By Keith Sharp
As the Bible unveils the nature and will of God to man, one of the great themes of the Scriptures is worship. Yet, amazingly, although the Word of God tells us Whom to worship and how to worship Him, it never commands us simply to worship. Man, in each age, civilization and location, with a spirit in the image of his Creator and with a yearn for fellowship with his Maker, naturally worships something (Acts 17:22, 23).
Christians properly recognize that one Being and one alone is worthy of our worship – God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe (Acts 10:25, 26; Rev. 19:10). But, how are we to worship God?
We must first define “worship.” The Hebrew word commonly translated “worship” in the Old Testament means “to bow down, do obeisance, serve.” Thus, the psalmist exhorted:
O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker (Psa. 95:6).
The Greek word rendered “worship” in the New Testament is parallel, signifying “to kiss the hand to (toward) one, to be reverential, pious, to serve, to venerate, to do homage; make obeisance” (cf. Rev. 11:16). Thus, to worship God is to humble oneself before Him in recognition of the Lord’s infinite greatness while seeking communion with the Father in recognition of the fact that we are His offspring.
The Church of Christ is a New Testament institution. The same blood of Christ which ratified the New Covenant (Matt. 26:28) also purchased the Church (Eph. 5:25-27). That Will of Christ is its only law (Col. 3:17).
Prior to the establishment of the New Testament, people acceptably employed various acts of worship such as sacrificing animals, dancing, shouting and playing musical instruments in worship of Jehovah (cf. 2 Sam. 6:12-15). But this is irrelevant in seeking how the Lord’s church is to venerate the Father pleasingly. We must appeal to the law of Christ, the New Testament, as our guide to acceptable worship.
In John 4:19-24, Jesus taught an adulterous Samaritan woman the principles of New Testament worship. Acceptable worship is offered by “true worshipers” (v. 23), i.e., those who render homage to “the Father in spirit and in truth” (vv. 23, 24). What is worship “in spirit”? The Apostle Paul urges us to be “fervent in spirit” (Rom. 12:11). This means to have an attitude of zeal. Thus, to venerate God “in spirit” is to do so with the right attitude, “from the heart.” As the sweet singer of old proclaimed, “. . . I will praise the Lord with my whole heart . . .” (Psa. 111:1). It is a useless farce to sit in an assembly and mindlessly day dream or irreverently whisper and pass notes while others engage in worship around you. Such is an insult to the divine majesty. One’s intellect and emotions must both heartily enter into the worship.
What is worship “in truth”? The Word of God “is truth” (Jn. 17:17). It is our standard of acceptable worship. We must do homage to God in the way He teaches in His Word. It is wrong to reason “we all worship the same God, but in different ways.” We must all worship the same God in the way He has appointed. When one worships according to his own desires, rather than in harmony with the New Testament, he is guilty of “will-worship” (Col. 2:20-23). He actually venerates his own desires rather than God. To worship the Father in truth we must venerate Him in the way He teaches in His Word.
True worship is “in spirit,” i.e., with the right attitude, “from the heart.” What are the characteristics of worship that is truly “in spirit”?
Such veneration is “with understanding” (I Cor. 14:14, 15). To so worship, we must comprehend what is said and done, appreciate the significance of each act of worship and think about what we are doing. For example, the sermon should be in language simple enough to be understood, and the hearers should realize that it is being spoken for their edification and listen attentively and critically.
Worship in spirit is orderly. Some worshipers seem to place a premium on confusion and disorder. Many members of the church think worship should be “spontaneous.” The order of worship is constantly varied, if, indeed, any order at all is maintained. The majority of those in the assembly have no idea what will happen next. Some advocate just doing whatever comes to mind, whenever it comes to mind. But, the inspired apostle Paul warns:
. . . God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints (1 Cor. 14:33).
He commands, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (v. 40). It is wrong to bind a certain order of worship, but it is equally sinful to stagger through the assembly in a sloppy, slovenly, slipshod manner. Order is not bad. It is commanded of God.
Proper worship is “reverent,” i.e., respectful unto God.
God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him (Psa. 89:7; cf. Heb. 12:28, 29).
We should dress in a respectful manner. Would you wear the kind of clothes in an assembly where the President of our nation is present that you wear in the assemblies where Christ the great King is a guest? We should act and speak respectfully before God. Our prayers should be with the most reverential language we are capable of uttering.
This worship is sincere. We should assemble out of love for God and desire to commune with Him. David was glad to worship God (Psa. 122:1). Is the hour of worship a drudgery or an occasion of happiness for you? We should not engage in items of worship just to be seen and praised of men (Matt. 6:1, 5). Do you worship to be seen of men or of God?
The beauty in worship which the Lord demands is “the beauty of holiness” (Psa. 29:2). To be “holy” is to be set apart from sin. Christians are a “holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). God does not require that you possess a beautiful voice in order to sing His praises, but He does command that you possess a beautiful life. One cannot live a sinful life and offer. holy worship unto God. You cannot live for the devil six days a week and expect the Father to accept your worship on the first day of the week.
Worship in spirit is instructional. One major reason Christians assemble is “to provoke unto love and to good works” (Heb. 10:24, 25). In our assemblies, “Let all things be done unto edifying” (1 Cor. 14:26). Every act of worship in the assembly should be for the express purpose of instructing and building up the saints, not for entertaining.
Finally, when we worship the Father in spirit, we put pomp aside. The vain show of beautiful sounding choruses, the appeal of expensive decorations and ornate buildings and the worldly lure of liturgy and ceremony have no place in simple, devout New Testament worship. Such “pomp and circumstance” is an appeal to the flesh, whereas true worship is an appeal to the spirit of man (Rom. 8:5-8).
True worship, homage which pleases God, is to be “in truth” as well as “in spirit.” To be “in truth,” our veneration of the Father must be in harmony with His Word. What acts of worship does the New Testament authorize for Christians?
God approves the teaching and preaching of His Word. When the disciples at Troas had assembled for public worship, “Paul preached unto them” (Acts 20:7). The evangelist is required to “preach the word,” not his opinions, humorous stories, deathbed tales, human philosophy or denominational creeds (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
The Lord authorizes “laying by in store,” i.e., the contribution, as an act of public worship in the first day of the week assembly of the saints (1 Cor. 16:1, 2). This passage reveals five essentials covering the contribution and how the church is to solicit the money with which to perform its work. When are we go give? “Upon the first day of the week . . . .” Who is to lay by in store? “. . . every one of you . . . .” What should we do? “. . . lay be in store . . .” (i.e., give as stewards to receive blessings from our Lord for serving Him). How should we give? “. . . as God hath prospered him . . . .” Why should the contribution be taken? “. . . that there be no gatherings when I come . . .” (i.e., so that the congregation may discharge its mission without an emergency contribution).
True worship includes partaking of the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of His sacrifice on our behalf (1 Cor. 11:23-26). This memorial feast is to be eaten by Christians in the assembly on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Just as the command to the Jews to “remember the Sabbath day” (Ex. 20:8) meant each Sabbath day, even so the apostolic approved example of breaking bread “upon the first day of the week” includes each first day of the week.
We should also pray in our veneration of God. Prayer is an essential part of public worship (Acts 20:36). Christians should pray everywhere (1 Tim. 2:8).
Finally, the will of Christ teaches singing as a proper act of worship (Matt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26; Acts 16:25; Rom. 15:9; 1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:18, 19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:12; Jas. 5:13). God has specified the kind of music He desires -singing (vocal) (Eph. 5:19). This eliminates the only other kind of music – playing (instrumental). He also made known the types of songs are to employ – “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ibid).
Our Father will accept only one kind of veneration “true” worship. Such homage is “in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23, 24). Is your worship acceptable unto God? Do you worship the Father in spirit and in truth?
- What is the meaning of the Hebrew word commonly translated “worship” in the Old Testament?
- What is the meaning of the Greek word rendered “worship” in the New Testament?
- What is worship “in spirit”?
- What is worship “in truth”?
- What is worship “with understanding”?
- Should congregational worship be spontaneous? If’ not, why not?
- Name the acts of worship the New Testament authorizes for Christians.
- There are five essentials covering the contribution and how the church is to solicit money to carry out its work revealed in 1 Cor. 16:1, 2. Name and discuss these.
- Has God specified the kind of music He desires? If so, where is it specified?
Truth Magazine XXIV: 1, pp. 10-12
January 3, 1980