On one occasion during Jesus’ ministry on earth, He and His disciples passed through Samaria. On this occasion, Jesus stopped at Jacob’s well to get a drink of water while His disciples went to buy food. While there, a Samaritan woman came to draw water and she had a discussion with Jesus. During this discussion, she brought up the subject of worship. Jesus made a statement to her at that time regarding true worshipers which we are going to focus on for this lesson. Turning to John 4:23-24, we read, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.“
This statement by Jesus is the main Biblical text we turn to when regarding Christian worship. In the context of this discussion, Jesus reveals that the time has come when true worshippers will no longer worship in Jerusalem. A change had come to the age old classic Levitical worship system and those who wish to be true worshippers will have to abide by a new set of guidelines. These guidelines are the basis for our worship today as Christians in the kingdom of God.
God seeks true worshippers, and He identifies them as those who “worship Him in spirit and in truth“. Worshipping God in spirit and in truth is a serious matter which must not be taken lightly. If we have any regard for our own souls, we will want to make sure we are worshipping God in spirit and in truth.
An analysis of the text reveals 5 things that characterize the true worshipper which God is in search of.
1. The absolute of Christian worship – “must” God seeks true worshippers and they must worship.
2. The action of Christian worship – “worship” Meaning to prostrate oneself, to render obeisance, respect and reverence, to kiss toward and to serve.
3. The aim of Christian worship – “God“
4. The attitude of Christian worship – “spirit” Meaning from one’s heart.
5. The authority of Christian worship – “truth” Meaning according to God’s word which is truth (John 17:17).
Before we examine these five things, let’s look at some Biblical examples of some who were not true worshippers.
The Bible speaks of Ignorant Worship
In Acts 17, we read of Paul in the city of Athens on that occasion when he confronted some of the citizens of the city about their pagan worship. They had an idol set up to honor an unknown god in case they missed one somewhere. Paul made this statement recorded by inspiration in verse 23: “For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.“
Paul acknowledged that they were very religious but he warned them that their religious service was not pleasing to God for it was done in ignorance, without knowledge of what God wanted or even who God was. Paul went on to say in verse 30 that, “the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent“. The word “winked” means ‘overlooked’. Paul told the Athenians on that occasion that God would not overlook their ignorant worship.
Ignorant worship is not pleasing to God for he is not glorified by accident, but by a conscience praise of His name. God is seeking true worshippers and those who worship God ignorantly are not worshiping in truth and are therefore excluded from those whom God is seeking to worship Him.
The Bible speaks of Vain Worship
In Matthew 15:7-9, we read the words of Jesus as He confronted a group of Pharisees, “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men“.
The word vain means ‘to no purpose’. The Pharisees made their worship vain (useless) because they had added on the commandments of men to their practices. They were proclaiming praises and honoring God with their lips, but their hearts were corrupt because by adding their own traditions and requirements to the word of God, they were setting themselves as an authority higher than God. In other words, God says this, but you must do something more, or less or different than what God said. Such things were said by inspiration to render our worship of no worth, and is a demonstration that our attitudes about worship are not right. Those who exhibit the wrong attitude in their worship are not worshiping in spirit and are therefore excluded from those whom God is seeking to worship Him.
The Bible speaks of Will Worship
Colossians 2:23, “Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” The NKJV translated “will worship” as “self imposed religion“. In this context, Paul was dealing with some of the very things that Jesus was talking about in regards to the Pharisees back in Matthew 15:7-9. Some people in Colossi were imposing manmade elements into Christianity which did not belong. Basically, this is an extension of what causes vain worship. Backing up to verse 23 of this context, we see Paul writing, “according to the commandments and doctrines of men” Paul alluded to Jesus’ teaching while dealing with “will worship” or “self imposed religion” with the Colossian church. The consequences are the same. Their worship is vain, meaning useless and of no value.
So we can see from these three examples of incorrect worship that true worshippers have a standard they must adhere to if they want to be the worshippers that God is seeking. We understand from these three examples that our worship must not be done in ignorance and must come from God only and cannot include the commandments of men.
The absolute of Christian worship
Those who worship God must worship in spirit and in truth. The word ‘must’ is what we call an auxiliary verb. It means to be bound by an imperative requirement. The Bible teaches us that faith is a must (Heb. 11:6), and repentance is a must (Luke 13:3). When the word ‘must’ is used, the consequences for failure or refusal to comply are spiritual death. Those who fail to have faith will be condemned, likewise, those who fail to worship in spirit and in truth will suffer the same fate.
The word “must” modifies three elements which constitute Christian worship. The word ‘must’ modifies the object of worship – Him. We ‘must’ worship God. Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 4:10, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
The word ‘Must’ modifies the attitude of worship which is spirit and the standard of worship which is truth. Our worship therefore must be to God, it must be in spirit and it must be in truth. Thus, the object, the attitude, and the standard of Christian worship are vital – they are a must!
2. The action of Christian worship
Webster defines “worship” as “courtesy or reverence to worth; hence honor and respect. An act of paying divine honors to deity; religious reverence or homage.” The word “worship” it translated from several different Greek words, three of which are used more than once:
This word Occurs 60 times in the New Testament as is always rendered worship. This is the Greek word used in John 4:24 in regards to worshiping in spirit and in truth. Vines dictionary of NT words defines this word, “to make obeisance, do reverence to”. Thayer defines it, “to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence ? to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence”
This Greek word Occurs 10 times in the New Testament. It means to “To stand in awe; to venerate, to reverence, to worship, to adore”. It is the Greek word Jesus used when He said in “vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” in Matthew 15:9.
This Greek word Occurs 21 times in the New Testament. It means “To render religious service of homage; to worship God in the observance of rites instituted for worship”. It is translated as both worship and service in our English translations.
All three of these words are verbs. All three of these words are action words, meaning we are to be participants and not spectators. In true worship, we are not the audience, rather God is. Our aim in worship must be to please God which brings us to the next characteristic of true worship.
3. God; The aim of Christian worship.
The Bible teaches us that Gods is to be the sole object of our worship. In Exodus 20:2-6, we read these very familiar words, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments“.
That was one of the ten commandments given to Moses on Mt Sinai. Things have not changed since then. In Matthew 4:10, when speaking to Satan, Jesus said, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve“. We must remember that in true worship, God seeks those who worship Him only. It is God that we are obligated to do reverence to. We do not approach God in worship to be entertained. The responsibility for true worship lies squarely on us as His children. Since God seeks true worshipers, He therefore seeks those who will worship Him and Him only. If our aim in worship is not God, then we are not worshiping in spirit and in truth and we are therefore excluded from those whom God seeks.
4. Spirit; The Attitude of Christian Worship.
New Testament worship is spiritual, meaning from the heart. We learn that we are to offer up spiritual sacrifices as a holy priesthood in 1 Peter 2:5. We are to draw nigh unto God with a true heart, in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:22). Our worship is to be offered to God with grace in our heart unto the Lord (Colossians 3:17; Ephesians 5:19).
New Testament worship must come from the heart; Ephesians 5:19-20, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” Colossians 3:16-17, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him”. Notice in both of these scriptures that we are commanded to be thankful and to demonstrate that in our worship.
In Hebrews 12:28, we read, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear“. Part of the spirit of true worship is reverence and godly fear. Our worship in spirit must reflect a deeply reverent attitude, humble, submissive and respectful. God is all powerful, all knowing and everywhere present. He is absolutely fair and just. He is always right and never wrong. He is the creator of everything material that we can see. And He sacrificed of Himself freely for all mankind when He could have just left us to die. He deserves our respect, our honor, our reverence and our godly fear. He is worthy of our respect, our honor our reverence and our godly fear. The right attitude of true worship is from the heart, in genuine and devoted love and gratitude directed solely to our God in heaven. God seeks true worshipers and the attitude and the heart is one of the things He identifies one with. Let us be sure that our attitudes in worship reflect that which God seeks so that we can be assured of being among those true worshippers that God is searching for.
5. Truth; The authority of Christian worship.
God also seeks those who worship in truth. What is truth? The Bible tells us in words that are impossible to misunderstand in John 17:17, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth“. So if God’s word is truth, and we are to worship in truth, then we must therefore worship according to God’s word in order to be “in truth“. In Colossians 3:17 we find a verse of scripture that sets a parameter for all that we do in life. This most certainly applies to our worship. Colossians 3:17, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Our worship to God is part of whatsoever we do, so we need to make sure that our worship is in the name, or by the authority of Jesus Christ. And notice there’s that little exhortation on the end about giving thanks to God and the Father? So we see here in this verse that we are to do the things we do by the authority of Jesus, “in truth” and with a thankful attitude, “in spirit“.
We must seek authority for the things we do in our worship. To add to the worship God has prescribed is to think beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6). To leave out something is to fall short of the glory of God and fail to do those things what God is looking for in His true worshippers.
So how do we determine from the word of truth how to worship according to the word of truth? The new testament does not have a book named, ‘How to Worship God’. There is not a checklist in scripture that specifically lists all of the things God is looking for in true worship. So in recognition of this fact, and in full realization that God expects us to worship according to His word then what do we do? Does the word of God even tell us what to do? Indeed it most certainly does.
When writing to the Christians in Corinth, Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 4:16, “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me“. Several modern versions of our English translations correctly render the Greek word for “followers” as “imitators“. Paul wrote almost the exact same thing to them again in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate [follow] me, just as I also imitate Christ“. Use my actions, my life, my worship, my service to God as a pattern for you to follow or imitate. Paul is telling them to ‘Do what I do, live how I live, worship how I worship. Use my life as your way, your template, your pattern for living’. If that will work for them, will it not work for us?
Now let’s consider Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 2:14, “For ye, brethren, became followers [imitators] of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews“. When speaking to the Thessalonians Christians concerning their conversion to Christ, Paul mentioned that they had become imitators of the churches of God in Judaea. The Thessalonians had followed the lead of another congregation of Christians. They conformed themselves to the pattern of another congregation thus making themselves imitators or followers of that pattern. Paul held the churches of God in Judea up as a mold, or an acceptable pattern for the church in Thessalonica to follow or imitate. Well. if they can do it, then why can’t we do the same thing they did? Well, we can’t follow or imitate the churches in Judaea because scripture does not have a detailed description of those particular churches in scripture so what then do we do? If the church in Thessalonica imitated the churches of God in Judaea, then can we not imitate it and be assured of being just like the churches Paul set forth in scripture? The answer is yes as long as the church in scripture we are imitating is an exact match.
For instance, we know from a study of scripture that the Corinthian and the Galatian churches, among others, had internal problems that we wouldn’t want within our congregation. So then what do we do about that? The answer is very simple. We follow the approved examples and patterns of all of the churches in scripture and we reject the unapproved ones. We then combine that with the teachings of the apostles and other inspired writers of scripture and when taken all in all, we can get a picture of how the Lord’s church is to worship. In short, we simply use all of the approved examples, teachings and commandments in scripture given to all of the churches and individuals in scripture and we form a composite image of what the New Testament church was and we imitate that. In view of the lack of a detailed checklist of how we are to worship in scripture and given the commands we have to worship in spirit and in truth, there simply is no other way to achieve what we are commanded to accomplish. Scripture makes the internal claim to be inspired and to throughly furnish us unto every good work in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Worship is a verb, therefore worship is a work of righteousness. God simply did not command us to worship according to a set of guidelines and then leave us without a way of determining what those guidelines are.
So using this principle to guide us, how did the first century church worship? There are two forms or types of worship in the New Testament. There is a continual form of worship which all Christians are to participate in. Scripture teaches us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and to “sing psalms” when we are merry (James 5:13). There is a sense in scripture where the Christian is to live in a continual state of worship at all times. Paul taught in Romans 12:1 we are to present our “bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” The Greek word for service in this context is “LATREUO” which is correctly translated in scripture as worship in a number of places. The NIV translates this as “worship” instead of “service” and this understanding is completely consistent with the meaning of the words. Jesus Christ used both “LATREUO” and “PROSKUNEO” synonymously in the exact same phrase when confronting Satan. Backing up to a verse we have already looked at, we again see Jesus telling Satan in Luke 4:8, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship [PROSKUNEO] the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve [LATREUO]”.
There is a sense of worship in all the service we do for God and this has mistakenly lead many people to the mistaken conclusion that all life is worship to God. We associate and rightly so, the concept of sacrifice being a part of worship. And scripture plainly teaches this from the front to the back. One cannot separate worship from sacrifice, the two are intertwined and cannot be separated one from the other. There is no doubt that sacrifice was inextricably bound to OT worship. Under NT worship, our sacrifices are more of a spiritual nature as we see in 1 Peter 2:5, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” We see also in Hebrews 13:15-16 that, “By him [referring to Jesus], therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, (there is that sense of a continual worship again), that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” There’s those spiritual sacrifices that Peter referred to in the previous verse of scripture.
Jesus accomplished the atoning work of sacrifice with His death on the cross, so we today don’t have to offer blood sacrifices. But when the Israelites were done with the atoning sacrifices, they approached God and offered spiritual sacrifices in the form of singing, praise and thank offerings (2 Chronicles 29:30-31). The sacrifices were not over for the Israelites when the atoning sacrifice was finished. They then approached God and offered additional sacrifices and worshipped. Read with me in 2 Chronicles 29:31 concerning their worship after the completion of the atoning sacrifice, “Then Hezekiah answered and said, Now ye have consecrated yourselves unto the Lord, come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings into the house of the Lord. And the congregation brought in sacrifices and thank offerings; and as many as were of a free heart burnt offerings.” Focus on those words “come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings“. Hezekiah told the Israelites to come near, to approach God. The Israelites could not come near and approach God until after the atoning sacrifice. God’s presence was in some fashion understood to be inside the temple behind the veil in the most holy of holies and the Israelites were not allowed to draw near to God’s presence without that atoning sacrifice. Now today, that atoning work has been accomplished through the once for all time sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Today, we can approach God without having to first offer a blood sacrifice. Jesus did that for us. What we need to take from this is that now, under the New Testament we can “Approach God”. Worship is about approaching God. There are a number of ways that we accomplish this. We can, and are commanded to approach God through Christian service on a continual basis such as prayer, confession, benevolent good works, etc, etc and these things are a type of service and a type of sacrifice and therefore are a type of worship but this kind of service is different than the worship we offer collectively during our assemblies.
In the assemblies, the whole congregation comes together into one place for the purpose of unified worship to God. The Bible never comes out and directly says in those words that the purpose for the assembly is to worship God, but we do have a plethora of scripture where the activities of the Christians at those assemblies is evident and regulated. For instance if one look at 1 Corinthians chapters 10 thru 16 and disregards the abuses of the Lord’s Supper and miraculous gifts, then we find all of the things we do in our assembled worship today. Paul referred to their coming together in one place in 1 Cor. 11:17-20, 33). Now let’s consider the following in 1 Cor. 14:23-26, “Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification”. Notice what was done when they came together. They partook of the Lord’s Supper, Prophesying, or, teaching/preaching was done; Praying and singing was also done as revealed in 1 Cor. 14:15 and finally, giving was commanded in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.
Notice that the giving was specified on the first day of the week. When we look back at Acts 20:7 we learn that the disciples met on the first day of the week to break bread which means they partook of the Lord’s Supper. From this we can rightfully reason that Christians of the first century met on the first day of the week to worship God. The activities engaged in during these meetings was the Lord’s supper, singing, praying, edification and giving.
Keeping in mind that worship is about approaching God, we need to understand that the things done in our assemblies are spiritual points of contact wherein God seeks to involve us in some aspect of relationship with Him or with spiritual matters.
1. We approach God through our singing. Draw in your minds with me an arrow pointing from us to God and from us to each other. The spiritual points of contact originate with us and move toward God and to each other. Our relationship with God and with each other is thereby strengthened and we are admonished and edified through it as a benefit.
2. Giving is a spiritual contact between us and our fellow man. Our giving is a sacrifice which has its parallel in the free will offerings under OT law which nothing to do with the atoning sacrifices. Freewill offerings occur in the OT in 17 places. Consider the language used in regards to the freewill offering to be given at the feast of weeks in Deuteronomy 16:10, “And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee“. The language is strikingly similar to what we see in 1 Corinthians 16:2 where we read, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him“. Freewill offerings under the law of Moses were part of their worship. Our giving is not for God, rather it is for our fellow man. The spiritual contact for us is to our fellow man and through it we strengthen and uphold each other.
3. The Lord’s supper is a spiritual point of contact between us and Jesus as the communion of the body and blood of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16) and reflecting inward as we examine ourselves and our relationship with the Lord while we remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us.
4. Congregational praying is a spiritual point of contact from the whole congregation to God, indicating a priestly function wherein one man with one voice represents the people to God.
5. Preaching/Studying is a spiritual contact originating with God and moving to the congregation through the teacher or preacher. Those who teach and preach are required to speak as the oracles of God, meaning we are to speak as if He were the one who was talking. The Greek word for “oracles” means an utterance of God. The teacher or preacher is one person communicating the will of God to the congregation. This is the only way that God has a voice through His word to us. The spiritual point of contact is therefore God speaking His will to us in the assembly.
And lastly, let’s consider the throne scene in Revelation 4 with the saved of all the earth gathered around the throne in the presence of God in heaven. All singing praises and glorifying God together as the heavenly host. Our worship today in song and praise to God is a picture of what we will be doing when we get to heaven. The assemblies on the first day of the week is the closest we can get to God and Heaven this side of the grave.
We approach God, we sing, we praise Him, we adore Him, we glorify Him and we reverence Him through our worship in the only way we can this side of eternity. In heaven, we’ll actually get to see Him. We will get to stand in the glory of His presence and we will get to worship Him face to face in His presence. Until then, we assemble and receive that which we need to inherit our eternal home and help others along the way.