Water for the Whole Person


Recall that the man beside the pool of Bethesda had to be healed before he could see Jesus properly. In the same way, when we serve the physical needs of others—without precondition—we can more effectively invite them to experience spiritual transformation.

“In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock …” Nehemiah 9:15 (NIV)

The Healing At the Pool (John 5:1-15)

Like the jars of water that Jesus turned to wine in John 2, the waters of Bethesda were normally meant for purification. The pool was likely a mikveh, a Jewish ritual bath where people ceremonially washed away their impurity.

But this mikveh went beyond the norm. The waters of Bethesda were thought to have healing powers. People with all sorts of ailments would gather, like the disabled man in John 5—all hoping for the same thing, all desperate for a miracle when they entered the pool. Whether anyone was ever healed by the waters or whether it was a folk legend that kept people coming to the pool, we don’t know.

One thing is certain: the disabled man in this story had found no relief for his ailment from the waters at Bethesda.

When Jesus arrived, the disabled man barely looked up. He was fixated on the waters, which lay just beyond reach. The pool and its supposedly curative powers were all he could see—that and the crush of people who always managed to get there first. The man didn’t realize that if he would simply turn around, he’d be face to face with Living Water incarnate. He didn’t realize that the One standing next to him had the power to heal any infirmity.

Even after Jesus’ miracle, the man had no idea who had healed him (5:13). It was only after another not-so-chance encounter in the temple that his eyes were truly opened. Now that he was healed, he could see Jesus for who He really was, and understand that it was Jesus who had made him well. 

Water for the Body, Water for the Soul 

Pastor Andoni Phiri’s first name is an accident of sorts. If it weren’t for a chance misspelling, he would have been christened Adonai instead. Andoni, a variant of Anthony, means “priceless.” As it turns out, it’s not a bad way to describe the 51-year-old’s legacy.

Andoni is a district evangelist serving around 50 churches in southern Zambia. Like many pastors in the area, he doesn’t earn a salary. He freely shares living water with the people he encounters.

Since 2010, Pastor Andoni has worked alongside World Vision in Zambia—a partnership devoted to meeting more than just physical needs. Helping community members access life’s basic necessities, including water, has opened a door to share God’s love. “I have evangelism partners with World Vision,” Andoni says.

As part of their comprehensive approach to solving the complex puzzle of poverty, World Vision has brought clean water to the community, drilling boreholes close to people’s homes and training community members how to maintain them. These activities have given Andoni new opportunities to share the living water of Jesus. Simply put, when people don’t have to spend hours each day fetching water, they have time to devote to things beyond basic physical survival. Things like attending church.

“There are certain things [people] wouldn’t do because they were drawing their water from far away,” Andoni explains. Drilling boreholes, it turns out, does more than protect families from waterborne illness. “It has helped them in their church attendance,” he says. “They can quickly come to church. … They are no longer worried about distance.”

Pastor Andoni believes we need to address people’s physical needs in order for their spiritual needs to be met, remembering that the man beside the pool of Bethesda had to be healed before he could see Jesus properly. When we serve the physical needs of others—without precondition—we can more effectively invite them to experience spiritual transformation. 

I have seen it with my own eyes,” Andoni attests. “When you combine spiritual and physical development, change comes more quickly. … Physically they are  satisfied. Now [they] can participate in spiritual things.”

As James wrote, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (2:15-16, NIV).

“You can imagine a hungry person being invited  [to church],” Andoni says, using a similar analogy.  “They will first look for food. But if they have food, they will come.”  

Discussion Questions 

Spend time by yourself or with your small group reflecting on this week’s content, using the following discussion questions:

  1. In John 5, it seems as if Jesus’ presence barely registers with the disabled man. Why do you think that is?
  2. The story in John 5 ends on an abrupt note. Jesus gives the man a terse warning, and the man tells the religious leaders it was Jesus who made him well. Do you think his heart was transformed as a result of his encounter with Jesus?
  3. Imagine you were chronically hungry or lacked access to safe water. How might this deprivation affect your spiritual development?
  4. Which do you think is better—to freely offer aid in Christ’s name to those in need, or to require them to listen to an evangelistic presentation before they can receive aid? Why?

Daily Meditations 

Take a few moments each day to meditate on the following Scripture passages:

Monday: 2 Kings 5:1-14

Read the story of how God used another body of water, the Jordan River, to heal someone.

Tuesday: Ezekiel 47:1-12

In this vision, Ezekiel sees a river that freshens the toxic waters of the Dead Sea—a powerful image of the transformation God offers. 

Wednesday: Luke 4:14-21

Addressing people’s immediate needs—proclaiming good news for the poor and offering freedom for  prisoners, sight for the blind, and liberation from oppression—is central to Jesus’ ministry.

Thursday: Matthew 14:13-21

Notice how Jesus spends all day healing people and then, instead of sending them away, satisfies their  physical hunger.

Friday: James 2:14-26

According to James, faith is meaningless when not accompanied by a commitment to actively meeting  the needs of others.

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