True Worship

John 4:23-24

Worship involves the believers’ praises and thanksgivings, and making mention of the attributes of God and of his acts, whether in power or in grace, in the attitude of adoration. In worship we draw near to God, and address ourselves to him.

Preaching and teaching are not worship; nor is confession of failure; nor are prayers asking for things that we need although they show recognition of him and confidence in him. To speak about him and his greatness to one another – telling how he is worthy to be praised - is very precious and has its place, but it is not direct communion with God himself.

Another has described worship this way: “It is the united outpouring of thanks and blessing to God and the Lamb from hearts purified by faith, who have the knowledge of the Father and the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit; and who therefore draw near in happy confidence in His love, and in the confessed delight and enjoyment of what God is, and of what He is to them”.

Of course it can be individual but worship is a homage that is shared with others, whether it is among men or among angels. The fact that others are blessed forms part of my joy.

God is to be worshipped “in spirit and in truth”. See John 4:23-24.

To worship “in spirit” is to worship according to the true nature of God, and in the power of that communion that the Spirit of God gives. Spiritual worship is in contrast to with all the forms and ceremonies, and all the religiousness of which the flesh is capable.

To worship God “in truth” is to worship him according to the revelation which has given of himself.

The Samaritans worshipped neither in spirit nor in truth. The Jews worshipped God in truth, in so far as this can be said of a revelation which was incomplete; but they did not worship him in spirit. Now, in this Christian period, to worship God we need both. He is to be worshipped according to the true revelation of himself (that is, “in truth”) and according to his nature (that is, “in spirit”).

Another precious element of worship is introduced here – it is “the Father”. Love seeks worshippers. We are in the relationship of the children of God. And we are linked with Christ as he could say as out of death, “I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”. Christians are privileged to know him as Father.

The character of Jewish worship - Israel was in a special relationship with God at that time. Their worship supposed that. The people could not draw near to him. In the tabernacle, God was hid from the people; he made himself known only by acts of blessing and of judgment and did not reveal himself to the hearts of the people. The high priest entered within the veil (into the holiest place of all) only once a year.

In Christianity, God has taken us up on a completely new basis - grace. Under the law the service of the priest was superior to that of the Levite. The Levite served; the priest drew near to God according to the anointing he had received. In the use of gifts – teaching, preaching etc. - we are Levites; in worship we are priests. So he that through the Spirit takes part in the worship itself, does not do so on the ground of having a gift, which in general is a faculty of God to act among men. The Spirit, then, acting in men in order to express the spiritual affections of the assembly, is the mode in which worship is rendered to God.

The cross showed up the evil of man and showed the goodness of God. At the cross the judgment of God against sin was born by Christ. The sufferings of Christ - the one perfect sacrifice of Christ - is sufficient to meet God’s holy claims. Now anyone can come to God by faith in that One and His finished work. God’s love is free to bless. There is no longer any question about guilt between the worshipper and God. Being reconciled to God by the work of Christ which has put away sin, and being introduced into His presence in the light, God has brought us into the nearness of a new relationship, that we may enjoy that which He is in Himself.

The veil of the temple was torn from the top to the bottom when Christ died. The veil had been a sign that no one could draw near to God. Now we have access into the presence of God.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is another truth connected with the work of Christ, on which worship necessarily hangs. A believer receives the Holy Spirit who reveals and communicates to us divine things and inspires right thoughts and affections, e.g. the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. The Holy Spirit gives us, first of all, the assurance of our redemption. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

The Holy Spirit is the energy, the sole living source, of all that takes place in worship so far as it is genuine.

Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and collectively, as quickened and united together, they, as a whole are also his temple (1 Cor. 3:16). God dwells there by his Spirit in a manner that is less obvious but a far more exalted way than in the temple of Jerusalem, and this in order that true worship may be offered to God.

Another instruction regarding true worship - Philippians 3:3 – “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and boast in Christ Jesus, and do not trust in flesh”. We are not to boast in anything of ourselves, in Christ only. Who are we exalting? Singing solos etc. draws attention to individuals. Ceremonies and rituals do not enhance worship at all – they are to the satisfaction of the flesh, satisfying the religious instincts of human nature – see also Colossians 2:20-23. The importance of not trusting in the flesh is brought out clearly.

Two grand elements of Christian worship are the presence of the Holy Spirit and the remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ, which is commemorated in the Supper.

There are two great subjects about which Christian worship is occupied – the love of God our Father, and the love of the Lord Jesus, in His work, and as head of the body, the church. At times the Lord Jesus will be more especially before the mind; at times the Father will be more in mind. The Holy Spirit alone can guide in this; but the truthfulness and spirituality of worship will depend upon the state of those who compose the gathering.

We can understand that although worship is offered in various ways - by hymns, by thanksgivings, in the form of prayers, in praise, etc., we can understand that the Lord’s supper, as representing that which forms the basis of all worship, is the centre of its exercise, around which all other elements that compose it are grouped. By it the worshipper is reminded of that which is the most precious of all things in the sight of God – the death of His beloved Son. “On this account does my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again.” John 10:17

Worship will be affected adversely by anything that grieves the Holy Spirit. Evil is discovered quickly when the Spirit is free. Notice how quickly one sin was identified, both of Achan (Joshua 7) and the lie of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).

Worship is a privilege of the children of God only. “Without faith it is impossible to please God”. Being offered “in Spirit and in truth” and being offered to Him who cannot admit sin into is presence, only persons who are washed in the blood of the Lamb, and who have received the Spirit, can draw near to God to adore Him.

It is true that one day that every creature will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, but that does not necessarily put it in the category of true worship. I quote in full Philippians 2:9-11 – “Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and granted him a name, that which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of heavenly and earthly and infernal beings, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to God the Father’s glory”.

Individual worship. The ability to enjoy worship in communion depends on the maintenance of the inner spiritual life. There will be in heaven itself an individual joy and communion with God, which will be known only to him who is the subject of it. Consider the promise to the overcomer at Pergamos, Rev.2:17, “To him that overcomes, to him I will give of the hidden manna; and I will give to him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows but he that receives it”.

Notice how the apostle Paul breaks out into a brief burst of praise – known as a doxology - after considering the ways of God. After explaining God’s purposes and ways with the people of Israel in Romans chapters 9,10 and 11, he finishes with such a note of praise – see Rom. 11:33-36. See also Ephesians 3:20-21, and 1 Timothy 1:17. There are others.

In Revelation 4:10-11 we get a picture of future worship. The four living creatures give glory to God and the twenty four elders leave their own thrones, remove their crowns and cast them before the throne of God and fall down to worship.

These are said to represent the glorified believers. They have intelligence and are able to give a reason for their worship – see verse 11, “for thou hast created all things, and for thy will they were, and they have been created”.

God had given to them thrones and crowns, a status which distinguished them from others. But they were prepared to give these distinctions as an offering to him who had loved them and who was placed far above them. In this they were more exalted towards God than if they had retained their distinctions before others. Their attitude and act display the perfection of the creature’s state and position before God.

Again, in Rev. 5, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders representing the redeemed ascribe praise directly to the Lamb. They sing and they again give a reason for the praise, verse 9, “because thou hast been slain and …” This results in the angels indirectly praising the Lamb, verses 11-12. You will notice that neither angels, nor the creatures later in verses 13-14 give a reason for their worship; nor do they sing. Angels are never said to sing in Scripture. It is only redeemed believers that rightly sing praise to God.

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We spoke earlier of the Lord’s Supper being the focal point for worship. How should we conduct a meeting where true believers can have the Lord’s Supper and worship in spirit and truth? May I be allowed to offer a suggestion? Although there are no “rules” proscribed in the New Testament, the following mode of worship at the Lord’s Supper has been adopted by a number of Christians over many years:

Brothers are free to suggest a hymn that is sung by all. All the brothers who wish to pray do so (one by one, of course) as they feel led. At some point, one brother will go to the table, pray, break the bread and pass it on; he will next pray in connection with the cup (wine) and pass it on. This latter service is not that of any special person, nor does the same person do it every week. Remember we explained above that gift is not prominent in worship. Before and after the “breaking of bread” there are hymns and prayers of praise. And sometimes a brother will stand and deliver a brief word from the scriptures. There is no fixed order, but it is orderly.

But even this mode of worship can become an outward form unless it is under-pinned by personal nearness to Christ.

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MM May 2013

Acknowledgement: “On Worship”, J.N. Darby, Vol. 7, Collected Writings