|Worship is God’s idea, not man’s. Therefore, He is the only One in the position to define worship, and He has done just that.
In this booklet we will explore a number of key biblical passages concerning worship from which we can draw some principles that direct our worship. Then we will consider several components of worship, the point being to communicate our church’s convictions regarding worship that dictate “How We Worship at Grace Bible Church, and Why.”
Key Biblical Passages Concerning Worship
In the Beginning. After Adam and Eve’s fall in Genesis 3, the first sin recorded in the Bible was about worship. Abel’s murder by his brother Cain was part of the fallout of God’s regard for Abel and his worship, and His disregard for Cain and his offering. From the start then, it is plain that God does not accept any and all worship or those who offer it.
In the Law. Jumping ahead to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, we read God’s first recorded formal instruction about worship. The first four commandments are about worship. One, worship God only (v.3). Two, do not worship idols or God using idols (v.4-6). Three, do not mention God’s name thoughtlessly, whether in worship or otherwise (v.7). Four, though every day is a day to worship God, one day in seven is to be particularly devoted to worshiping God (v.8-11).
In the first nine chapters of Leviticus, God gave Moses further instructions about how to worship Him. God’s instruction in chapters 1-7 were about the offerings—the substance of Old Testament worship. His instructions in chapters 8-9 were about the priests—the mediators of Old Testament worship. In Leviticus 9:22-24, God’s instructions were followed, and as a result, God was pleased to reveal His glory (v.23) by consuming the sacrifice with fire from Heaven (v.24). In response to this display of God’s glory and holiness, the people fell on their faces before God. This was one of the highest points of worship and communion between God and His people in the Old Testament.
Strange Fire. Things changed in chapter ten. Nadab and Abihu, the sons of the high priest, offered “profane” fire before the Lord (v.1). What made it profane? It is highly unlikely that they did something that was blatantly sacrilegious. The answer is in the rest of verse one. What made the fire profane was that it was not the fire commanded by God.
What was the result? Instead of God consuming the sacrifice as He did in 9:24, God consumed the priests who offered the sacrifice (v.2), and they died.
In the previous chapter, the people who worshiped the Lord according to His commands saw the glory of God, and His holiness as He consumed their sacrifices with fire from Heaven—and they fell on their faces before Him in holy reverential awe and terror. Now, when the priests worshiped the Lord in a manner not according to His command, God again revealed His holiness by consuming the erring priests (10:2) —and they fell down dead!
Not Like the Pagans. Just before the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, Moses reiterated and explained God’s law (Deuteronomy), warning the people about how to live for God in the Land of Promise. In chapter twelve, Moses charged the people regarding worship. The people were to destroy every vestige of pagan worship in Canaan (12:2-3). They were not to worship God anywhere except where God chose to be worshiped (v.5-6, 11, 13-14).
In verse 8, Moses commanded the people that they were not to worship God based on their personal preferences.
In verses 29-31, the people were not only forbidden to worship the gods of the pagans, they were specifically forbidden to worship Jehovah in the manner in which the pagans worshiped their false gods. The chapter ends (v.32) with the clear instruction that the people were to worship as God had commanded, and they were not to add to or take away from these instructions regarding acceptable worship. The Lord promised His blessing on the people who would worship Him according to His commands.
Someone might wonder, “Yes, but isn’t that the Old Testament? And hasn’t the ceremonial law of the Old Testament been fulfilled in Christ? Why should we concern ourselves with the details about Old Testament worship?” That is a valid question for which there is an all-important answer. While we do not worship God according to the particulars of Old Testament ceremonial law (indeed Christ has fulfilled the ceremonial law), the principles contained in the Old Testament law are no less valid today than they ever were. The sacrifices ceased with Christ, but those who worship God must still do so according to His instruction, not in the manner in which pagans worship their gods, or according to our innovative whims.
Jesus on Worship. A Samaritan woman asked Jesus where God was to be worshiped. His answer in John 4:21-24, revealed the following: (1) The place is no longer the issue (v.21). (2) Only those who know God can truly worship Him (v.22). (3) There is “true worship” (v.23), which means there must also be false worship. (4) True worship must be in spirit and in truth (v.23-24). False worship is, therefore, unspiritual and not based on truth. (5) God is actively seeking true worshipers (v.23).
Biblical Principles Regarding Worship
The lessons to be learned from these passages of scripture regarding worship are particularly important in our generation. Consider the following principles.
1. God does not accept any and everything we may be pleased to “offer” as worship. Cain’s unacceptable worship reveals this truth in the opening pages of Genesis. That God gave so much instruction about worship, particularly in the form of “thou shalt nots” in the Ten Commandments, emphasizes the point. Nadab and Abihu found out the hard way that God was serious about this matter. God not only rejects unacceptable worship, but He also rejects those who offer it. Exhibit A: Cain. Exhibit B: Nadab and Abihu.
2. God only accepts worship that He commands, not our extra-biblical innovations. Innovation in worship is not only allowed and encouraged in our day, it is often lauded. Acceptable worship is no longer restricted to a particular location (John 4:19-21). The timeless principle, however, is that worship which God accepts is worship that follows the dictates of His Word. We have no difficulty understanding that we are not to worship the gods of the pagans, but we must also understand that we are not permitted to worship the true and living God in the manner in which the pagans worship their gods. We must not believe for an instant that God is glorified by supposed worship that is patterned after a rock concert or a high school pep rally.
3. We are not free to be innovative in worship. Artists express themselves in their art. Worshipers are to extol God in worship. God is not impressed with our creativity. He is pleased by our humility and by our obedience to His Word. What does that mean in real time? We must humbly study the scriptures to see what kind of worship God accepts and requires, and do that only.
4. We must worship in spirit and in truth. What is spiritual worship? The opposite of the spirit in scripture is often the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17). Spiritual worship, therefore, is not fleshly. That means it is not about me. It is not to entertain, or even bless me. It is not about what I like, want, or even need. Spiritual worship is led by the Spirit of God rather than by our flesh. The goal of spiritual worship is to please God, not my flesh.
What is truthful worship? Jesus said that He is the truth (John 14:6), and that the Word is truth (John 17:17). Therefore, true worship is to be Christ-centered, and defined by scripture. Reading scripture aloud and biblical preaching are every bit as much worship as is the singing. It has been said that worship is about reading the Bible, singing the Bible, praying the Bible, and preaching the Bible.
Since God is seeking those who worship Him in spirit and in truth, the question is, “Will He find us to be the kind of worshipers He is seeking?” If any aspect of our attempts at worship give greater attention to people (ourselves or others) than to God, if they fail to glorify Christ, or if they are in any way inconsistent with the Bible, then ours is false worship, and we are found to be false worshipers, disregarded by God like Cain, and worthy of the fate of Nadab and Abihu.
5. Acceptable worship can only be offered by those who know the Lord. No matter how sincere the Samaritans in Jesus’ day were as they worshiped, since they did not know the Lord, their worship was meaningless at best, and blasphemous at worst. What then shall we say about a generation in the Church that has studied the world to find out what they like, and has then patterned their “worship celebrations” after what the world wants, in hopes of drawing people into the church “to reach them for Christ?” Two considerations are valuable regarding this issue. First, the Church should not confuse worship and evangelism, nor should she forsake worship for the sake of evangelism. Second, a building full of non-believers engaging in supposed “worship” (especially in the manner that pagans worship their gods) is not worship. Not only is it unacceptable to God, it gives these poor souls a false sense of security regarding their standing before God, because, after all, they worshipped, didn’t they? We are to evangelize the lost. Believers are the only ones who can worship God acceptably.
6. When we worship God in an acceptable manner, He is pleased and reveals Himself to His people. God is a God of self-disclosure. He is not playing a shell game with His people, hiding Himself. He is pleased to reveal Himself, His glory and His holiness to His people when we approach Him according to His directives. Of course, His disclosure of Himself will remain partial until we are glorified. Only then will we see Him as He is, resulting in an epiphany, or divine manifestation, so breathtakingly marvelous, that we shall become like Him because we are finally able to see Him (1 John 3:2).
Although we will have to wait for Heaven for that complete revelation of the glory of the Lord, we have biblical precedent that He can and does reveal some of His glory in greater measure when His people worship Him according to His commands.
Worship is Sacrifice
The goal of corporate worship is for the people of God to extol God. The goal is not to be blessed, or to “get something out of it.” Remember that the Old Testament model of worship was based on the worshiper offering a sacrifice to God. Unless he was a twisted individual who enjoyed killing, he didn’t slay an animal to feel blessed. While we no longer offer blood sacrifices (since Christ’s offering of Himself is the last, all-sufficient sacrifice that atones for our sin), we still do well to come to worship with an attitude of sacrificial giving rather than an “I hope I get blessed today” mindset. What are we to give?
1. We give God the sacrifice of praise. We do this as we sing, pray, and recite scriptures of worship and thanksgiving. Therefore, when it is time to do any of those things, irrespective of how we may feel, let us do them heartily, as unto the Lord who loved and bought us with the blood of the Son of His love.
2. We give God our attention. We do this by giving attention to the reading and preaching of scripture. We will receive from the Lord, but only as a result of giving Him our attention. Let us listen to the Word read and preached with hearts that are leaning forward so as not to miss a single word. The reading and preaching (assuming the preaching is faithful to the Word) are the words of God, not men. He mediates Himself to His people through His Word, so let us worship Him by giving Him our undivided attention.
Worship is Both Solemn and Joyful
The Psalms include both gravely serious and joyous, hand-clapping chapters. Both are biblical. Balance is key. Let us remember that whether we are bowing on our faces to the ground, or lifting our hands to Heaven, we do so in the presence of the God of the universe who lives in unapproachable light. Let us not insist that all worship be either solemn or joyful, for to do so is to insist on an unbiblical imbalance. In our church we seek to follow the pattern given by God in the Psalms, mixing the two.
Three Worship Venues
Worship takes place in three arenas, each affecting the other two. The following is a brief consideration of each.
Individual Worship. Every believer is to be a worshiper. Individual worship can and should be offered to God at all times. Time alone meditating on God’s Word and singing praises to the Lord is worship. So is anything we do that is done in an attitude of joyful obedience to God. When we understand this, all of life may be lived in an attitude of worship.
Family Worship. Families should worship together as well. Parents who read scripture and sing with their children are bringing them up in the training and admonition of the Lord in a most often neglected discipline: worship. No one in the family need be particularly musical. God is blessed by those who read His Word and sing His praises with their children. 1
Corporate Worship. Corporate worship is nothing more than individual worshipers, and worshiping families worshiping together corporately. This is why we must nurture individual and family worship if we want our corporate worship to be all God desires. Show me a congregation of mannequins staring lifelessly into space during the time of corporate worship in the church, and I will show you a congregation of individuals and families who are remiss in their individual and family worship.
Music in Worship
While it is a mistake to equate worship exclusively with music, music is an important aspect of worship. The longest book in the Bible is the Psalms, God’s hymnal. We are exhorted in the New Testament to sing (Ephesians 5:19-20, Colossians 3:16). In both of the aforementioned passages, notice that we sing to the Lord and to exhort each other. Both songs to Him and to each other about Him are valid. It appears that the Lord’s favorite instrument is the human voice, praising Him. Although a beautiful singing voice may be more pleasing to our ears, God’s ear is tuned to the hearts of the singing worshipers. Do not let your inability to sing well get in the way of your enthusiastic participation in worship in song, whether alone with the Lord, with your family, or in the company of the congregation of the Lord at church.
Do musical instruments have a place in worship? The use of musical instruments is not only allowed, but commanded in the Bible (Psalm 150:3-5). While this is true, the Bible speaks many more times about the instrument God seems to prefer above all others, the human voice. For this reason, the most important and prominent musical worship in our church is that of singing—congregational singing most of all. Therefore, we do not want the instruments to drown out the singers, and we do not want the overall volume of the musical team (instruments and voices combined) to overpower the voices of the congregation. Neither do we want any instrumentation to draw attention away from the singing. Instruments are biblical and beautiful, but we view them as a means of assisting the congregation to sing. The congregation that prefers to listen to and observe worship being offered by the folks up-front, is the congregation that is missing their opportunity to engage in worship of God. We believe that worship is not a spectator sport. Since those who lead the music in church are there to assist the congregation, it is vital that they possess a measure of musical skill, or else they will mislead, rather than lead the congregation.
What about musical styles? Musical styles are as much a matter of taste as anything else. Because not everyone likes every style of music, there will be some people who may dislike the style of music in our church. We believe music in worship should be singable, beautiful, and reverent. We do not believe all styles of music are singable, beautiful, and reverent.
The Lord’s Supper as Worship
Receiving holy communion is no less an act of worship than other biblical aspects of worship. It is commanded by the Lord. It honors Him, reminding us of Christ’s greatest-of-all sacrifice on the cross for our sin. We receive communion remembering Him, proclaiming His death until He comes again (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Like other aspects of worship, it can be done in an unworthy manner that carries dire consequences (1 Corinthians 11:27-30), so let us approach the table according to the biblical instructions, refusing to deviate with human innovations.
Convictions about how often one should receive communion and whether children should partake varies from church to church. Let it suffice to say that as often as your church administers this holy sacrament, and respecting the teaching of your church regarding children receiving the Supper, we should give due diligence to attend and to receive the body and blood in the form of the bread and cup. We leave the decision regarding children receiving communion to parents, instructing that those who receive communion should understand its meaning to some degree.
Worship is God’s idea not man’s. Therefore, He is the only One in the position to define worship, and He has done just that. Let us search the scriptures diligently to be sure that we and our worship are acceptable to the Lord.
"Give to the LORD the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come before Him.
Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!"
~ 1 Chronicles 16:29
1 If your family is not taking time out at least once each week (more often is better) to read scripture, pray, and worship the Lord, may I suggest that the father, as the spiritual leader of the family (unless there is no father in the family or if he is not a believer), needs to gather the family together to put this issue in order. He should ask the family’s forgiveness for his negligence, and announce that things are going to be different from now on. He should solicit the prayers and cooperation of the family as together they seek to become a worshiping family. This will not make him look weak, but rather demonstrate his strength.
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