Ivan Steeds, Bristol
Worship is a word generally used to describe religious practices, and has relevance to what is done by individual persons, or companies of people, who follow a particular faith, it might be suggested that many who use the word in free and easy fashion have only a limited understanding of its true meaning, according to the teaching of scripture. For example, it is sometimes thought of as no more than attendance at a 'place of worship', as if we may assume our physical presence in that setting represents worshipping God. Often, it is confused with ritualistic and ceremonial practices that figure prominently in organized religion, and this suggests such repetitive procedures are glorifying to God and bring Him pleasure. As Christians we need to be more specific than this in our definition of worship, seeking guidance from God's word as to all that is involved, and that we might fulfil His expectations. Here then is a simple statement on Christian worship.
Privilege and Priority
The ability to worship God is a privilege granted to men and angels. As 'God is spirit', John 4. 24, all who would worship Him must be able to respond to Him spiritually. Scripture confirms that God created man to be 'spirit, and soul, and body', 1 Thess. 5. 23. It would seem that from the beginning, man had the capability to respond in worship to his Creator-God, although since man's fall that response has waned and become debased. Paul records this downward progression of mankind, 'Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature, more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever', Rom. 1. 25.
God's intention has always been that man renders worship to Him only; the requirement is that all through life it is given absolute priority, Matt. 4. 10. Any distractions or substitute practices are an affront to God, as He makes abundantly clear: 'Thou shalt have no other Gods before me . . . Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God', Deut. 5. 7, 9.
Patterns and Principles
The Hebrew word generally translated 'worship' has the meaning of'bowing low', even 'falling down', as was considered an appropriate response if ushered into the presence of a person of a much higher status, Gen. 37. 5-11; 41. 43, The significance of such outward demonstration was that it denoted an inner conviction. Obviously, a response of this kind assumed the worshipper had knowledge of the greatness of the one to be worshipped - indeed the derivation of the word suggests this is so ('worth' - 'ship', or acknowledgment of 'worth'). The idea of demonstrative worship is carried on in the New Testament record where it is seen as suitable recognition of God's person, sometimes adopted in literal fashion as a physical posture, sometimes descriptive of attitude of mind and heart; it is to 'bow low' in His presence, Matt. 2. 11; 1 Cor. 14. 25; Rev. 4. 10.
Various references would suggest degrees of difference in how people worshipped God in Old Testament times. Sometimes the worship was organized and planned according to God's requirements, while on other occasions it seems to have been a spontaneous reaction prompted by a manifestation of God. We have record of individuals worshipping, as also of congregational worship. Within the concept of worship there is the idea of giving, even sacrificial giving, on the part of the worshipper. This was indicated in God's express requirement that all Israelite males appear before Him at the place of His presence three times in the year, with the additional requirement that 'they shall not appear before the Lord empty', Deut. 16. 16. When Abraham on God's instruction went to Mori ah to offer the sacrificial offering of his only son Isaac, the beloved, he stated in his own words that it was to 'worship', Gen. 22. 5. It would seem that the rendering of worship to God involves certain factors that are absolutely necessary and from which we may establish principles for all time. The factors are:
(i) Knowledge of God
(ii) Relationship with God
(iii) Approach to God
(iv) Offering to God
(i) KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. Only those who have knowledge of God can worship Him acceptably.
Knowledge of God's person, His greatness and His works, is essential for worship, for only out of such knowledge can a proper response to Him proceed. The promptings of the Holy Spirit will always be according to knowledge. Without this knowledge the whole exercise will lack meaning and depth, being nothing more than a superstitious tradition, it will be as hollow as the practice of the Athenians who erected among their many pagan shrines one that was dedicated TO THE UNKNOWN GOD', Acts. 17. 23. How could they acceptably render worship to one who was unknown to them? How great was he? Where was his dwelling place? What was his link with mankind? How available was he to those who would approach him? These and other questions Paul dealt with after first declaring, 'Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you', Acts 17. 23. Our Lord's word to the Samaritan woman emphasises the gulf that exists between those who are ignorant and those who have knowledge of God; 'ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship', John 4. 22.
(ii) RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. Those who would worship God must first enter into a true relationship with Him.
After knowledge of God must come the establishment of a right relationship with Him. Pharaoh and the Egyptians were made aware of the greatness of God's person, as demonstrated when He 'wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan', Ps. 78. 43. But out of that awareness came no response in worship - only flat refusal that the Israelites should make 'three days' journey into the wilderness' to 'sacrifice to the Lord', their God, Exod. 3. 18. Whatever the Egyptians' knowledge of God, there was no coming to terms with "Him, only a rejection of His claims. The people that would eventually worship God acceptably were His own redeemed people, bound to Him on the basis of a covenant relationship.
(iii) APPROACH TO GOD. All who would approach God in worship must do so in His appointed way.
The erection of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and the introduction of a pattern of divine worship involved a priesthood, and indicated what God required of His people when they would approach Him. Their breaching of God's Law prevented their becoming 'a kingdom of priests', Exod. 19. 6, and so a service of priesthood, confined to the house of Aaron, was established to act on behalf of the people. The practices of priesthood, carefully set out by God through His servant Moses, were to be obeyed to the letter. God gave due warning to those who disregarded His instructions, whether by neglect or change of practice. Those who transgressed would be judged, as e.g. Nadab and Abihu, Lev. 10. 1, 2.
(iv) OFFERING TO GOD. Worshipping God involves offering to Him that which He requires; it should represent the best the worshipper can offer.
Those approaching God in worship would bring their offerings to Him, prescribed offerings of variable cost according to the wealth and standing of the worshipper. These sacrificial offerings were worthy of presentation to Almighty God, and represented the worshipper's acknowledgement of all God's greatness and goodness. Alternative offerings, or those that were substandard were unacceptable. David stated this truth when making full payment for Araunah's oxen for burnt-sacrifice: 'neither will I offer burnt-offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing', 2 Sam. 24. 24.
Provision and Practices
Our Lord's instruction to the woman of Samaria, John 4. 19-26, indicates that there is ample provision in a dispensation of grace for the would-be worshipper to approach God. Indeed, He stated that the Father seeks true worshippers, and said 'the hour cometh and now is, when all such would worship Him'. It is made clear, however, that there would be fundamental changes in the practices of those worshippers to what had gone before.
(i) Their worship would not be restricted to one specific location, (Jerusalem for the Jews, or Gerizim for the Samaritans).
(ii) They would worship 'the Father', not Jehovah of the Old Testament, an indication of a new and more intimate relationship existing between God and man: this would take worship into a new dimension of expression.
(iii) As 'God is spirit' so all that would worship Him MUST worship Him 'in spirit'. In such a way, as born-again Christians, we can approach God our Father. We have no need of fleshly, material resources that are the visual and audible trappings of religion. That which was so necessary under the old order of worship has been made redundant: only the significance of the type remains to give insight into what we are engaged in. Our form of worship is a holy, spiritual exercise, 'for we are the circumcision which worship God in the spirit and have no confidence in the flesh', Phil. 3. 3.
(iv) All who now worship God must worship Him 'in truth', an expression with a composite meaning. Firstly it conveys the truth that the form of worship must be in line with the divine revelation of God's word, John 17. 17. But again it teaches that absolute integrity is essential in all that we do in worship, for that which is formal, casual, or insincere is unworthy of presentation, and must be unacceptable to God. We should 'draw near with a true heart', Heb. 10. 22.
The Father has made wonderful provision for His people that they may worship Him.
(i) The way into His presence has been opened by the death of Christ, 'the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom', Matt. 27. 51.
(ii) Our Great High Priest, 'Jesus the Son of God, is for us entered within the veil', Heb. 6. 19-20.
(iii) With boldness we may 'enter into the holiest, by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us through the veil', Heb. 10. 19, 20.
(iv) Also, we are established as a 'holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ', 1 Pet. 2. 5.
(v) All members of the Godhead are involved when we worship, 'For through him (Christ Jesus) we both (Jew and Gentile) have access by one Spirit unto the Father', Eph. 2. 18.
Presentation and Prevention
Worship in the church has to be regarded as the highest form of experience for the Christian. Whatever heights we may attain in our personal devotion must be exceeded when we gather to His name as a local church, for there the Lord is in the midst of His people according to His promise, Matt. 18. 20. This is not to say that our worship as individuals is unrelated to our worship in the group; indeed one complements the other. Worship should be a continuous experience, and if we are fervent in our private devotions, then this must affect for good our worship in the church. This is true preparation for when we gather together, with the result that our hearts will overflow with 'goodly matter' as we speak in glorifying terms to God concerning the Son of His love. For those who would engage publicly in worship, as led by the Spirit, there is added a degree of responsibility, for whoever leads the thanksgiving of God's people in worship speaks for all who are gathered together.
If worship is 'giving' then what manner of gifts do we present to God?
(i) Heb. 13. 15, 'By him (Jesus) let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name'. Worship is praise from adoring hearts: it is thanksgiving from grateful hearts. This is never more apparent than at the Lord's Supper, where we follow our Lord's example in giving thanks for that which He has provided, offering praises to God our Father. When we speak to God in remembrance of His Son, all the significance of the Levitical Offerings that spoke so beautifully of Christ is brought out. Expressing to God our appreciation of His Son we offer in truth a sacrifice of praise, 'the calves of our lips'. This is worship in the sanctuary, spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ, and offered by 'an holy priesthood', 1 Pet. 2. 5.
(ii) As we serve God, we are called upon to give freely of those things we possess as a form of worship.
(a) Our bodies, devoted to God as His servants, Rom. 12. J.
(b) Sharing with others, (our belongings, our efforts, our time, our sympathy, etc.), Heb. 13. 16, Phil. 4. 18.
Unregenerate persons have no part in worship. Being 'dead in trespasses and sins' they cannot be 'living stones', capable of response to One who is the 'living stone', 1 Pet. 2. 4, 5. They have no relationship with God that they might acknowledge Him in worship as Father, 1 John 3. 1. Only true believers have part in 'an holy priesthood', 1 Pet. 2. 5; Rev. 1. 5, 6. These provide the reasons whereby the unsaved are prevented from engaging in worship with Christians.
May our knowledge of God increase, so that we may rise to higher things in our worship. May we appreciate more and more our relationship with our God and Father through His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord. Then let us approach God in the way He has appointed, and gladly render to Him all that His grace enables us to offer in grateful and adoring worship.