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Acceptable Worship

Posted on February 2, 2011 at 8:49 AM

Acceptable Worship


Mankind, due to his creation in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26, 27), is instinctively a creature of worship. The book of the Preacher reveals that God has set eternity into the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Although the desire to worship is engrained within man, this does not mean that every expression of worship is acceptable to God. Through the long ages, man has often been guilty of worshipping created things instead of the Creator, but the wrath of God will be summarily administered upon all who refuse to submit themselves in honor and thanks to the Creator (Romans 1:18-32). The issue at hand is not a question of will we worship, but of what or whom and how will we worship?


 

The Hebrew Scriptures use the word sahah to describe the act of people coming before God to pay homage. W. E. Vine defines this word, “to worship, prostrate oneself, bow down” (1996, p. 295). Worship is a dominant theme of the Bible. True worship is characterized by a deep sense of religious awe and honor that is expressed though unselfish acts of devotion and service in compliance with God’s holy decree. God made it clear that He alone is God, and that He should only be worshipped in accordance with His expressed commands (Deuteronomy 6:13-17); yet, in deviation of this order, the Old Testament is replete with examples of unauthorized worship (Genesis 4: 2ff; Leviticus 10:1, 2), idolatrous worship (Isaiah 44:15, 17), even vain worship (Isaiah 1:10-15).

 

Unacceptable Worship

 

Many through the ages have mistakenly assumed that worship is unregulated and man may substitute or improvise at his own discretion. This was the philosophy of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, king of Israel. Following the division of the nation, Jeroboam, initiated his own design for worship (I Kings 12). He authorized golden calves as replacements for Jehovah. He substituted the cities of Bethel and Dan in place of Jerusalem as the centers of worship. He appointed priests from all the various tribes in opposition to the Law of God which specified priests only from the tribe of Levi. He instituted a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month – likely to simulate the Feast of Tabernacles which God ordained on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23:34).

 

All of these changes to the prescribed worship by Jeroboam were “devised in his own heart” (I Kings 12:33). The willful neglect and unabashed substitution of God ordained worship by this innovator resulted in his being condemned no less than twenty-one times in the Old Testament as the one causing Israel to sin. Lessons are definitely to be learned from incidents of antiquity such as this one (Romans 15:4; I Corinthians 10:6, 11), for many Jeroboams still exist in the world. Neither can we ever forget that Satan is the ever present tempter seeking a willing instrument which he may use to corrupt and/or render impotent the worship of those whom he cannot dissuade from assembling. We must ever be mindful that acceptable worship to God is the honest heart submissively bowing in adoration, faithfully paying homage through authorized acts of worship.

 

It was on account of vain or empty worship that Jeremiah was instructed, “Stand in the  gate of the Lord’s house and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the Lord!’” (Jeremiah 7:2). God detailed through the prophet that, although the people were coming to worship, without repentance and a proper reverential attitude toward God, their attempt at worship was vain (7:3-20). Pure worship is a sincere acknowledgement of the supremacy of the Creator, demonstrated through the reverent observance of the specific acts of service commanded by God. It was not acceptable worship for the people of Israel merely to gather at the proper place and at the proper time; God demanded a heartfelt expression of devotion to Him as the only true and living God, carefully observing those specified acts of service which constitute divine worship. The final book of the Old Testament relates God’s disgust with impotent, vain, and unproductive worship. There we find God Himself expressing the desire that someone would shut and lock the gates to the temple to avoid the continuation of meaningless worship (Malachi 1:1ff).

 

True Worship

 

When Jesus was traveling from Judea to Galilee, He stopped at the ancient well of Jacob near the city of Sychar. Entering into a conversation with a Samaritan woman, the topic quickly turned to spiritual matters and the where and how of worship. The Samaritan woman had been taught all her life that nearby Mount Gerizim was the only place that God accepted worship. Her ancestors had worshipped there since the days of Nehemiah; a temple even being erected in which to worship. Upon believing Jesus to be a prophet, this sincere woman desired to know the truth pertaining to worship. She sought an answer from Him concerning the long controverted question regarding the authorized place of worship. Of course, the Samaritan claim was based solely on tradition. The Jews worshipped in Jerusalem according to the pattern ordained by God (Deuteronomy 12:5-11; I Kings 9:3; II Chronicles 3:1).

 

Jesus delicately answers the Samaritan woman by foretelling the end of a specific geographical location for worship, saying, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers. God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24). Jesus dismisses any future claim pertaining to a single fixed location for worship, revealing the time had arrived for the fulfillment of Malachi 1:11 which depicted the worship of God as occurring in every place. However, this does not mean worship may be conducted absent divine oversight or regulation. In His answer, Jesus reiterates the “holy must” trinity of practices which had always represented the foundation of acceptable worship. 


1. The proper object of worship is God, i.e., deity. In His confrontation with the devil, Jesus declared that only God is to be worshipped (Matthew 4:10). It remains a sad fact, even in the church today, that many still do not know the God of the Bible. Too many have dangerously aligned themselves with the perversion of Watchtower Witnesses, supposing that only the Father is God. When Jesus declared that only God is to be  worshipped, He did not use the term “God” as a synonym for “Father,” thus commanding that only the “Father” is to be worshipped; rather, He used this term as indicative of the entire Godhead. The Father is deity (Ephesians 1:3), the Son (Word) is deity (John 1:1; 10:30), and the Holy Spirit is deity as well (Acts 5:3, 4).

 

God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is to be worshipped by all who desire to be true worshippers. The baptism commanded by Jesus involves being baptized “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19; ASV). The singular word for “name” is linked to a plurality of Persons; namely, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three wear one holy name, and that is the name of God. The act of baptism is, itself, an obedient act of worship honoring equally the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In fact, it is impossible to honor the Father without honoring the Son in the highest esteem held for the Father. Jesus clearly articulated, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:22, 23).

 

The Psalmist issued a warning in the long ago to the kings and rulers who took counsel “against the Lord and against His Anointed” (2:2), advising them to “Worship the Lord with reverence, and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!” (2:11, 12). This Psalm is Messianic, depicting the rebellion and hatred to come against Christ when He born into the world as the Son of God. Verses 11 and 12 illustrate the gravity of worship, evincing the necessity of conducting worship with due reverence or else potential disaster may occur (e.g., Nadab and Abihu or Ananias and Sapphira). Furthermore, do not fail to notice that the Son is specifically identified as the object of homage. The word “homage” captures the meaning of the Hebrew which signifies “to kiss,” indicating a kiss of submission in association with a king or ruler. Jesus Christ, born of the virgin as the Son of God, is the Lord or King of Psalm 2:2 who is to be worshipped with all seriousness and solemnity (cf. Acts 4:23-31).

 

Jesus, as a member of the Godhead, is to be worshipped. The Bible is replete with examples of Jesus being worshipped as deity. The Father commands all the angels to worship the Son (Hebrews 1:6). Wise men came from the east to worship Him following His birth in the flesh of man (Matthew 2:2, 11). Jesus was openly worshipped no less than ten times during His days on earth (Matthew 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 28:9, 17; etc.). Thomas confessed Him as his “Lord and God” (John 20:2). Paul reiterated the need for steadfastness in this present age, “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:13, 14).

 

At least twelve prayers recorded in the New Testament are addressed to Jesus Christ. When Steven was being stoned, the Bible says he was “calling upon God, and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’” (Acts 7:59). This is a prayer spoken specifically  to Jesus as God, for if Steven had not perceived Jesus Christ as God, would he have ever committed his very soul into His hands? The apostle Paul addressed Christ in prayer multiple times, but in I Thessalonians 2:16, 17, he prays, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.” This prayer is jointly addressed to both the Father and Son, yet Paul beseeches the name of Jesus first in the petition. The very last prayer recorded in the Bible also addresses Christ, John pleading, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

 

Those in the church today who yelp and howl disagreeably whenever Jesus is called God would probably turn inside out to hear a prayer spoken to Jesus, much less His name being placed ahead of the Father in the petition, but the inspired writers and guides of the church did not hesitate to address all three Persons of the Godhead in prayer. It is pure ignorance of the God of the Bible that gives Satan the advantage in causing disruption and strife even in the church involving matters clearly discernable as doctrinal truths. Acceptable worship of God involves recognition of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as deity.

 

Since only God is to be worshipped, all others are excluded, including the following:

 

(1) We do not worship angels. When the apostle John attempted to worship an angel, he was vigorously instructed to cease and desist (Revelation 22:8, 9).

 

(2) We do not worship departed saints, notwithstanding the greatness they may have achieved in this life. When Peter determined to build altars in honor of Moses and Elijah, along with Jesus, he was quickly shown that these mere men were in no sense equivalent to God the Son (Matthew 17:4f). The Roman Catholic dogma which asserts it is acceptable to pray to Mary and other departed “saints” is clearly at variance with the teachings of the Bible.

 

(3) Similarly, we do not worship men involved in church leadership. When Peter arrived before Cornelius in Caesarea, “Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshipped, but Peter raised him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am a man’” (Acts 10:25, 26). When Paul and Barnabas were praised as gods, they rent their clothing, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them” (Acts 14:15).

 

(4) We do not worship our family members or loved ones. Approaching worship, we must consider that any form of devotion that relegates God to a subordinate position is a form of idolatry. Jesus exclaimed, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 19:37). Worship is not fellowshipping with friends and loved ones, but is an act of devotion which must be directed toward God as the sole object or recipient of our adoration.

 

2. True worship must be conducted in spirit. All who sincerely desire to worship God acceptably must do so with a tender and pure heart, glorifying God from the inward spirit of man which was created in God’s image. “God is spirit” (NASB). On this point, Morris correctly observes,

 

We should omit the indefinite article, which some translations (e.g., KJV, Knox) place before “spirit.” Greek has no such article, and we insert it or not in English as the sense requires. Here Jesus is not saying, “God is one spirit among many”; rather his meaning is “God’s essential nature is spirit.” The indefinite article is no more required than it is in the similar statements, “God is light” (I John 1:5) and “God is love” (I John 4:8 ) …Since he is essentially spirit it follows that the worship brought to him must be essentially of a spiritual kind (1995, p. 240).

 

Because God is spirit, man, consisting of a physical body united with a spirit formed within him by God (Zechariah 12:1), must worship not merely with the physical body present at a particular place and time, but rather, worship must come from the inner spirit of man, i.e., the entire intellect and presence of man’s being focused upon the Creator. Thus the whole of man is involved in worship; a sincere disposition of heart and mind characterizing acceptable worship. As brother Webb recently noted:

 

There are some who will come to church and sit about an hour, and think that they are pleasing God. These people maintain that they are faithful Christians. God seeks our worship! He is worthy of our undivided, focused attention in praise and adoration of Him (2011, p. 3).


The Old Testament contains a statement remarkably similar to the announcement of Jesus in John 4:24. Joshua warned those of his day, “Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14). When Jesus spoke to the woman of Samaria, He did not declare to her some new theological doctrine of how to worship God; He simply foretold how true worship would no longer be confined to Jerusalem. The “holy must” trinity of John 4:24 had always been required to approach God. True worship is the honest and sincere expression of the inner person directed solely toward God, worshipping in careful compliance with only divinely authorized activities.


The devotional attitude of the Christian in understanding and personally participating in the divinely appointed acts of worship is underscored several times in the New Testament. For example, Paul stresses the importance of each individual worshipper discerning for himself the significance of the bread and fruit of the vine in commemorating the Lord’s death. Inattentiveness of the worshipper may result in condemnation (I Corinthians 11:27-29). Likewise, prayer and singing must be attended by the mind of the worshipper “with the spirit” (I Corinthians 14:15). Those singing “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” or “Worthy Art Thou” without thinking of the meaning of the words they sing are guilty of vain worship, exercising mere formality. Acceptable worship is directed toward God and issues from deep within the hidden spirit of man.

 

3. Acceptable worship consists only of authorized acts. Jesus commanded that true worship be offered in truth. Many have a difficult time assessing the meaning of the term “truth” in association with worship, primarily because the biblical definition of truth will not support the various innovations they deliberately introduce into the worship. What does it mean to worship in “truth”? Fortunately, we are not left to supposition in this matter, for Jesus later affirmed to the Father, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). God is only to be worshipped in accordance with His word. This fact is corroborated by other passages of scripture in the New Testament.

 

Paul avowed to the church at Rome, “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son” (Romans 1:9). The word “serve” is from the Greek “latreuo” which Vine says: “signifies (1) to worship, (2) to serve.” This passage acknowledges the “holy must” trinity voiced by Jesus as pertaining to true worship: note 1) the object, “God”; 2) the disposition, “with my spirit”; 3) the form or standard, “in the Gospel.” To worship God acceptably requires adhering to the authorized forms of worship found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

In discussing worship activities - specifically singing – Paul explains how all things must be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). This signifies that the authority of Christ must be the sole director of every activity for the Christian in worship. Man is not left to devise his own system of worship, and neither is he allowed “to exceed what is written” (I Corinthians 4:6) through innovations and self-gratifying activities by which he “goes too far and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9). If true and acceptable worship is to be offered unto God, it absolutely must be only those activities as found authorized on the pages of the New Testament.

 

Let us, then, as many as desire to be true worshippers of God, worship with great passion and enthusiasm, giving no advantage to the evil one in the assembly of the body of Christ. May we be ever careful to remember the exhortation of the Hebrews’ writer: “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28, 29).

 

Tracy L. White


References:

 

Morris, Leon (1995), The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Co.).


 

Vine W. E. (1996), Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers).


 

Webb, Johnny (2011), “Is It Possible To Be A Friend Of God?” January 16 [online],URL:http://www.leipersforkchurchofchrist.com/apps/blog/entries/show/6646531-is-it-possible-to-be-a-friend-of-god


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