What an irony, that the topic of worship, a topic so central to the scriptures, has caused numerous church conflicts and divisions. Unfortunately, many regard worship as merely singing and music, but that shallow definition misses the whole point. Conversely, there are others who take an opposing view saying that worship is everything you do. But this approach also becomes so broad that it offers little help to the one seeking to understand how the Creator God is to be worshiped.
The various misunderstandings for this paramount term are understandable. The scriptures are not written as a dictionary, and when closely examined, they offer many different contexts and inclusions for this word. The etymology for our English word, worship, came from the idea of ascribing worth, while the primary Hebrew and Greek words, “Shachah” and “Proskuneo”, mainly refer to a physical posture that demonstrates complete subordination and acknowledgment of the superior. Strong’s Lexicon gives us the following insight in the definition: “to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence”. And this is indeed the prevalent response of everyone who stands in the presence of God. For example, when God appeared to Abraham, it says, “he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth” (Gen 18:2). When God appeared to Moses on Mt. Sinai to restore the stone tablets, we read the following account, “The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord” After God finished speaking, “Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship” (Ex 34:6,8). When the Magi came to worship Christ, they responded in the following manner, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him” (Matt 2:11). Even more, according to the scriptures, when an unbeliever becomes aware of the presence of God, he should have the same response (1Cor.14:24-25).
It becomes evident in these accounts, and many more like them, that anyone who truly comes into contact with the living God responds in worship and is accompanied by a certain posture. And to bow oneself completely to the ground is indeed a right response to an infinitely holy God. However, does this mean that our worship services should be done in a prostrated manner with our faces to the ground? At least that would be a better response to God than a flippant service, where singing and speaking of God is a casual event. But where do we turn to find directions for how we are to worship our God? What does He require? Have we gotten it wrong all along?
At this point, it would be helpful for us to turn to John chapter 4, where we witness a vital conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. In this conversation, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the kind of worship the Father is looking for in the New Testament era.
John 4:21-24, Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Wow! What a change in events! Christ announced that worship is no longer about location and posture, but rather of spirit and truth. This is truly a turn of events for the Jews and Samaritans who believed that God is to be worshiped in the temple through various postures, offerings and ceremonies. But when Christ affirmed that true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, what did He mean, and why those two qualities?
Worship in Spirit
To worship in spirit is not necessarily referring to the Holy Spirit, since Christ said that the hour now is, and yet the Holy Spirit had not yet descended. The best conclusion for what Christ had in mind is that true worship takes place on the inside. Worship happens in a non-physical realm, it takes place in the spirit of a man, rather than on a certain mountain. This inner worship is to consume the entirety of the inner man, it is to overcome all that he is in the totality of his being, and put him in a place of complete subordination and acknowledgment of the superior. Understanding that the inner being is a composite of the mind, affections and the will, worship in the spirit is, therefore, to have every inner faculty engaged.
Worship in Truth
Secondly, this response to God is not something ambiguous, detached or mystical, but something concrete, personal and objective. It is so, because it is based on the objective truth of God’s self-revelation. When God reveals Himself to His creation, every bit of His revelation is obligatory and demands a response. For example, when God reveals to us that He is a Holy God and a God of justice, the sinful creature is to respond in terror seeking salvation and forgiveness. When God reveals that He is a God of grace and mercy, and that He has sent His Son as a deliverance from His wrath and punishment, the creature is to respond with much joy and gratitude. When God reveals that He is Lord and Master, the creature is to respond in full submission and obedience. This then becomes the pattern of authentic worship—God reveals himself through objective truth and man appropriately responds.
“Worship is an act of the creature, toward God, the Creator, whereby the will, intellect and affections properly respond to the revelation of God’s nature and the redemptive work of Christ as the Spirit reveals through the scriptures.”
Finally, it’s important to note that this rhythm of worship is not natural to the fallen, sinful creature. It never will be, and while in the flesh it will take every means of grace for the redeemed to worship their God. For this purpose, God has designed that the church would be a means of receiving and distributing His grace. We have preaching to instruct our minds, we have shepherding to help our wills come under the subordination of God’s lordship and we have the grace of corporate worship, when our affections are trained to respond appropriately to God’s self-disclosure.
Feel free to post your thoughts on this matter, and join us on Sunday night for the second part when we address how exactly corporate worship is to be a blessing to the church.