God created all things for His own glory (Revelation 4:11). It simply means that we are created to worship God. When we fail to worship God, we fail to operate as intended by our Creator. Everything in life has to be evaluated by that standard. Life without worship is meaningless. Worship encompasses more than the religious ceremonies of a church. Worshipping God involves more than the music we sing, the prayers we pray, and the sermons we hear. Furthermore, it is a little trite to think that worship can be evaluated by some external, cultural standard as if God can only be worshipped while standing or sitting in a particular position, wearing a particular style of clothing, or repeating a prescribed set of words. Worship is practical, but it is not perfunctory. It is also too simplistic to think of worship as only being “authentic” or “real” if it is unrehearsed; if it is “raw.” God is not often honored by the unfiltered, thoughtless eruptions of our heart. If our mind is stayed on God through His Word, and the Spirit is filling us by our yielding dependence and obedience to Him, then unplanned speech can be very worshipful. If our mind is not truly focused on Him, then those eruptions are not worship, even if they take a permitted form of worship within a Christian community.
The Standard of Spirit and Truth
When Jesus met with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4), He explained to her that worship is measured by a heavenly standard. Jesus said: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (v. 24). This statement reflects on the true nature of God as a spirit. While God is the creator of the material, He is not a material being. The fact that God is Spirit requires us to worship God with our inner man or whole heart. Formal service and ceremony are meaningless activities if they do not naturally flow from our inner core. At the same time, the thoughts of the inner man must be focused on truths about Him. We must approach God with honor and reverence which His power and glory naturally demand. Worship that goes through the motions without considering God’s character or works is not worship at all. Therefore, we must worship God in spirit and truth and our worship must be evaluated by these two elements.
Unfortunately, man does not always worship God properly. Let us look at the example of Cain. He brings his offering to God without the requisite faith of a God-fearer (Genesis 4:5, Hebrews 11:4). His worship was not flowing from an inner man that trusts God and seeks to reverence Him. He was just going through the motions and God called him on it. Sadly, Cain was not the last person who worshipped God wrongly. Humanity has followed his example throughout its history. Even at the end of the world there will be people with serious worship problems (Revelation 9:20).
The first category of worship problems is false worship. This is commonly called idolatry. Anything that replaces God as deity in the life is an idol. People who manufacture “gods” of wood and stone, of precious metals and expensive jewels, are performing false worship. They are changing the glory of an incorruptible God into an image, resembling corruptible things such as a man, a bird, an animal, or like a snake (Romans 1:23). Such actions minimize God. He is not like gold, silver or stone that is carved and decorated (Acts 17:29). The One who created all things cannot be contained in a man-made building (v. 24) and cannot be worshipped with anything made by man (v. 25). As such, God hates idolatry. The first commandment in the Moral Law is to have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3). False worship is one of the main reasons why God judged Israel with exile in captivity (Ezekiel 14:1-8).
When the Jews returned from the exile, they were cured of their idolatrous ways. That does not mean their worship problems were ended. The prophet Malachi indicated that the post-exilic Jews still struggled to worship God as they should. God charged the people with despising His name (1:6) because they offered “polluted bread on His altar (v. 7). They had contempt for the table to the Lord. Their offerings consisted of “the lame and sick” (v. 8) and “that which was torn” (v. 13). They also failed to bring their “tithes and offerings” and thus were charged with “robbing” God (3:8). In fact, the people who returned to Jerusalem were so focused on building up their own homes that even the temple of God was not immediately rebuilt (Haggai 1:4). When we come to the Lord with less than complete dedication of our hearts, we offer to Him less than He is due. It is weak worship.
Pride also robs God of worship. When we are focused on ourselves, we easily become arrogant. We can start to think that the reason for our success is our own ingenuity, hard work, or personal discipline. We can even believe that we are somehow responsible for our talents. The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that the majority of them did not come to Christ as the “wise,” the “mighty,” or the “noble.” They were not from the best of their society 1 Corinthians 1:26-28). Rather, they were from among the “foolish,” the “base,” and the “despised.” How could they steal worship from God by thinking that they were better than they were? Those who are in Christ Jesus ought to boast only in Him. We should turn the attention to Jesus and not to ourselves. All glory should go to Him (v. 31). If God is not glorified, His worship is stolen.
Two Categories of Worship
In a practical sense, there are two categories of worship—public and private. Private worship is something we should do every day on our own. Public worship is something we do when we gather together with other worshippers.
One of the most important aspects of discipleship is learning to follow Jesus in private. The privacy is important because it is a time when the servant listens to his Master. There are people who perform their private worship in public in order “to be seen of men” (Matthew 6:1). It risks stealing worship from God by elevating oneself as an object of worship (“look at me”). Jesus taught that private worship (e.g., prayer and giving) must be kept secret. Thus, every Christian must learn how to meditate on God, pray, and give privately with an intention to be seen by God, not by men.
Mediation on God. Devotions is when you devote yourself to God. Instead of thinking about how you can carve a few minutes for God out of your day, you should think about how you can carve out your day after spending time with God. He must come first. This is the thinking process of the psalmist (Psalm 1). Instead of being influenced by the wicked; instead of joining unbelievers in their pursuits; instead of cultivating relationships with those who mock God; he invests himself in learning more about the Lord through personal Bible study. He who meditates on God’s rule in his life happily yields himself up to the Holy Spirit. This is committed daily time with Jesus. It is planned. It is disciplined. Finally, it must be consistent. Meditating on God should be habitual.
Prayer. Psalm 116 teaches that God is listening when His children pray. Many heathens pray to their man-made false gods which have ears but do not listen and have eyes but cannot see. In contrast, our sovereign God both hears and sees us when we pray. It is through prayer that we abide with Him. When we pray God’s promises back to Him, He loves to fulfill His promises. At the same time, if we doubt Him or His promises, such prayers are empty petitions (James 1:6-8). God desires that we come to Him in humility seeking His wisdom and will (1 John 5:14-15). Those are the prayers God is ready to answer. At the same time, if we pray against His will, we can expect that He will (graciously) not give us what we ask (Genesis 17:18-19). Even when we pray in His will, there are times when we must learn patience in prayer (Psalm 38:15). Daniel presents a great example of someone who perseveres in prayer (Daniel 10). Here is a biblical process for learning how to pray:
- Address God as our spiritual Father (Matthew 6:9-10).
- Adore Him as Lord over everything (Revelation 4:6b-11).
- Repent of any known sin (Nehemiah 1:4-11, Psalm 19:12).
- Make your requests known unto God (1 Peter 5:7).
- Pray for wisdom when you do not know how to pray about a particular issue (James 1:2-5).
- Seek His provisions as He has promised (Matthew 6:11).
- Pray for public authorities and for the salvation of sinners (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
- Pray for discernment regarding others (Matthew 7:1-11).
- Pray for your enemies (Matthew 5:44).
- Pray for God’s blessing to be on the lives of other believers (Philippians 1:9-11).
Giving. Private worship includes our monetary offerings to the Lord (primarily through the local church). It is said that “attitude is everything.” It is especially true in worshipping God. Consequently, a disciple should prepare his heart to worship through giving while having the right attitude. The apostle Paul refers to this kind of worship as “grace giving.” This requires a positive faith attitude (2 Corinthians 8). It is interesting that Paul draws the attention of the Corinthian saints (relatively wealthy) to the situation in Macedonia (relatively poor). Even though the Macedonian saints were in “deep poverty,” and even though the Corinthians were “abounding in everything,” it was the Macedonians who were generous in their giving to the Lord. Paul notes that their generous giving to others despite their poverty was possible because they first gave themselves to God (1 Corinthians 8:5). In fact, their sacrifice was a lot like that of Jesus. Our Lord was rich but for our sakes He became poor, so that we, through His poverty, might be rich (8:9). By the grace of Jesus, He gave up Himself for us so that we could be saved from sin. Likewise, the Macedonians gave up themselves for others. Paul refers to the principle of “sowing and reaping.” Sow to God in giving, and God promises to reward the sowing with reaping (a return of some sort). If they gave to the Lord cheerfully, they would reap huge blessings from God.1 The result of their giving is that God would be glorified (9:13-15).
The image of a Christian walking alone in the woods evokes the impression that this is a sacred moment. It feels like worship. There is the stillness of the trees, a quiet repose as a child of God speaks with his Master. Another image also evokes the impression of a sacred moment. This one is a congregation joining in unison to sing praises to God; to pray in one accord; to listen together to God’s Word as it is preached. While the first image is about stillness, the second is noisy with activity. Both of these images remind us that while it is important to participate in private worship, God expects Christians to also participate in corporate worship. God desires us to worship together.
Fellowship. Fellowship is a kind of union (koinonia) experienced when a group of people share a common cause. It can be political with a convention nominating a presidential candidate. It can be in a colosseum as fans of a particular team cheer the players as they compete. In biblical terms, fellowship is derived from a common set of beliefs, particularly the doctrines of the gospel. 1 John 1:3 states that the things which the apostles were declaring to the church were the things that they had seen and heard. They were witnesses of the life and ministry of Jesus including His death and resurrection. The hope was that through acceptance of their message there might be fellowship. When people accept the gospel of Jesus they join into fellowship with God. This forms the basis of shared worship. When the vertical relationship (between God and man) is right, then the horizontal relationship (between man and man) also goes well. Fellowship with God forms the basis of shared worship.
This is why a Christian can enter into any church where the gospel is preached and feel a sense of kinship and unity with the believers he just met for the first time. Even where there are cultural and language barriers, these are mitigated by the fact that Christians believe a common set of doctrines—that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” The basis of shared worship is mutual belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Elements of Shared Worship
Once a person accepts Jesus as his Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit indwells him. Every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. Remember, belief in the gospel brings a person into fellowship with God. This fellowship is possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul compares Spirit control with alcoholic intoxication. Ephesians 5:18 “And be not drunk with win, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” One of the results of this filling is the worship of God. In Ephesians 5, Spirit-filled saints are described as worshipping God in three ways: speaking, singing and making melody, and giving thanks. They speak to themselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Out of the heart bursts forth songs to God. These are expressions of gratitude for what God has done. This thanksgiving is given in the name of Jesus, who made our worship possible. Where Spirit-filled saints gather together, there erupts worship out of their fellowship in the Spirit.
There are other ways in which Spirit-filled saints worship God together. Worship includes corporate prayer as one member of the congregation prays aloud while the rest of the assembly silently but attentively joins in. Worship includes listening to the preaching while one member of the congregation (usually the pastor) expounds God’s Word to the rest of the church. This is also true when testimonies are being given. When a church member shares a praise to God for what He is doing in his or her life, worship is being offered to God. The rest of the church joins in praising God for His wisdom, power, mercy, and goodness.
A Culture of Reverence
The glory of God demands a culture of reverence. When God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush (Exodus 3:4) He commanded Moses to put off his sandals. The reason God gave this order was that the ground itself was consecrated to God. The place where he stood was a “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Today, God is not worshipped in man-made temples (Acts 17:24). Rather, He is worshipped in God-made lives (1 Corinthians 6:19). Worshippers must approach God with reverence. His holiness demands it. His utter awesome power and glory demand it. The casual approach to God that permeates much of American Christianity is a real danger to the church that seeks to worship God. God will not be honored, not even by His own people, when worship is cheapened. The very nature and character of God requires solemnity when coming into His presence.
Personal Application Questions
- Which of the worship problems (false, weak, stolen) are most common today (in your opinion)? Why do you think that is true?
- Are you faithful in worshipping God? In which area (public or private) are you more consistent?
- Do you strive for the church to worship God in a culture of reverence? In what areas might you encourage this in your own life?
- Read Acts 17:16-31
- Why was Paul “stirred up” in Athens?
- What worship problem does v. 23 identify was particularly troubling to Paul about the Athenians?
- What qualities of God’s character or being are explained in vv. 24-29?
- What response should an idolater have when confronted with the gospel (v. 30)?
- What doctrine does Paul preach in Athens (v. 31)?
1 It is important to remember that God does not always reward financial giving with material wealth. There are Christian teachers who claim (falsely) that giving to their ministry is the means by which God will enrich the giver. This is a seductive lie to which many people have fallen prey. Do not believe it. When you give to God, He will give back to you. However, this is always in the manner He chooses!