Understanding Worship

Intro: Are you ready to go to heaven? We might hesitate to answer yes, not really wanting to leave this world behind right now (I am ready to go, just not today). But let me ask it this way.

Are you ready for the heavenly experience? Are you ready for what is going to happen there?

I came across an interesting quote from the popular religious author, A.W. Tozer. He wrote… “I can safely say, on the authority of all that is revealed in the Word of God, that any man or woman on this earth who is bored and turned off by worship is not ready for heaven.”

Here is how John describes the activity of heaven in Rev. 4 & 5 – the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: 11 “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.” (Rev 4:10-11)Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”(Rev 5:11-13)

Worship on earth is occupational training for heaven. That is just one reason we need to study it seriously and reverently. We are here today to worship God, and also to learn more about worship, as we strive to be established in the present truth. (our theme for October – going to carry it over into November as well.)

I. Worship – Biblically Understood: Unger’s Bible Dictionary defines worship as “the act of paying honor to a deity; religious reverence and homage”. Worship can be directed toward objects and other men as well, and this is false worship. Unger goes on to say, “It is as natural to worship as it is to live. The feeling and expression of high adoration, reverence, trust, love, loyalty, and dependence upon a higher power, human or divine, is a necessity to man. Keil says…”Worship is as old as humanity. It has its root in a necessity of the human soul as native to it as the consciousness of God itself, which impels it to testify by word and act its love and gratitude to the Author of life and the Giver of all good” (Keil, Bib. Arch., p. 55).

A. The concept of worship dominates the Bible. From Genesis, where sin appeared because of false worship, to Revelation, where history is to culminate in an eternal worshipping community, the doctrine of worship is woven throughout the scriptures. Although we are not given much information about the worship of the first families, we see its priority early in the Bible record.

1. Abel and Cain offered sacrifices; Abel did it “by faith” or according to God’s revelation.

2. Men as early as Enosh, the grandson of Adam (Genesis 4:26) “called upon the name of the Lord”.

3. Abraham and his sons built altars wherever they pitched their tents for any length of time that they might call upon the name of the Lord (12:7-8; 13:4, 18; etc.) They were accustomed to offering animal sacrifices.

4. Besides altars, memorial stones (Heb. Massebot) were erected by the patriarchs on spots where God had favored them with special revelations. Drink offerings were poured upon them (Gen. 28:18, 22; 35:14), and vows made in reference to God’s promises and protection.

II. Worship and the Law: Deut. 6:4-5 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” This represents the Jewish call to worship. It became the mantra of Israel, as it represented their #1 priority.

A. Exodus 20 records the giving of the 10 commandments. The very first was as well a call to proper worship: Exod. 20:2-5 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “You shall have no other gods before Me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, (NKJ)

B. Worship in the O.T. covered all of life – it was central. The tabernacle was even designed to show the importance of worship. The description of its details requires 7 chapters (243 verses) in Leviticus, yet only 31 verses in Genesis are devoted to describing creation.

1. The tabernacle was a place of worship; a meeting place between God & man. It was located in the center of the camp, with the priests and Levites directly surrounding it – Each tribe’s camp faced inward toward the tabernacle – always facing toward God. Contained no seats – they did not go there to be entertained or to “attend a service”. Their purpose there was singular – to approach God for the purpose of worship.

2. Critical to the law was ceremonial offerings described in Lev. 1-7; all acts of worship. Consider the burnt offering – always listed first; the altar on which all offerings were given was called the “altar of burnt offerings”. It was the sacrifice of the whole animal; it was entirely consumed – offered totally to God. An emblem of the total commitment required in all other acts of worship.

C. The law of Moses regulated every aspect of Israel’s worship. In fact, worship has always been divinely regulated. God has never left it up to humans to design or determine how He will be worshipped. Consider the intricate detail of the Law of Moses in regards to worship – A specific act, at a specific time and place, performed by specific person, even adorned in specific attire. This regulative detail was not arbitrary. Rather it was designed to teach the regulative nature of worship itself.

1. Consider the IncenseExodus 30:34-36 “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices– gum resin, onycha and galbanum– and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred. Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the LORD. Whoever makes any like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from his people.” (NIV)

a. Proper worship was connected with divinely prescribed sanctification. This sanctification is the basis of proper worship.

b. What goes to God, must first come from Him. You cannot offer to God what He has not told you that He desires or accepts.

c. Notice the last injunction for the Israelites to not make this incense for their own use. They couldn’t worship God with their perfume, and they couldn’t wear God’s perfume for their own purposes.

III. The basics of true worship. Even though the particulars of worship changed within Biblical history – Noah worshipped under a different law than David, and we worship under a different law than Nicodemus, the Bible identifies basic elements that define true worship. God’s expectations are not arbitrary. God has equipped you and me to give Him what He desires.

A. Jesus’ statement to the Samaritan woman in John 4 teaches what genuine worship involves. John 4:23-24 – 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

1. His statement shows you and I to be uniquely suited to offer worship to God. We are more than an animated body. We have been created in the image of God. We have an inward person or spirit that is capable of communing with God on a spiritual level. It is the heart than makes worship viable and powerful. Jesus also identifies the divine characteristic that makes our approach and worship of God possible – Truth – this only comes from God Himself.

2. Consider more carefully the two elements of true worship that Jesus identifies here.

a. In spirit – The meaning seems to be “that the entire heart enters into the act” (Hendriksen, p. 167). Or, as Lenski notes, “the whole soul is thrown into the worship” (p. 323).true worship emanates from the heart (spirit) of man to God (who is a Spirit). True worship is not ritual or rote. It is not accomplished unconsciously or insincerely. Is this a problem with your ability to worship God?

b. In truth – genuine worship is according to truth. Although the word Jesus uses can also denote genuineness as opposed to faking it, the best understanding here is objective truth. Jesus said in John 17:17 that God’s word was truth. Worship must be regulated by the will of God, not men. Anything that God has not authorized through the revelation of Holy Spirit in scripture cannot be considered as true worship. Matt 15:8-9These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” Worship is vain (worthless) when based on precepts of human origin. If you cannot find it in the scriptures it is worthless and false worship.

B. The Dimensions of Worship: The words used to translate worship help distinguish dimensions of worship. True worship includes all three of these characteristics.

1. Awareness: to know who God is. The Heb. Word is “Yare” – to fear, revere, see His awefulness & holiness – Isa. 29:13 “Therefore the LORD said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,”(NKJ)

a. It is possible to have a “fear” of God without really worshipping, or doing only what comes through the compulsion of fear. At the conclusion of the giving of the 10 commandments at Sinai, Moses told the people not to fear, but to fear. Exodus 20:20 “And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” (NKJ) The wise man in Prov. 1:7 indicates that this fear (reverence) is the beginning of knowledge.

b. The Greek word that corresponds this level of worship is “Sebomai” – to revere, stressing the feeling of awe (Vines). Matt. 15:9“And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” Jesus indicates that they do have a fear of God through their knowledge of Him, but their worship was vain as it was based upon the teachings of men, not God. This fear or awareness of God is the foundation, but true worship is more.

2. Attitude is the Second level of Worship: to accept what God does– Another Hebrew word that means worship is Shachah” (shaw-kaw) – which means to bow down or stoop down before. It specifically spoke of a bodily position before God, but was indicative of an attitude of humility.

a.  Psa 86:9“All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.”

b. In Gen 22:5 Abraham tells his young servant that he is going up on the mountain with Isaac to “worship”. “And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” What was involved in Abraham’s worship on this occasion? A faith that accepted what God designed & commanded. In 2 Sam. 12:20 it describes the worship of David after his infant son has died as punishment for his sin with Bathsheba. His worship was indicative of his submissive spirit in the matter.

c. The most common word in the N. T. for worship is the word “proskuneo”, which literally means to “kiss the hand” or to do obeisance. What type of attitude will motivate you to bow down and kiss the hand of another (as the young man asks the young lady for her hand)?

d. It goes beyond a trembling fear. It is a desire to please. It is an attitude that focuses on the littleness of men and the greatness of God. Rev. 15:4 Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested.” This word is used 24 times in the book of Revelation – it was the attitude of those who were redeemed by the blood of the lamb. Rev. 19:1-9

3. Action is the Third Level of Worship – to do what God says. God continually linked proper worship with the actions of true faith – obedience to the Word of God on a daily basis. This is where our understanding & practice of worship leaves the walls of a church building and becomes a way of living. The Hebrew word “Abad” is translated worship but is often translated as serve, do, work or labor. Notice the emphasis on worship as service:

a. Deut 6:13You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name.10:12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul..” vs. 20 – “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him…”

b. In Jesus’ response to Satan’s invitation to “worship” him, Jesus said “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, `You shall worship (proskuneo) the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve (Latreuo).’

c. The picture invoked in 12:1 is worship – a sacrifice offered: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (latreuo). That sacrifice is the continual service (or worship) of obeying God’s Word.

d. Heb. 9:14 “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve (latreuo) the living God?” Substitute the word worship for service here and we recognize that we were redeemed to worship. But this worship is not something only done in a building once a week. It is a life of serving God… Actions promoted by a fear and reverence that desire only to please Him.

Conclusion: We need to grow in our level of worship. One writer wrote: “Worship cannot be relegated to just one place, time, or segment of our lives. We cannot verbally thank and praise God while living lives of selfishness and carnality. That kind of effort at worship is a perversion. Real acts of worship must be the overflow of a worshipping life”. Psa. 45:1My heart is overflowing with a good theme;” – David’s ability to worship came from a heart that overflowed with the things of God. He could not hold them in. We need that.