“Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman believe me, the hour cometh when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall ye worship the Father. Ye worship that which ye know not, we worship that which we know for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipper shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in Spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:19-24). These were the words which the Samaritan woman spoke to Jesus, and the reply He made to her words.
The mountain of which the woman spoke was Mt. Gerizim, a high mountain in Canaan. When the Jews were in the wilderness, Moses told them that when they were finally in Canaan that six of the tribes should stand on Mt. Gerizim and pronounce a blessing upon those who would be submissive and obedient to God’s will; the other six were to stand on Mt. Ebal and pronounce a curse upon those who would conduct themselves in disobedience (Deut. 27:11-12; Josh. 8:33-35). After the division of Israel into two nations, after the northern kingdom had been destroyed and the southern kingdom had gone into exile, and finally after the Jews had returned to their land from Babylonian captivity and rebuilt their temple in Jerusalem, a rival temple to the temple in Jerusalem was built on Mt. Gerizim. The remnant of the northern tribes, mixed with the other nations brought to repopulate the land, became Samaritans and they wanted to join with the Jews in the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. Their offer was rejected but a Jew named Manassah, who was brother to high priest in Jerusalem, had married the daughter of the governor of Samaria named Sanballat. Nehemiah demanded he put away his foreign wife but he refused and as a result was expelled from the priesthood. His father-in-law built a temple for him on Mt. Gerizim (c. 434 B.C.) with a rival priesthood. A couple of centuries later, John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple (129/128 BC).
The Samaritans accepted the five books of Law, but no other book of the Old Testament. Furthermore, there was persistent enmity between them and the Jews over the worship each offered to God. The Samaritan woman, recognizing Jesus as a prophet, asked which place was the right one to worship.
Jesus answered the woman, telling her that the hour had come when men were not required to go to Jerusalem to worship. Jesus gave two elements of worship, stating that God is a Spirit and since He is, we must worship him in Spirit and truth. Worship may be completely sincere but if it is not offered in truth it is worthless. There is only one true object of worship: God. And God knows what pleases Him and has revealed the same. Many offer worship to God which He rejects because it originates with man: “In vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9). Truth is not determined by how we feel or what we think. Jesus prayed the Father to “sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). Because God’s ways and thoughts are not like ours (Isa. 55:8), He must tell us what is true — and He has.
God is a Spirit. He has no material flesh and He, like Jesus, “only hath immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16). So for worship to be acceptable to God it must be offered by the inner man. Just doing things by rote is not acceptable. Acceptable worship must be “heart worship” — but “heart worship” which acts consistent with truth. We must sanctify Christ in our heart as Lord (1 Pet. 3:15). Our hearts must be His throne and we must ever say as Samuel when he received a call from God, “Speak Lord, thy servant heareth” (1 Sam. 3:10). Our worship must spring from our love and appreciation for our God. The first commandment is and always must be, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind …” (Matt. 22:37). God’s promise to those who thus worship Him is “and ye shall seek for me and ye shall find me, when ye search for me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).
Worship is individual. No one else can offer worship for me. But worship also sometimes is corporate — a coming together with others to worship. We must not neglect either. Early Christians “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, in the breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42). They “came together upon the first day of the week to break bread” (Acts 20:7) and to those who wish to please God, the Hebrew writer urged, “Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another and so much the more as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
It is not necessary for us to go to Jerusalem to worship now, but wherever we worship with a body of saints, let us never forget, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”