by William J. Stewart
How shall we decided what should and what should not be a part of our worship? A quick look at the religious world reveals a number of distinct worship practices and customs. Some hold that the activity of worship is not as important as the attitude of worship. Others maintain that activity and attitude are of equal importance. Is there a standard for worship, and if so, what is the standard?
Various Standards Exist
A host of would-be standards exist in the religious community. Some exalt tradition as the benchmark for our worship. With others, it is the rule of the majority. Synods, councils, conferences and the like have held countless meetings to create, revise and interpret creed books, catechisms, manuals and other such documents of human origin, established to be authoritative for worship.
Some worshipers do so based upon their own feelings and desires, perhaps even claiming that God has directly spoken with them, and has approved certain pursuits. Others exalt the preacher or those who are leaders in the church as a source of authority for the worship.
There Is Only One Standard
Many religious writers have affirmed that God’s will is the divine instituted system for worship. A seventeenth century puritan wrote: “When we believe that we should be satisfied rather than God glorified in our worship, then we put God below ourselves as though He had been made for us rather than that we had been made for Him.”1 John MacArthur Jr., a well known denominational preacher has rightly penned, “…nor will He accept the worship of the true God if offered in the wrong way. Why? Because the worship of the true God is very specifically established in Scripture, along with the proper mode and manner.”2 Worship is not about our preferences or our ideas, it is not directed by man’s traditions or his creed books. Worship is about us submitting ourselves to the desires of God, as expressed in His word.
Jesus affirmed the existence of a standard for worship in these brief words: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Not just any form of worship is admissible; only that which comprises the correct attitude and action. Our worship will be dry and dead if we have the truth but are wanting for the proper spirit. On the other hand, if we have “spirited” worship, but lac the truth; our worship has become frivolous and self-serving. In neither case are we the “true worshipers of God,” for such must worship “in spirit and truth.”
Worship With The Right Action
Improper action in worship has always been met with judgment. Had Moses not intervened, God would have destroyed the entire nation of Israel when they worshiped the LORD through the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-14). As it was, 3,000 died that day (v 28). Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, were destroyed by God when they offered fire that had not been prescribed (Leviticus 10:1-2). Saul’s impatience as he waited for Samuel led him to offer the burnt offering on the altar (which was specifically to be done by the priests). As a result, his kingdom was taken from him (1 Samuel 13:8-14). A festive procession of Israelites, convened by king David to escort the Ark of God to Jerusalem, quickly turned solemn, as God struck Uzzah (a Kohathite) dead, for he had laid his hand upon the Ark (2 Samuel 6:1-9; cf. Numbers 4:15).
In Matthew 15, the Pharisees came to Jesus with an accusation that His disciple did not do according to the tradition of the elders (v 2). In response, Jesus revealed that the Pharisees, by their traditions, were in fact nullifying the word of God (v 3-6). And thus, he concluded of them, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (v 7-9).
We must be careful to do according to the Lord’s word. Acceptable worship is God-ordained, not humanly constructed. It has naught to do with human thought or injunction, rather, it requires us to rise above the thoughts and ways of man to the thoughts and ways of God (Isaiah 55:8-9). It is His will, not our own (Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46).
Worship With The Right Attitude
Our attitude is of equal importance to our action. Time and again, God rebuked the attitude of His people Israel through the prophets. They made many sacrifices and prayers, kept the new moons, Sabbaths and assemblies, yet their observation of these things were “…a trouble…” to the LORD, causing Him to be “…weary…” (Isaiah 1:11-20). Though they continued in all these, which were commanded by God, their hearts were not pure. They lived in sin. Their presence at the temple was nothing more than a trampling of that which is holy, and their sacrifices futility.
God sternly rebuked, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence?” (Malachi 1:6). The people of Malachi’s day viewed worship as “contemptible” (v 7, 12). Serving the LORD was “weariness” (v 13) to them. They declared, “It is useless to serve God; what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked as mourners before the LORD of hosts?” (3:13). Their attitude polluted their actions, as they brought less than their best to the LORD (1:8-9, 13-14). They had corrupted their ways (2:8-17).
The apostle John tells us, “…this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). For those who desire to be the true worshipers of God, His commandments are a joy to keep. It is both an expression of our love for the Lord and a response to His love for us (John 14:15; 15:10, 14). Love readily motivates the true worshipers of God to worship the Father in spirit and truth.
David asked, “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place?” Note his answer: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Psalm 24:3-5).
Let us acknowledge God’s standard for worship. There is but one standard—the word of God. If we are to be a faithful worshiper, our actions and attitude must be in accordance with the commandment of God. If we approach the Lord with “clean hands and a pure heart,” we will confidently “ascend into the hill of the LORD” and “stand in His holy place.”
- Charnock, Stephen, calvarychapel.com/redbarn/wquotes.htm
- MacArthur, John, True Worship, Word of Grace Communications: Panorama City, CA