(Quotations are from Revised Version)
ETYMOLOGICALLY, the word worship derives from the Anglo-Saxon weorthscipe, or ‘worthship’. The Bible everywhere teaches that God is the alone true object of worship, as words of the Lord Jesus to Satan make plain - ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve’. It is without hurt to this truth that the New Testament insists that God can be worshipped only through the Lord Jesus. Christ Himself said ‘no one cometh unto the Father, but by me’. Peter writes of ‘spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ and the writer of the Hebrew epistle exhorts ‘Through him let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually’. To worship Christ is to worship God, since in essence both are ‘one’. Worship can be said to concern the ‘worthship’ of the Lord Jesus. In any act of worship He must be central, for it to be acceptable to God.
WORSHIP COMPOSED OF A NUMBER OF ELEMENTS
Unlike many words in Bible usage, worship is a somewhat elusive word to define. The incense used in the tabernacle, which is symbolic of worship, was compounded of several elements - ‘stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; sweet spices with pure frankincense’. In the episode of the sinful woman, we have an exposition of worship compounded of a number of elements. It conforms to the true pattern of worship, in that the Lord Jesus was central in it.
Simon the Pharisee, to whose house the Lord had been invited for a meal, had shamefully neglected the normal courtesies due to a guest. He had supplied neither water nor towel for feet-washing, had failed to greet the Lord with the customary kiss and had not supplied any perfume to anoint His head. All these discourteous omissions the woman repaired in her worship of the Lord. Her tears, bedewing the Lord’s feet, did duty for Simon’s absent bason of water, her tresses took the place of Simon’s missing towel, her ardent kisses compensated for the lack of Simon’s greeting and the fragrant perfume remedied the Pharisee’s negligence in that respect. She was no ordinary sinner. Simon knew her for what she was, as also did the Lord, despite Simon’s erroneous assumption ‘This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is which toucheth him, that she is a sinner’. She was unchaste, with an unenviable reputation in the city. It is almost incredible that such a person could possibly be a living exposition of the art of worship, but, as was true of another of her class, ‘the Father seeketh such to worship him’.
‘Standing behind at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears’. There is no worship without penitence. The passover might not be celebrated without ‘bitter herbs’. Contact with the Lord Jesus brought conviction of sin. He said nothing to her, except His final word in the episode ‘Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace’. His presence was enough to bring conviction. His utter holiness and her utter sinfulness were at painful variance in her thoughts. Time was, when contact with the Lord through the preaching of the Word reduced sinners to tears and made even saints to weep, but it is a rare enough event nowadays. Is it that we fail to actualize the Lord’s presence in our preaching, so that the contact is too tenuous to bring conviction deep enough for tears ? The first charge upon worship is penitence. David wrote out of a convicted heart ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise’. There are other acceptable sacrifices, but this is the first a sinner must bring. This sinful woman had probably not wept for years, such was the hardening effect of her sin, yet she wept copiously in the presence of the Lord.
HER WORSHIP WAS PENETRATED WITH LOVE
In justifying the woman before Simon the Lord said ‘she loved much’. Her ardent kissing betokened her love. She ‘kissed much’ (Greek) His blessed feet. In contrasting Simon’s neglect with the woman’s attentions Jesus said ‘She, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet’. The traitor’s sign of betrayal was ‘much kissing’. Perfidious kisses indeed! The woman’s ‘much kissing’ was expressive of genuine love. Hers were soiled lips, yet the Lord did not disdain a harlot’s kisses, any more than He shrank from touching a leper. Wondrous grace! Simon would have scorned both her tears and her kisses, but the Lord accepted both as elements of her worship. There is no worship without love. This is at once the test of" worship and Christianity - ‘if any man loveth not the Lord, let him be anathema’. Love does not consist in pious protestations, it must express itself in deeds - ‘if ye love me ye will keep my commandments’.
HER WORSHIP WAS EXPRESSED THROUGH SACRIFICE
‘She brought an alabaster cruise of ointment… and anointed (His feet) with the ointment’. Like the Philippians’ gift to Paul, hers was a fragrant sacrifice to God, Phil. 4. 18. It was the best she could give, for of her it might also have been said ‘She hath done what she could’. In gratitude to the Lord, Levi the taxgatherer ‘made (Jesus) a great feast’. This sinful woman could not give on that scale, nonetheless, she gave her best, such as it was. Who shall say that her gift was not as acceptable as Levi’s? It is not the measure of our giving, but the cost of it, which makes it sacrificial. The widow gave only ‘two mites’, but in doing so gave ‘all she had’, which made the tiny gift sacrificial. Those who were rich gave much, but ‘of their superfluity’; it was not sacrificial. There is no worship without sacrifice. David averred ‘Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God which cost me nothing’.
HER WORSHIP WAS CROWNED WITH CONSECRATION
‘She wiped (His feet) with the hair of her head’. Her ‘glory’ was laid at His feet. This was literally the giving of herself. Mary of Bethany shares this distinction with her. There is no worship without consecration, the dedication or re-dedication of ourselves to Him. In extolling the virtues of the churches of Macedonia to the Corinthians, in citing the example of their sacrificial giving, Paul wrote they ‘first gave their own selves to the Lord’. It is our ‘reasonable service’ (mar. ‘spiritual worship’) that we ‘present (our) bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God’, the members of our bodies, formerly yielded to sin, now yielded to God. This woman’s consecrated use of her hair expressed this truth.