What are the elements of true worship according to the Bible?
In John 4:24 it is written :
“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth“.
First, true element of worship begins with knowing God, the object of our worship.
The Lord here explains the nature of God that He is a Spirit. Then He present’s to us an important element that must be used in worship and it is absolutely necessary. Another fact to point out, is that because God is spirit, He is to be treated with reverence. What do I mean? I mean that God is not to be looked as normal, for He is Holy. We are not to think that God will accept the way we usually like worship as if he is anything like us. No, God is Spirit. And so, we must understand that when He instructs us to worship Him, it will be different with the way the world worships its idols and its music. So this, in short, is the beginning of our study, that God is to be worshipped with Reverence. With respect and honour. Worship on Sunday is not merely about us singing about God or singing of our experience with God. It is worshipping Holy God with awe. It is knowing that we are not worshipping a human idol, but the true and living God the one who sustains all things! So much of worship involves knowing who God is.
My journey first began when it dawn on me that the style of music and the lyrics that I used to love as a young Christian, where not biblical. Found out not because I read books on hymns and psalms. And I did not know it was so because of the regulative principle. I knew it was wrong because I was aware in those days of small portions of God’s character and Holiness. I began to think that the worldly style and taste of music did not go well with God’s Purity and Holiness. I knew that it was my Christian duty, to separate myself from the mind of this age and to be transformed by the renewing of my mind through the word of God (Romans 12:1-2). I separated myself because i am commanded to live a holy life, because God is Holy. What are the reasons for my separation? We read Isaiah 6:1-3 and we see the mighty Seraphim’s, even they, worshipping God with such reverence and awe crying out ‘HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, is the Lord host‘. Then we see Isaiah’s reaction in verse 5 “Woe is me!‘ which is a word usually said concerning judgement and condemnation (see Matthew 23). But Isaiah in a way, is humbling himself, making himself low, as if his whole being and soul bowed down before the presence of the Lord. Then He said ‘i am undone‘, as if he said ‘this is the end of me‘. Because he knew that the Holiness of God is incompatible to his uncleanness. Thus Isaiah the Prophet teaches us how we ought to look to God in our worship since He alone is the object of our Worship. This will promote a reverential spirit.
Knowing that God is Holy, also implies, that we are to worship Him with all our mind and body because He is perfect and righteous. M.Watts defines worship saying : ‘Worship is the reverence and homage that we render to the Supreme Being, through means such as praise, prayer, the reading of Scripture, and the preaching of the Word of God.‘ (Malcom Watts, What is a reform church? P46). And if we are to show reverence before God, we must also understand that since He is Almighty and Holy God, there is no one better, who can direct us and instruct on how we ought to worship God than God Himself.
Stephen Charknock that Puritan Divine, on this subject wrote: ‘The pillars upon which the worship of God stands, cannot be discerned without revelation, no more than blind Samson could tell where the pillars of the Philistanes theatre stood, without one to conduct him. What Adam could not see with his sound eyes, we cannot with our dim eyes; he must be told from heaven what worship was fit for the God of heaven.“ ( Charknock on the Attributes, vol 1, London, the religious track society, p249).
Thus, the Scriptures command us “Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Corinthians 6:20). In Psalm 29:2 we read “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.“ Jesus said to the devil and whoever follows him “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve“ (Matthew 4:10). In Romans 12:1 we see that God commands to be worshipped in a certain way that pleases Him, for it is our “reasonable service” to Him. In other words, what God commands is for our good, because He knows that this is the right way that we are supposed to enjoy Him. This is not an assumption as if it is like the way we think the likes of our friends. When we tell them to do something that they may like, we can only assume that they may like it, they may not. We bring our uncertain proposals to one another (depending how well you know them). But God brings certain and knowable proposals since He is Lord. For it is He who has made us and knows us well how we function from the inside out (Psalms 103:14). And shall not the Potter know the nature of His creation? In the same way, shall not the clay acknowledge by submitting to the nature and greatness of his creator?
And if God has commanded us on the way of worship then we must not be ignorant to make our own way of worship. We are not wiser than God. We must not allow anything to abuse or to overrule that command that God said in our lives. M. Watts adds “The law of worship is that only what God has prescribed in Scripture may be introduced into His worship, or, to put it in another form, what Scripture does not prescribe, it forbids.“ (p49).
Some have risen to object that God has said anything concerning how we must worship Him. The argument is ‘God has said nothing, therefore we can worship Him as we desire to‘. But that would also imply, logically, to welcome any form of worship which will be based according to our own personal preference. This maybe sexually immoral, sensual or worldly. But here is where we underestimate total depravity. Man is born in sin, thus it‘s will can only be immoral. Thus we will produce out of our own desires on how we worship God, sinful things. Like a tree with a bad root will produce only bad fruits. And the moment we do so, we create an idol that looks like God but it is a god of our own imagination. One who accepts our way of worship, one who is tolerant with the way the world worships God, which is in fact based on how they see and know who He is. So how should we respond?
My friend, the world does not know who God is, only believers who do. In John 14:17 the Lord said the world does not know God because they don’t have the Spirit of God “the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but you know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you“. Now, if we take a style of worship or a tradition that the world follows, how are we supposed to believe that this will be acceptable to God the Holy One? We are not talking about trivial things which do not affect the way we learn about the worshipping of God according to His nature. Rather, we are referring to things which contradict the very nature of God. It is an offense and an abomination to Him.
If we say that the Spirit of God is in this style which the world would allow openly and joyfully, then is it reasonable to question its spiritual origin or identity? That is, is it the Holy Spirit that convinced you to accept those type of styles? Off course it would be a reasonable thing to do. We commanded to test all spirit’s and be good Bereans (Acts 17:11, 1 John 4:1).
The Scriptures tell us that God has given us commands how we ought to worship Him throughout the entire Bible. In fact, if we look at the book of Exodus 20 we see the Law of God prescribing us on how God is to be worshipped. The first command declares that God alone is to be worshiped. The second commands believers to obey the instructions given by God, on how we ought to worship Him. So the first is: who we worship. And how we worship Him. When God said ‘thou shall not make unto thee any graven image‘He is talking about making an invention or a rule that God has not commanded, by making it sound that it is acceptable to God. We have made an image of god in our own mind which does not resemble the true and living God, for it is another. Watts explains “In the Hebrew, that word we read translated as make means ‘constitute’ or ‘appoint‘. So in the second commandment, God is prohibiting human beings from devising or observing anything in worship which He has not instituted.“ (p.50). Thus it is written “Ye shall not add unto the word which i command you, neither shall ye dimish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which i command you“(Deutoronomy 4:2). In the NT we see our Lord’s commands as one of them in John 4:24 “in spirit and in truth“, which we shall look next.
In Ephesians 5:19 the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit said “be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.“. What the Apostle means by ‘drunk‘ can mean not just literally by wine, but any other drug that aims to awaken our own selfish pleasures that will result by becoming foolish. The evidence that one is filled with the Spirit is that they will begin to obey God’s commands by faith. He then underlines what God has commanded in the worship service. In the praise, there should be singing of Psalms and hymns. Clear instructions. We could also remind ourselves another text, read Colossians 3:16.
What happens if we do not follow God’s commandments? There have been times when the Israelite’s did not follow the basic and clear instruction and institution of the worship that God commanded. For example, Aaron’s two sons Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1-3 were consumed with fire and died before the Lord. Why did they die? Because here is what is said: “took either of them in his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not. “ The underlining words are that God has not commanded them to worship this way. Yet they did out of ignorance. They were trained priest and they knew very well what they should have done, but instead they disobeyed God. As a result, God punished them justly. Now look at poor Aaron,.. You can imagine what protests he did in his mind; even though it does not say. I am sure most of us would react in the same way. It is understandable, he just lost two sons by a consuming fire. It is a very painful thing indeed. But the way Moses replied to him implies that Aaron had a problem understanding why God executed his sons. Moses reminded Him “This is that the Lord space, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.“ In other words, Moses reminded him that God has already directed them on how He should be worshipped by us. And that God’s Holiness must be magnified to all the people as reverential worship, not to be defiled or abused. God will be worshipped in the way He appointed. So Aaron kept silent.
Another example is in Amos 5:26 when we see how the people have quickly determined to reject the worship God has prescribed to them. And have welcomed the worship of other gods in the temple. We read: “But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves“.
Creating a worship of their own inventions and gods of their own imagination and rituals according to their own desires, they created a law of worship for their own sake. But on the other hand, the Christian worships God (as we have looked) according to God’s nature and according to the commands that God himself gave to entrust and instruct us how to worship Him (John 4:23-24).
This teaches us that it is important that we obey God’s commands by trying to study and understand what things He meant when He commanded us to worship Him. Christians who are eager to study who God is and His attributes will soon discover that God is to be worshipped quite differently from other gods and idols and other styles of worship.