similar way, those who really want to please God guard their mouths against all sins of the tongue: all gossip and slander and devising of evil.  “To the pure, all things are pure.” (Titus 1:15)

 

            Now Jesus’ accusers are offended.  It is not recorded that they repented at all.  Rather, we may surmise, they were hardened in their opposition to Jesus and their rejection of the truth.  Sick hearts will not receive correction, or reproof and the proud are so convinced of their own righteousness and of their intelligence that they will not be instructed.  They will be offended, not convicted and changed.

            Mat 15:13  But He answered and said, "Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant             shall be rooted up.”

The problem was not in what Jesus said about their hypocrisy, nor does the problem lie with the truth of what they were doing, the problem lies with their hearts, hearts that refuse to hear the truth--or, if they hear it all, they immediately pervert it into that which either pleases their pride, or harms the one who spoke it.  A proud heart flatters itself and flatters others; it hates the truth and is blind.    True Christians act Christianly.  Therefore, the offense is in the plant, in the human heart.  It is because some, who present themselves as plants, are not the planting of the Lord that offense is often taken.  Elsewhere Jesus says, “Many there are that say, ‘Lord, Lord,’. . .  But I say get away from me ye workers of iniquity.  I never knew you.”  Thus we are to understand Jesus saying:

Mat 15:14  "Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

 

            Now Peter enters the narrative with a request, “Explain this parable to us.”  I take it that Peter has this last figure in mind.  There, the blind guides are the Pharisees and their following as designated as the blind in general.  Those who are taken in by the Pharisees are persons snookered by their spiritual pride and religiosity; they will fall into the ditch with them!  Jesus is nothing if not thorough.  He proceeds to use the figure of the blind leading the blind to refer to the whole hand washing controversy.  And, as we have seen, the matter is not one of personal, or ritual hygiene but of spiritual defilement.  To the pure, all things are pure; while to the impure, everyone not in agreement with them is deceived, or also defiled.  To co-opt an old adage, it is if one were to say, “The whole world is defiled except me and thee. . .and I have my doubts about thee.”  So Jesus commands His followers to leave the Pharisees alone because their spirit of pride and fearful mistrust knows no boundaries.

 

            An in-dept explanation follows, typical we may assume of the kind of teaching Jesus regularly did for His disciples.  Jesus explains that what we eat simply passes through our system.  This is the fate of all that enters the mouth, provided it is not spit out instead of swallowed.  However, with regard to defilement, it is what comes out of the mouth that counts:

Mat 15:18  "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man Mat 15:19  "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. Mat 15:20  "These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man."

What comes out of the mouth is an expression of what’s in the heart!  It was so then, and is so now.

 

            So, with this as context, let’s journey to the well at Sychar with Jesus.  Our ears should be prepared now to listen perceptively.  Jesus says, “Give me a drink.”  The first thing that comes out of her mouth is “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask a drink of me, a Samaritan woman?”  Her heart is full of concern for propriety and prejudice.  Is it proper for you, a man, to interact with me, a woman?  Yes, it was at a public place, but it was a public place known for trysts and illicit meetings.  Where is it proper for Jesus to meet someone?  Why does the thought of impropriety even occur to her?  Secondly, she highlights the prejudice, or racial antagonism between Jews and Samaritans.  She anticipates “trouble” because her heart is troubled.  (John reminds us that Jews and Samaritans had no dealings with each other--probably a reference to the prohibitions on the sharing of drinking vessels (or food) between those cultures.  Verse 9) But note, the mistrust in her heart fairly leaps out of her mouth.  Jesus plainly has His work cut out for Him--but that is no different than it is with each one of us.  Most of us, when we came to Jesus initially--when He arose in our lives according to His promise (Psalm 12:5) to deliver us from our oppressions--had hearts just as full of dark suspicion and mistrust.  But, as we learn to trust Him, hopefully, our ability to trust others also grows.  Certainly, as His Holy Spirit indwells us, we become more and more able to hear from Him accurately.  This is because the Holy Spirit purifies us inwardly.  There is no other way to be healed, or to escape the poisons that daily impinge on us.

 

            Jesus’ response steps around her mistrust.  This is a risky business but we have to risk being misunderstood if we ever hope to bring grace and hope to troubled, or lost:

"If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."

This extraordinary response is actually very much to the point.  “If you knew the gift of God” could be rendered if only you knew whom God havsgiven into this world for your sake, woman. . .if only you knew who it is that says to you, “Give Me a drink,” you would ask Him for “living water.”  Jesus is offering God to her! According to Jeremiah 2:13, living water is a synonym for Yahweh” (Jer 2:13  "For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns, That can hold no water. And Jer 17:13  O LORD, the hope of Israel, All who forsake Thee will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, Because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD.)  This is the identity of the Holy Spirit according to John 7:37-39. But this woman’s heart is initially so mistrusting, she completely misses Christ’s first offer of salvation.

 

            The woman then asks how He is to fetch this water, erroneously thinking that He was alluding to the water from Jacob’s well.[1]  Jesus patiently explains the different waters to her and finally she begins to understand the spiritual nature of what is being offered to her.  So, in response to her request for living waters, He says to her: “Go, call your husband, and come here.” (v.16)  Jesus knew very well that this was the point of disease in her heart.  He knew that she was relationally disordered--we do not know the precise nature of her wounded-ness--for in this instant, her pride is completely exposed.  “I have no husband.”  Perhaps she has no husband because she has chosen not to be submitted to any man. She is not willing to be anyone’s wife, nor will she endure any man to be “lord” in her life.  That is probably why she has had five husbands and “the one you now have is not your husband” (v. 18)[2].    Perceiving that things have now moved in a “religious” direction, the woman either wants to show off her intelligent grasp of matters pertaining to worship, or to deflect Jesus‘ penetrating attention away from the real issues.  It almost seems as if she wants to get into a debate about religion, about where true worship ought to happen.  Jesus is having none of clever verbal evasion.  He firmly, but gently rebukes her wagging tongue with a single word, “Woman.”

John 4:21  Jesus said^ to her, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. John 4:22  "You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

John 4:23  "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.

John 4:24  "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

Get out of the controversies and speculations that don’t matter at all, except to idle chatterers, those who love to hear themselves talk, to gossip and to show off their spiritual prowess.

 

            Now, on some level of her being, the woman realizes that this is no ordinary Jew--more than a prophet even, she says, which is farther than some scoffers and unbelievers are willing to go in our day.  She hints that He is sounding rather like the Messiah.  Resolving that matter, Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”  This is as stellar and clear a self-declaration as is ever made in the New Testament and that to a nameless woman, a commoner in Samaria!  And, with her implicit acceptance of that truth, her heart condition is at once cured.  Notice that all traces of pride are gone, no more self-vaunting or puffing up of self.  That doesn’t mean, of course, that she became a silent woman.  No, not at all, but that with mistrust rousted, her tongue now is freed to it proper use: to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.  She is he first recorded evangelist in the gospel of John!  And she puts her former, unredeemed relationships to good use--urging those who knew her to a better thing, to come and know Him!  What a wholesome topic for the tongue and healthy deployment of her articulate intelligence!  “Come, see a Man who told me all the things I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?”  Certainly, this Him.  And she, believing, was saved.  According to the record here, we cannot say what “all the things I ever did” entails.  Perhaps she explained, “Come and see the Man who has exposed to light everything important about me!  Come meet the man who healed my distrust of God and of man at once because He has dealt with my sin, my proud heart and He has made me whole.”  She now can answer the question, “Who is lord over me?” correctly and humbly.  Jesus is.  Single, or married the same Jesus is Lord of all.  And that submission is the sign of a healthy heart condition. 

 

            Now, for application.  Here’s a troubling thing.  None of us are immune to developing a heart condition--all of us had a heart condition once and even if we are the planting of the Lord, we are prone to sickness if we live unhealthily.  Poor habits like a poor diet, coupled with a lack of exercise can produce a heart condition in the physical body.  The similar things happens in the spiritual realm.  Feed on the wrong stuff--worldly stuff such as lust, envy, jealousy and mistrust are high in cholesterol, bad cholesterol--for too long and the arteries will get clogged, the circulation will slow down and the heart will become stressed, if not sick.  Fail to exercise Christian behaviors like forgiveness, love and ready reconciliation--all that Scripture teaches us to do--and our hearts will suffer.  This aligns itself with Paul’s remonstrance in I Cor.11: 27-32:

1 Cor 11:27  Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 1 Cor 11:28  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 1 Cor 11:29  For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. 1 Cor 11:30  For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.1 Cor 11:31  But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged.

1 Cor 11:32  But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world.

I’ve never heard of anyone developing a bad heart overnight.  It is a gradual thing, a consequence of neglect.  Negatively, you have no idea just how dead you’ve become until it’s too late, unless the Lord quickens you to change your ways.  Eventually, your lifestyle will find you out, hidden things will be exposed.  But, positively, we affirm that Jesus knows each of us fully as well as He knew the woman at the well.  He wants to supply you with living water, the Holy Spirit, so that you will focus your energies on telling others about the goodness of the Lord.  God is good and loving Him is the only thing that matters.  Let’s pray for wholesomeness for all our hearts!  Building each other up, loving and serving each other because of our joy--that’s our goal.

 

                                                                                                            Amen.



[1] Tradition placed Jacob’s well in this area (of which well there is no record in the O. T.).

[2] Today, we might discover that this woman is a lesbian, or an adulteress, or simply a single woman who is angrily defiant and unsubmissive--and, one might add, sadly, unloved, cherished, protected or provided for.  A godly husband is refreshment to the woman’s heart--a mercy and divine provision.  Thus married is simply how life’s meant to be in God‘s mercy towards women.  I hasten to add that not all single women are “angrily defiant and unsubmissive”; some are worthy widows, others are vocationally single.