Second, worship is Spiritual.
The next words in our main text instruct us to worship God (who is the object of our worship) in “spirit and truth”.
Now before we look at the text let us remind ourselves something vital. When Christ came to earth, the way of worship by His coming has changed. That is, the old manner on worship, which was mostly outward worship that characterized the temple of the old covenant was slowly vanishing. And it was being replaced with a new way. The new way is also determined by the written Word of God. Some even in Jesus day desired to go beyond the written word by creating manmade traditions which they believed were in harmony with God’s will. We see this in Matthew 15:3 when the Lord said to the Pharisees “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?“. Though it was ‘the regular way of worship ‘for them, Christ does not see that as an excuse to violate His Law of worship. Thus He introduces to them the way they ought to worship God. And if we look carefully in our text John 4:23 we read our Lord stating “But the hour cometh, and now is,“ now is that time “when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth“. When He said ‘now is‘; He meant that this very time of His arrival was the time that He appointed that the worship of God would change. From old childish ways, to the new way. The symbolic worship of the temple were not needed. For true worshippers will worship God in a manner which is consistent of honoring Him according to His nature.
The heart and soul, inward worship.
The word “Spirit” does not refer about the Holy Spirit, but rather it directs us to the human person. It directs our intention on how we (the worshippers) ought to worship God. We ought to worship God not with rituals or any outward expressions. Not putting so much emphasis on the external, but rather on the internal.
God looks at the heart and soul. And He sees more clearly than anyone else in the room who is genuinely worshipping God. That is worship, “a product of heart and soul“. And so we need to have the right heart and attitude when we come to give praise to God. When the Lord Jesus Christ said to worship God in ‘Spirit‘, He meant that the worshippers must be in the Spirit of God. That is, it must be keeping with the nature of God, that since God is Spirit, that He is a Holy God, a Righteous God, full of Majesty and Glory, hence the logical conclusion would be that we must worship God according to the knowledge of His character. We should consider then what is pleasing and acceptable to God in worship.
Stephen Charknock wrote “Nothing in the whole law of nature, as it is informed or religion, was clearer next to the being of God, than this manner of worshipping God with the mind and spirit.‘ ‘Man cannot consider himself as a thinking, understanding being, but he must know that he must give God the honor of his thoughts, and worship him with those faculties whereby he thinks, wills and acts.‘ ‘We cannot think of him but with our minds, nor love him but with our will; and we cannot worship him, without the acts of thinking and loving, and therefore cannot worship him without the exercise of our inward faculties.“ (A Charnock, On the Attributes Vol 1, A Discourse of Spiritual Worship, London: The Religious Track Society, reprinted edition from the edition of 1684, p.250)
Worshipping God in Spirit is in the inward worship of the mind and soul. Indeed, our minds must be (genuinely) excited and passionate on the Lords Day, singing and hearing our own voices sing loud the truths of God’s glorious word. Our spirit must be desiring, wanting to lift our voices and allow our spirits to focus on Him alone. I explained to someone that for me Sunday is the Lords day. It is all about Him and praise to Him and thanksgiving to Him for all that He is. Furthermore, we must remember, that we do not go to Sunday worship for our own pleasures or for our own entertainment or for the music to uplift us from the difficult week we deal with. No, all this is focusing on the wants of self. Rather, we ought to say, that we give up, our bodies, our minds and our spirit‘s to the Lord Jesus in the Spirit of God (Romans 12:1-2). For example “Aesthetic relativism states that there are no standards by which artistic creativity may be measured; it is merely a matter of taste“(T.D. Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns, P&R Publishing, 2010, p.53).
But this is not the Spiritual Worship that God commands from us, but rather it is a fleshly one. We are not the standard on how we worship God, God is! The Christian, has already been given instructions on how to worship God, by God himself. That is, we sacrifice our fleshly desires on the altar by refusing to worship according to our own knowledge and personal taste, and focus on what is acceptable worship before our Lord and Savior. Worship is self-denial. I don‘t come for the music or the entertainment, I come for God and to do His will and sing His glorious works. All this is based on the fact that God is Holy and therefore we ought to worship Him in the spirit of God. Allow me to expound what i mean by that.
The opposite of Spiritual worship.
First, let us consider to look at the opposite side of the coin. The opposite of Spiritual Worship is Aesthetic worship. Aesthetic worship can be defined in this way: it “is the idea that things that are beautiful, artistic or skillfully executed should be offered up as an expression of worship to God.“ (P.Masters, Worship in the Melting Pot, Wakeman Trust, 2002, p.15). That is, the primary focus is not only the internal but so much the external performance that one does, whether it’s with their hands, voice, skills in music etc. But isn‘t that resembling the way they did things in the old covenant in the temple worship? Offering up sacrifices to God as a form of worship? As a form of meritorious expression of worship? And was not that which Roman Catholicism adapted into their worship services? Their Mases and images and the rich music is an attempt to make an offering to God in worship by doing these thing. This is a fleshly manner of worship. There is nothing spiritual and holy about it.
Though we are to worship God with a sense of reverential awe and desire to praise Him with all our soul, mind and heart, we do not do so because God needs us to prove ourselves and earn His favor for salvation or acceptance. We don‘t worship to count it as a merit of earning our way into heaven. For the Scripture say that no matter how much we do to perform, “none is righteous, no not one“ “for all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God“ (Romans 3:10,23). Because there was one sacrifice and one offering made once and for all for the forgiveness of all our sins. For us to be able to access to God we needed to do the will of God by following His standards, but we could not, mankind failed to obey the law. But Christ was able. And very much so He was qualified to be our Mediator and our Savior. His death was the acceptable sacrifice that allows us now to come to God in a sense of not only in awe and reverence, but now with gratitude and joy. Because while we were enemies of God, he choose to save wretched sinners like us. If you are a Christian, this is true for you.
Charnock quoting from someone else “God regards not the multitude of the sacrifices, but the disposition of the sacrifice“. (Ibd,p250). What he meant was, that no matter how much the worshipper performs outwardly to impress God, if he does it out a heart of pride and ignorance, believing that the worship which he presents is better and more accessible to God that what he has already been said in God‘s word; then his worship is not acceptable. Why? Because it is the worshipper who is meek and humble that God welcomes. The one who desires to place himself below God and submit to what God has already ordained to be the manner of worship is the true worshipper. The disposition of the worshipper‘s heart is a heart of humility in the Spirit of God. His worship is inward and deep, for he thinks, therefore He worships God in the depths of his soul. And He worships God according to the nature of God‘s being. Since God is Spirit, thus, we must also worship Him in a spiritual manner.
That is what we mean by Spiritual worship. Our hearts and thoughts of God alone, knowing who He is and what He has done are the true flames that melt in our hearts which make spiritual worship acceptable to God. Why? Because it brings about genuine feelings which are not motivated or uplifted by the music style, but rather they are enriched and founded upon the truths about God, that we read and hear in the Psalms and in our hymn books. Our emotions are lifted up as it where because of the person and character of God the Trinity. Christ said ‘spirit and in truth‘, that is, genuine desires founded upon a genuine love of the truth about God’s character and being.
The role of Music in worship and genuine feelings for God’s truth.
As I have shown you that God looks at the inward position of our minds and souls, the focus on genuine feelings coming from the truths that we sing, there is the false kind of emotions that God does not accept. Often i see worshippers tell me that they need the music to express worship to God, or else they will not have the right sense of God’s presence. As if the instruments can assist in doing such a thing to bring us closer to God; is rather closer to believing in forms of mysticism. Music may well assist us in a special way, for example, with the learning of hymns or psalms to direct us how the tune is. (Personally I don’t believe that it is a fundamental thing, for the early church worshipped God without instrument’s). However, music is not to be used as an expression to ‘enrich ‘our worship to God. Music needs skills, talent and external focus in order to do well. This again is what the Old Testament worship was in the Temple which now Christ has directed us that it has changed. There is no need of outward performance and skillful playing anymore. The New Covenant demands that we obey Christ by faith alone. Trusting that His merits have pleased the Justice of God and thus through His works alone we have the mercies of God and have access to God (Romans 5:1-2). Now we are saved; we are to be sanctified and enjoy worshipping our King with the way that He commands us to.
As I have stated earlier, God is particularly focusing on our internal position. Hence, Music cannot assist us in expressing that. If we believe it can; we go back into aesthetic worship which is not what God commanded us to follow.
There are many churches that have made music the main emphasis on how we worship God. And all the people become driven and excited, passionate, not because of the words in the lyrics but because the music is so dominating that they have entered into a state of emotionalism. It is not right for a Church to try and make someone feel the way they want, by manipulating those feelings with music. God sees this kind of worship as not a genuine love for God. Thus the music itself does not enrich the worshipper, it makes him a fake. Once we take away the music, they feel empty all the sudden; for they have not learned to worship God in Spirit and in truth. Things that are spiritual last and endure, whereas fleshly worship does not endure and cannot enrich and feed our souls. So we must not accept statements like ‘the music enriches the worship‘. Music helps us to be disciplined in the tune of the song, but in a spiritual sense it offers nothing (Isaiah 64:6-7). Let us consider this question also: is not the aesthetic way of worship the way Cain offered his offering to God? God accepted Abel because His offering was acceptable to God and Cain’s wasn‘t. Abel had a right mind and a right heart before God.
So what is spiritual worship?
True worship is a matter of the heart and not our performance. If our hearts and our minds are content without the outward expression of music and skillful styles of singing or playing guitar and performance, then we find ourselves in a genuine state of true worship. Because our souls and our hearts communicate to God with the help of the Holy Spirit to worship Him with real feelings towards the truths proclaimed in the singing or in the preaching. It is also helpful to remind ourselves that God is not impressed with things done of the flesh (aesthetic relative worship). Anyone who thinks that God is impressed and satisfied with the playing of a guitar on stage as if you are in the X-Factor or in a Rock and Roll concert, with the sweat and energy of your body moving and impressing the crowd, is one who thinks of God in ignorance. Can Deity have any interest in something so vile and so rubbish as the human flesh? Not at all. One Puritan wrote “The excellency of God’s nature, and the excellent constitution of human faculties, concur naturally to support this persuasion.“ that God is to be worshipped in Spirit and in truth; is comfortable to His nature and acceptable to His Spirit.
Thus, to worship God in this manner; is His right to command us to do so. This has always been the requirement of God to man.