Have you ever given much thought to what the Bible says about worship? In today’s time what churches across the country consider worship can vary tremendously. Some churches have very simple, family-integrated worship. Others have elaborate worship services that are certainly impressive. The purpose of this article is to look at what the Bible says about worship and to answer questions like ‘Is all worship pleasing to God as long as it’s sincere’?
First it is important to define worship. Worship is an act of adoration towards another. It carries the idea of bowing down and paying reverence. Mankind worships all sorts of things. Popular singers, athletes, and Hollywood celebrities have people consumed with adoration for them. We wear clothes that bear their names. We have posters of them in our rooms. So much of our mind’s time is spent thinking on them. I once saw a video clip of a concert where people had their hands raised, jumping and pawing at the singer on stage. To some degree, it was worship.
Not only do we often find ourselves worshipping the wrong thing at times, we also find ourselves desiring to be worshipped. We love it when people adore us. We love to be liked. It is what guides our thinking into what we are going to wear, how we are going to talk, what we are going to buy, and with whom we are going to be friends. All in an attempt to get the masses to think more highly of us. Although that may fall short of a desire to be worshipped, it is the first step in that direction. If we had a magic wand that would make people fall down before us in adoration, you might be surprised at how many would make that happen.
Being worshipped is something that Satan desired. We read in Mathew 4:8, 9, “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Satan wanted to be adored. He wanted Jesus Christ to pay reverence to him as the greater. Jesus’s response to Satan clearly states who should be the object of our worship. It is not an image of gold, other men, nor other spiritual beings. Jesus tells Satan, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” From the lips of the Lord himself we learn that God alone is who should be worshipped. We read in Revelation 22 that the angel of the Lord understands this truth. Angels are powerful and mighty beings. So much more than humans. Yet when John falls down at the angel’s feet to worship him in Revelation 22:9 the angel says to him, “See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.”
We see another picture of God being worshipped in Revelation 4:10. Here we read about twenty four elders seated around the throne of God. They are clothed in white with gold crowns on their heads. Clearly these are important figures, greater and mightier than man in his earthly state. Yet when the beasts around the throne “…give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne…”
If the angels worship God; if the twenty four elders cast their crowns before him and worship him; I submit to you than man should worship him. This truth is something the wise men in Mathew the second chapter believed. They likely traveled a great distance when they saw the star in the east. They didn’t get on a private jet or train. They didn’t travel in a luxury car. They labored to get there riding on beasts or walking for days on end. When they finally arrive they “fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” I do not think its coincidence that these men were referred to as ‘wise’.
Many desire to be worshipped. Some find themselves worshipping the wrong thing. However, the scripture is clear that it is God who is to be worshipped. The wise men did it. The angels and the twenty four elders do it. So should we.
We will find in the Bible that not all worship is equally pleasing to God. In the following sections we will look at different types of worship in the Bible. These types of worship are not limited to the old times. They are very prevalent today and I have found myself in each category at some point or another.
John 4:23 tells us, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth…” Here we read about true worship. If there is true worship then it stands to reason there is false worship. False means to be simulated, imaginary, or pretend. This is a worship that doesn’t concern ‘how’ you’re doing it but rather ‘why’ you are. This is a worship that is done because that’s what everyone else is doing or because you feel like you have to. Consider the worship we see in Daniel the third chapter. Here we have King Nebuchadnezzar fabricating a golden image and calling all the rulers of the land to its dedication. We read in verse 5 where it is commanded “That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.” So here we have all the “the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces” falling down to worship this image of gold at the command of the King. From a strictly visual perspective you might think all these worshippers are truly worshipping this image. Reason and logic tell us that the chances of that are slim. The threat of being burned alive or looking different than everyone else was likely the reason these rulers were on their knees. Their worship was pretend. It was imaginary and simulated.
Don’t we do the same at times? Do we ever worship with a congregation because that’s what everyone else is doing? Do we sing, raise your hands, repeat prayers, or clap because everyone else does? Would we be fine if the congregation wanted to skip worship all together and go get doughnuts? False worship is most likely present in every church on any given Sunday. It is worship that just goes through motions. It is done to fit in. It has nothing to do with the way you feel about ‘who’ you are pretending to worship.
The Bible also talks about vain worship. Vain worship is a worship that is ‘empty’ and has ‘no purpose’. Mathew 15:8, 9 says, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Jesus’s statement is brought about because men had taken his commandments and tweaked them. They didn’t eliminate his command, they just added a little…took away a little…and then taught it as if it were the doctrine of God. This is a worship that is based more on a love for the doctrines that men teach. Those doctrines may resemble what God commanded but are in fact, a perversion of it. The center of this worship will likely be in a church that is hyper-focused on a small set of scriptures. That set will harmonize with their teaching as long as they don’t venture out into the rest of the Bible. They will cycle the same set of verses through their teachings. These are people who will hold fast to what they believe even in light of it contradicting other scriptures. They will be adamant about what the Bible means but can’t tell you much of what it says. The outward show will be one of pure dedication and love for the Lord, but their hearts don’t motivate them to study or seek the truth and thus are far from the Lord. This worship is not about ‘how’ to worship either but rather what is at the center of your worship. The Lord says a worship that is not based on the true doctrines of the scripture is empty to him. We should “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15) For in studying the scriptures we are able to discern the difference between truth and the doctrines of men. Sometimes they are so similar at a glance but ultimately lead in very different directions.
We find ignorant worship mentioned in Acts the seventeenth chapter. This worship is not regarding the ‘why’ or ‘how’ of worship but rather the apathy that precedes it. In this chapter we read about the people of Berea. Paul describes these people as being “more noble” than some of the people he had previously dealt with because “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” These were people who were willing to daily labor in God’s word in search of the truth. Contrasting that with the next group of people he dealt with, the men of Athens, we get an understanding of what ignorant worship is. The men of Athens were the opposite of the Bereans. They were not well studied but rather “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing”. Their days were spent just talking and listening about the newest thing to come along. Paul stands in the middle of them and says, “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.” The word superstitious here means to be ‘very religious’. These men by all appearances were the church goers, the regular attenders which should have been well versed in the scriptures. Yet, they lacked in knowledge due to the failure to search the scriptures daily as the Bereans did. This group represents the religious apathetics of today. They even have an altar that has the inscription “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” whom Paul says they “ignorantly worship”. These people are apathetic, unstudied, ignorant in knowledge, yet to keep with the appearance of religion worship an altar to the unknown God. Today we recognize these people not by their zeal for religion, but by their blank stares when you ask them why they believe what they do. The scriptures tell us these are the ones who ignorantly worship. This should be a wakeup call to all of God’s people to labor in the word to understand who God is.
In this section we will examine a worship that concerns ‘how’ you worship. In Colossians 2:23 we see the term ‘will worship’ used. ‘Will worship’ essentially means worship which one prescribes and devises for himself. Paul address these people by telling them “if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” He is saying you have devised a worship that forbids you to touch, taste, or handle…yet do you not understand that you are not subject to these ordinances since you are dead with Christ with the rudiments of the world? These people are also very religious people. They decided in their own minds to formulate a way to worship God that had a “shew of wisdom…and humility” but was not the worship the Lord had intended. The question may arise, “What harm is there in devising a worship that isn’t specifically spelled out in scripture?” That’s a question only the Lord could fully answer. Before we subscribe to the theology of the question above, let us consider two men named Nadab and Abihu. You’ll find their account in Leviticus 10. These were the sons of Aaron and they were Levitical priests. They were certainly religious men. We find in Leviticus 10:1, 2 they decided to put fire in their censers and burn incense to the Lord. It is of utmost importance to notice that the Lord “commanded them not”. The end result was the Lord was so displeased he devoured them in a fire. Men are prone to devise worship under the pretense that the Lord ‘never told us not to’. That is a dangerous stance to take and ultimately cost Nadab and Abihu their lives. Just because the Lord doesn’t say not to do something, it does not give us the authority to do it. I’m sure many saw what these two men had decided to do and thought it was a great idea and probably considered it themselves. I’m sure in today’s time the neighboring church would be following suit in order to keep up with the latest worship style. It had a shew of wisdom and humility, but was detestable to the Lord. When men begin to step outside of God’s method of worship and devise their own, even if it appears pure and undefiled, they are treading on dangerous ground. Don’t use this account as a measuring rod for whether your worship is pleasing or not. Just because you don’t get a devouring fire from the Lord doesn’t mean he is pleased with your worship. Sometimes God tolerates us when we step outside of his design, much like he did with Polygamy in the Old Testament. Today we see ‘will worship’ in a blazing fashion. Churches are designing their worship services to be appealing to men. It is a tool of attraction. When it comes to laying out how we are going to worship we let what pleases men guide our decisions. That is evidenced by the same church having different type services. We have contemporary worship for those who like that or we have traditional for the others. I’ve even seen a preacher change his clothes in between services to better suit the congregation for that hour. We have designed worship around what pleases men rather than God. We have believed that the gospel is not enough to keep God’s people coming back each week. We have forgotten that the biggest displays are not always an indicator of the Spirit of God. Remember Elijah in 1 Kings 19. God told Elijah to “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” As Elijah stood there “…a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” Just because a display of worship is energetic, exciting, appealing, flashy, and loud does not mean the Lord is in it.
Have we devised a style of worship with the same attitude Nadab and Abihu did? Is the Lord pleased with the worship that is done for him but designed to please men? Is it enough as long as it’s sincere and genuine? It wasn’t for these two Levitical priests. I cannot think of any better way to worship than to try and mimic the New Testament church as closely as possible.
Lastly, let us look at true worship. In John 4:23 we read, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” True worship is a worship that is done in spirit and in truth. God the Father is seeking men to worship him in such a way. What does it mean to worship in spirit? To worship in spirit means that the driving force for our adoration and reverence towards God is based on a desire to truly humble ourselves and exalt him as the King. To better understand it we should examine the opposite of worshipping in spirit, which would be to worship in the flesh. Here is the test. Understand that I am making no attack on the most common worship service we see today. I use it as an example because that’s what the majority can relate to. Imagine a typical worship service today. The lights are probably off or dimmed. The stage is illuminated with lighting of all kinds. Strobe lights flicker occasionally. There is a screen in the back ground with scrolling words and images that change periodically. There will likely be several people on stage with amplified voices. A band plays. The congregation follows the words on the screen as the amplified singers lead them. When no words are being sung the leaders cry out to the Lord, asking him to visit them. Can you see it? Now, turn the lights on and cut the strobe light offs. Are we still interested in worship? Cut off the video projector and take the images off the screen. How about now? Cut the microphones off and take the song leaders off the stage. Put the instruments down and ask the band to come down into the congregation. Can you see it now? Would we still worship in this setting? Would we worship God if all we had were the voices of the congregation? Again, understand this is not an effort to attack the modern day worship. I could have just as easily started with a simple piano and built up to the scene I just described. It is an effort to show that maybe the reason we are ‘worshipping’ is simply because we like the way the worship is done. If we remove all of the things we like, and all of sudden we aren’t as interested in worshipping, that’s because our worship is driven by the flesh not the spirit. If we will only worship God if the worship style is what we like, we have become dangerously close to making ourselves the object of the worship. Worshipping in spirit is a worship that is concerned with the act of worship rather than the way we worship. It centers on the Lord and exalting him as King.
What about worshipping in truth? That simply means the truth needs to be present. If I worship God all the while believing he is one of many gods, I am not worshipping him in truth. In order to worship in truth, we need to be as the Bereans were. We need to labor in the word to understand who God is and how he does things.
God is seeking true worshippers to worship him simply because he is God. He wants them to worship him with a true understanding of who he is and what he has done for his people.
The conclusion of the matter is that while many things will perish when time is no more, worship is not one of them. It will continue on. It is God who should be worshipped. Don’t worship him falsely. Don’t call out his name, raise your hands, or bow your head simply because everyone else is, lest we be like the rulers in Nebuchadnezzar’s day and find ourselves pretending to worship. God knows. Let us make sure our doctrine is biblical and not a doctrine of men polluted and handed down over time, lest our worship be in vain. Let us lay aside our apathy towards the scriptures and be noble in studying them, lest we ignorantly worship a God who we really don’t know. Let us realize that how we want to worship the Lord is not important. Let us keep ourselves from devising worship to please men rather than God. May we not feel authorized to add to a worship service under the pretense that ‘he never said not to’. May we understand that, for reasons God knows, it is unwise to worship how we see fit even if it is done is sincerity and genuineness.
On a personal note, I am thankful to worship in a church that understands these things. I am thankful that the New Testament church is our guide to how we should worship. Many will call us stagnant and boring. Some will mock and laugh saying we are behind the times. Others may pity us, thinking we are foolish and blind. I end with Paul’s thoughts in Acts 24:14, “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers.”