By Greg Groves
Jesus said in John 4:23, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” What does worshiping in spirit and truth entail?
First of all, to worship “in spirit” involves two things. First, it involves “spiritual worship.” In John 4:24, Jesus went on to say, “God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The word “spirit” stands in contrast to the external worship of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the worship had to do with the external man, the physical. It consisted of a physical structure (the tabernacle), special clothing for the priests, lamp stands, burning of incense, instruments of music, and animal sacrifices. All of this had to do with the physical.
The New Testament worship has to do with the inward part of man, his spiritual makeup. All Christians are priests who offer up spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5). Our prayers are as sweet incense rising up to God (Rev. 5:8). Our music is making melody in our hearts (Eph. 5:19).
Secondly, worshiping God “in spirit” involves worshiping with the right disposition. “In spirit” has to do with the condition of one’s mind when he worships. The worship of God must come from the heart, with genuine love for God. We need to make sure that our worship does not come from a desire to be noticed and praised by men. Jesus said that is what the scribes and Pharisees were doing in Matthew 23. They continued to comply with all the outward ordinances, but not for the right purpose. We need to make sure we have the right frame of mind in worship.
To worship God “in truth” means to worship God in accord with truth, as the truth directs. The truth (God’s word, John 17:17) is the only authority by which we can acceptably worship God. Many people stumble in their service to God because they are disobedient to the Word. Again, we use the Jews as a classic example of vain worship. In Matthew 15:7-9 Jesus said of them, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, Saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” They failed in both parts of true worship. When one worships with the traditions and doctrines of men, it is a hypocritical worship. If we truly loved God, we would not use the traditions and doctrines of men. We are only hypocrites when we claim otherwise.
The truth authorizes five items of worship assemblies.
- The Lord’s supper is to be observed every first day of the week in memory of the Lord’s death (1 Cor. 11:23-26, Acts 20:7).
- We are to give of our means as we have materially prospered (2 Cor. 9:7-14).
- Prayers are to be offered in praise and thanksgiving to God (1 Cor. 14:15).
- We are to glorify God in singing (Col. 3:16).
- The teaching of God’s Word is to be done (Acts 20:7).
All the sincerity in the world will not justify one act in religion unless truth is present. Why are there so many varying forms of worship today? Because people have taken liberty with God’s word. They have added their own wishes and desires rather than what God himself wants.
The Bible instructs us repeatedly to beware of men. In Matthew 7:15, Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”
One of the saddest stories in the Bible is found in 1 Kings 13:15-24. God sent a young prophet to King Jeroboam with a message and God told the prophet not to eat bread or drink water in that land and not to return the same way he came. The prophet followed these commands until an older prophet told him a lie that God had told him it was all right for the young prophet to eat with him. The young prophet died, not because of wickedness or lack of sincerity, but by believing a lie.
Believing a lie has terrible consequences. We must realize that we can be deceived too and that we should always test what is said like the Bereans in Acts 17:11. Paul tells us to “test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5: 21). We need to read and study for ourselves instead of relying on someone else to spoon-feed us our beliefs.
We cannot judge a thing to be true just because a fellow man said it. The young prophet took the word of another man; a fellow prophet and it cost him his life. We need to realize that preachers can be wrong. Apollos stands as a good example of that. In Acts 18:24-26, we are told of Apollos that he was “an eloquent man and mighty in the scriptures.” He was “fervent in spirit” but “he knew only the baptism of John.” And Aquila and Priscilla heard him and took him aside and taught him “the way of God more accurately.” Despite the fact that Apollos was a good, if not great speaker, he had not been taught the whole truth of God’s word and had to be taught. Elders can be wrong also. Paul told the elders from the church in Ephesus, “Among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:30). That can still happen today just as it did then. Men have many differing ideas on what constitutes true worship. However, Jesus summed up true worship in one simple statement. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Are you striving to be a true worshiper of God?