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Philosophy of Ministry - Part II - The Purpose of Worship

The Purpose of Worship

Jesus declared that God’s people would worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24)—that is, that they would worship God in their spirits according to His truths. Worship must captivate our hearts, it must feed our souls, and it is true worship when it is in accordance with His truth. Worship is giving God adoration and praise for things that are true of Him. If what is being proclaimed is not true, then it is not worship. Likewise, if what is being proclaimed is not praising Him, it is not worship. It is fundamentally not man-centered, but rather God-centered as the elders lead those in attendance to give God the glory, honor, and praise due Him (1 Timothy 2:7-8). Worship recognizes who He is and what He has done and offering to Him our lives as worship (Romans 12:1). All parts of the church service (and all of our lives) must be a continuous offering of the sacrifice of praise to God from our lips (Hebrews 13:15) and from our hearts with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).

There is continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament regarding the primacy of God’s people focusing upon the Lord and His word. In both the Old and New Testament, God’s people assembled before the Lord to learn His statues (e.g. Deuteronomy 1:6; Nehemiah 8:1-8). In the very first recorded worship assembly of the Jews, Moses and Aaron gathered the Hebrews before the Lord. Exodus 4:30 says, “And Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses.” The next verse shows the people’s response, “So the people believed…then they bowed low and worshipped (Exodus 4:31).” A similar event occurred in Exodus 24 where Moses recounted the words of the Lord (Exodus 24:3) and the people committed themselves to obedience (Exodus 25:7).

Deuteronomy 4:10 repeats this same idea, God tells Moses: “Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children (Deuteronomy 4:10).” Throughout scripture the people assemble before Him to accomplish two primary objectives: 1) to learn of His word and 2) to sincerely obey it with their whole lives. Note the following examples: Exodus 19:7-8, 24:1-7; Leviticus 8:5, Leviticus 9:6; Deuteronomy 5:27; Joshua 1:16; 2 Chronicles 34:14-33. The idea of God’s people gathering together before Him is carried through to the New Testament. Paul urges Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13).” Repeatedly Paul exhorts Timothy to pay attention to his teaching and doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6, 11, 16, 5:20; 2 Timothy 2:15, 3:14, 4:2).

God’s people often went astray in the Old Testament when they failed to know the scriptures. For example, in Hosea 4:6 God rejected the leadership for not accurately teaching God’s Word, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being my priest.” God promised His supplicant people, “I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding (Jeremiah 3:15, emphasis added).” Jesus, when speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well disassociated the entire Samaritan nation from God when He said their worship was invalid for their lack of knowledge of God (John 4:22).

Why such an emphasis upon teaching the scriptures? So that we might be obedient to Jesus’ final command to teach the world “to observe all that I commanded you (Matthew 28:20).” Jesus’ commands are given to us in the Word of God. Paul said that he was a steward, literally a galley-slave, of the Word of God (mysteries of God) (1 Corinthians 4:1). In the next verse, Paul declares that he must be found faithful to this calling (1 Corinthians 4:2). Paul is simply a servant of Christ, obeying the Lord, like Christ the Lord spoke about in Luke 17:10, “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.”

Not all activities of mankind that calls itself “worship” is true worship. There are accounts in the Old Testament where people gather together for “worship” in a manner that does not please God. In Exodus 32, the people assembled before Aaron and said, “Come, make us a god who will go before us”—the people, dissatisfied with the time-table of the true Lord, demanded a God who met their desires. Then Aaron began working on a golden calf. When it was finished, they had a remarkable event, “So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink and rose up to play (Exodus 32:6).” What did the Lord think of this behavior? Exodus 32:9 says, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people.” What was the Lord going to do about this? Exodus 32:10 says, “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.”

God spared the people of Israel, but apparently Aaron’s sons didn’t get the message because Leviticus 10 records their sinful demise. Nadab and Abihu decided to modify the manner in which God was worshipped yet the Lord had already spent considerable time giving Moses clear, step-by-step directives regarding the modes and methods of acceptable worship. Ignoring the prescriptions of the Lord, Nadab and Abihu took it upon themselves to offer “strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded (Leviticus 10:1).” Presenting “strange” offerings was banned in Exodus 30:9. Although Nadab and Abihu apparently attempted to “worship” God, their disregard for His Word while worshiping displeased the Lord and resulted in their death. Leviticus 10:2 says, “And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” Korah and his family perpetrated the same kind of rebellion in Numbers 16 which records their uprising to lead the Jews in worship and then their literal downfall as the ground broke open and consumed them alive.

Clearly from these examples, not all that activities that are proclaimed as “worship” are pleasing to the Lord. In Acts chapter 8, Simon the Magician was a man who was amazed at the power of God and even became baptized as a follower of Christ. Sadly, however, he is another example of an outward follower who didn’t truly worship. Simon ultimately received this rebuke from Peter, “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God (Acts 8:21).” It was a matter of his heart. Indeed, God condemns the Jews in Isaiah 29:13 for not worshipping God with the proper heart: “Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.”

The point that “not all worship is true worship” is further underscored in John 6:14 when the people are wildly praising Christ to the point that they wanted to make Him king. They were ecstatic with emotional zeal (John 6:15). Yet the next day Jesus tells them their motives were muddied (John 6:26) and that they actually didn’t even believe in Him (John 6:36). Clearly, their enthusiasm in John 6:14-15 was motivated by something other than worship and exaltation of Him or God. Likewise, in Jeremiah 2:19 the Lord condemns the Jews because “the dread of Me in not in you.”

True worship centers upon accurate truth. Consequently, right teaching is the foundation of true worship. Why? Because we cannot worship what we do not know. Man is separated from God and apart from divine revelation, without God’s revelation we do not know what pleases Him. There is no true worship apart from scripture. Even in the Old Testament days, if a gentile wanted to worship the true God, they had to come to the Lord as a proselyte. They could not just climb up some hill and begin praying to God. They needed to be right with Him through the sacrificial law in accordance with His prescriptions for valid worship.

Some people might say that worship needs to be updated to meet the needs of the people. Some people might say that changes should be made to the worship service to reflect the changes in society. Even though cultural modes of worship are secondary to scripture, church leaders must be careful in what manner they change how the people worship God. 1 Kings 12:25-33 tells of how King Jeroboam sinfully altered the worship to meet the needs of the people. He said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” And like Aaron centuries prior, Jeroboam led God’s people astray in an attempt to facilitate their worship. He put unqualified people in leadership (1 Kings 12:31), he catered to the people’s tendency to laziness in worship (e.g. not to go all the way to Jerusalem to worship), he capitalized upon the people’s lack of knowledge of the law (e.g. apparently they didn’t know or were inclined to violate the first commandment in Exodus 20:4 not to make an idol). And although he acted like he was trying to help the people to worship God, his intentions were to gain power (1 Kings 12:27). Although the people followed his leadership, he was not led by God but rather his own heart (1 Kings 12:33). His policies appealed to the masses, but they were abhorrent to the Lord.

Just because something seems right to us does not mean it is right before God. In Jeremiah 6:20 the Lord condemns their fancy worship services that are not centered on Him and obeying Him. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord asks why they are so fixated on bringing imported frankincense and sweet cane before Him. It’s as if they felt that expense and luxury would somehow impress God. But the Lord answers, “Your burnt offerings are not acceptable and your sacrifices are not pleasing to Me.” Why? Because ultimately the character and teaching of the prophets and priests were centered on preaching peace (6:14), ignoring the ancient and good way (6:16), and not listening to the words of God (6:17, 19).

Likewise, in John chapter 4, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that the Samaritan way of worship was invalid. It was invalid because the Samaritans rejected all the books of the Bible except for Genesis through Deuteronomy. Since they had set aside the Word of God, their worship amounted to an ignorant, man-made attempt to worship God according to their wisdom, but not according to the truth of God. This underscores the point that the worship service needs to be founded upon solid teaching because not all “worship” is true worship (John 4:22). In order for worship to be valid, it must align with God and what He has taught in scripture.

Last modified on Thursday, 12 August 2010 22:32
Russ Brewer

Russ Brewer

Rescued from the domain of darkness, transferred to the kingdom of the Son. Undershepherd of Grace. Husband of Corinne. Father of three. Chew-toy to Zeke...

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