Nov 10, 2008

Worship of the Eternal God - Part 2 of 3

by Dan Grubbs

In an essay by Lee Campbell, PhD, he wrote, “substantial arguments could be raised against” the use of the word worship among Christians today. I believe he makes this assertion because our dictionary definition of worship differs from that of the Greek or Hebrew terms; while the generally understood meaning of worship differs substantially from biblical teaching on the topic.

In this second part of the three-part examination of worship, we’ll look at a few definitions before we explore three principles of worship to helps us all gain insight into this element of our relationship with God.

The word worship in English originated from the Old English word “weorthscipe” which we can understand as being worthy or to merit something. This grows problematic because the Hebrew word “aboda” and the Greek work “latreuo” are often translated as worship. According to Campbell, these might be better understood as service or to minister. Additionally, other terms are translated as worship. Often, the Greek “proskyneo” and the Hebrew “shachac” refer to a reverent posture to reflect submission to a higher entity. But, as Campbell asks, do the terms that are usually translated as worship tell us how we are show these attitudes?

But, what do today’s Christians believe worship is? It might be said that many feel it is the liturgical or congregational forms which involve various rituals and corporate and individual praise giving. But is that all?

The Bible teaches that worship is much more inclusive — involving our entire lives and all facets therein. Worship may be thought of as the true believer’s reaction to the Creator of all physical and spiritual existence. Campbell enumerates it this way, “the response of a grateful and humble people to the living God where submission, sacrificial service, praise, profession, testimony and gratitude are freely expressed in innumerable ways.” As Christians, we must ask ourselves if this is what we see in our own local assembly or in our individual lives. If not, what should our response to God look like?

Reality one: worshiping in spirit

Let’s start by going back to John 4 when Christ was talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. She wanted to debate rituals and practices and even the location of worship as prescribed under the old covenant. Christ wanted to point her (and us) in a new direction. He told her that it wasn’t on a mountain or in a city or even in a specific building that the Father sought true worship from His faithful. “Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father.”

Didn’t that beg the question? Wouldn’t, if you were her, ask Christ “okay, so where are we supposed to worship?” Two verses later He answers her un-posed question.

"But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall 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."

This is such a challenging message from Christ that many believers just let it go without trying to understand it. However, as we always should, let the Bible interpret the Bible. What may help in understanding of what Christ was teaching is something that Paul wrote to the Roman church. Romans 12:1-2 can go a long way to give us guidance on what Christ meant by worshiping in spirit and in truth. Paul’s inspired words were:
"I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."
In these two verses, we have an entire guidebook of how to live our lives in a godly manner; which, according to these scriptures, is worship. In this guidance from Paul, we see he sacrificial service, submission, testimony and profession that today’s church should ensure is part of individual and corporate worship. In verse two, we even see the accountability and discernment that is so desperately needed in our congregations. To put it even more succinctly, if we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, then we are living Paul’s words.

But, the point not to miss here is that worship is a way of daily living. Worship is not a program or a sequence of events or “a service” to attend. Can true worship happen at our typical weekend gatherings? Let’s pray it is the normative experience in our congregations. But, it could sadly be said that worship is not happening at all our assemblies.

Reality two: worshiping in truth

The typical praise and worship segment of the programmed “worship service” is coming under more frequent attack. Many generalizations are made about this element of the program as becoming entertainment and not worship. This is true for many local churches today. We see experienced praise soloists and ensembles, bands, choirs and even orchestras all produced and packaged together much like what we might see on television. Is this bad in itself? Only if the purpose and intent drifts from glorifying the triune God. This question must be answered by each individual and as a congregation because worshiping in truth means that it must be genuine, it must be sincere.

God wants a right attitude. Therefore, worship is significantly a matter of the heart. We see scores of occurrences in the Old Testament where God was displeased with the worship the Israelites were offering. This was largely because the worship was mechanical, without the sincere attitude of reverence and gratitude behind the offerings. They had the days and practices right, but they had their hearts in the wrong place.

Do we find ourselves going through the motions at our worship gatherings? Do we even know why we do what we do in a “worship service”? Was the heart right at first, but now we feel our worship is flat and cold?

Reality three: a worship and sin conflict

When Israel’s heart was not genuine, a prophet usually came along and pointed out that they were coming to God with sin still in their lives. It can be reasoned that we loose true worship because our hearts are not right with God because we have unconfessed sin.

We see in many cases with the Hebrews that their prayers and praises were not reflective of the truth of their daily lives. At one point, Christ quoted Isaiah saying their worship was in vain. In short, they were worshiping in deceit. Christ said we are to worship the Father in truth, not in deceit. This means we must eliminate the hypocrisy from our lives and our local churches in order to be worshiping in truth.

God knows our hearts and our sins. Therefore, do we still believe that we are worshiping Him in truth if we show up on Sunday morning to sing praises after a week of behavior that we wouldn’t want our pastor to see? True confession and subsequent repentance is vital to a worship relationship with God. We must come to him with a clean heart in order to worship in truth.

As we examine Christ’s church today, let’s be sure that when we discuss worship, that we understand it to be an inclusive term describing the way we are to live our lives as a “response of a grateful and humble people to the living God.” And, that this worship is a response of a sincere heart with a right attitude coming from a confessed and repentant soul. Does this describe the actual activities of worship? Not really. But it does help us understand that any act of worship, whether it be singing, tithing, studying, prayer, testimony, profession, sacrifice or any multitude of things, must be done in spirit and in truth.

Be sure to read our final installment of this series on worship in the next posting.

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