When the Lord delivered Israel from Egyptian slavery the command to Pharaoh was, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me’. There was a goal to freedom. It was not freedom to choose. Rather, it was a freedom from all restraint so they could have the ability to come unto God’s presence with an acceptable offering for Him.
The Son of God expressed the Father’s desire in the New Testament, ‘But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him’, John 4. 23.
A new way of worshipping was being introduced. First, the ‘where’ was changing from a specific mountain, where a holy building was, to those who in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord – the church, 1 Cor. 1. 2. Secondly, ‘how’ worshipping happens would be changing also. It would be from the senses (sensual) to the Spirit. In the old way one would find things like incense, priests, a choir, or praise teams that accompany worshipping. These are things that can be experienced by the senses and therefore regulated, like sight, sound and smell (too loud, too bright, too strong).
In 2 Chronicles chapter 7 we see Israel worshipping. The senses, not the spirit, were the focus of activation. Israel saw the fire come down from heaven as the glory filled the physical temple. Then ‘with their faces to the ground upon the pavement … they worshipped and praised the Lord’. In praise, the selected Levitical singers ‘sounded trumpets before them’. Also they ‘offered burnt offerings, and the fat’ ascended up with a sweet aroma.
New Testament worship that the Father now seeks occurs in the power of the Holy Spirit. He is given to every believer in Christ Jesus the Lord. The average Old Testament saint lacked the indwelling Spirit and needed outward symbols and stimuli. But things have changed from the head to the heart, from what senses could experience to what is supernaturally being produced deep inside. What matters now is being filled with the Spirit and ‘singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord’, Eph. 5. 18-21. The Spirit is unseen and intangible. One cannot manufacture, measure, market or manipulate the Spirit.
In scripture, to the surprise of some, ‘worship’ is not used as an adjective. It does not know of terms like ‘worship leader’, ‘worship team’, ‘worship music’, or even ‘worship meeting’. It does not describe something smaller than its object – who is the Lord Himself. Also, though we might sincerely use ‘worship’ as a noun, the Lord does not present it in that way in His word. The common word for worship (Hebrew, shachah / Greek, proskuneo) is not a noun in scripture. It is not the recipient of something, like, ‘this is exciting worship’. It is, rather, directed toward something, or someone – God!
‘Worship’ is a verb. It is not a thing that can be packaged or designed. It cannot be contained in one event. It is an action unto God (not unto our own likes). It involves glorifying God in thankfulness for who He is and what He has done.
Those who are worshipping usually are in the reverent position of bowing or falling down before Him in humiliation and appreciation. It can be that simple. The first mention of worshipping is Abraham, who ‘bowed [‘worshipped’ is the Hebrew word] himself toward the ground’, Gen. 18. 2.
In the heavenly throne room we see the twenty-four elders involved in worshipping five times. Each time they fall down before the Lord.1 Interestingly, the one occasion singing and music (praise) is involved as we observe the twenty-four elders falling down the word ‘worship’ is omitted, Rev. 5. 8, 9. Curiously, much of what is called worship today, the opposite of falling down occurs: performers on a lifted up stage with people having heads and hands raised high while being lavishly applauded.
To the surprise of some, the New Testament Epistles that give explicit instruction to the church (Romans chapter 1 through to Revelation chapter 3), worship (Greek, proskuneo) is only mentioned once in a positive way in a church meeting. It is in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 verse 25. It concerns the worshipping of the unlearned or unbeliever, who visits a church meeting when an orderly plurality of gift is freely operating, with the women silent, according the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Cor. 14. 37.
In Philippians chapter 3 verse 3 we worship, or serve (Greek, latreuo), in the spirit, in contrast to the flesh – the latter being outward visible rituals given to Old Testament Israel. Also, we are to present our bodies a living sacrifice which is our reasonable service (worship in some translations, Greek, latreia, always translated service in KJV), Rom. 12. 1.
The Lord also taught that worshipping is not only to be done in spirit but also in truth. If there is true worshipping, there must also be false worshipping. Not everything with the label ‘worship’ is acceptable to God. Thus, we learn of the sin of worshipping idols, Rev. 9. 20.
True worshipping is exclusively unto God alone
As the Lord told Satan, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve’. As John was told, in the last chapter of the Bible, as he was about to bow down to an angel, ‘do it not … worship God’.
Worshipping can be in vain when mixed with human traditions
The Lord Jesus said of the religion of His day, with all its public praise of God coming out of their mouths yet functioning by man-made rules, ‘But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men’, Matt. 15. 9.
Worshipping is not necessarily indicative of spirituality
King Saul sacrificed unto the Lord while disobeying the Lord’s command. He was told that ‘to obey is better than sacrifice’; this is what the Lord delights in, 1 Sam. 15. 22. The Lord then rejected his kingdom dynasty. Yet this rejected man still wanted to ‘worship the Lord’, of which Samuel the prophet was displeased.
Some think there is a ministry that is to produce worship in God’s people. Worship is viewed as a thing that can be regulated by man’s talent and ability. Some believe you cannot worship God without electricity!
In scripture, music is mentioned only once as directly producing worshipping, and that is in Daniel chapter 3 when the pagans used it. At the sound of music, all must ‘fall down and worship’ Nebuchadnezzar’s statue or image. This is not to say that singing and music don’t have a place among God’s people, but it would be more connected with praise, Ps. 69. 30. It should not be confused with worshipping.
It is revealing to see when different saints worshipped in scripture. They did not need to have a designed ‘worship atmosphere’ but it came from the heart in the most ‘non-worship’ environments.
We see the elders in Revelation worshipping the Lord for His creation and redemption, as well as His righteous judgements and right to rule. When one is occupied with the glory and grace of God the Father through His worthy Son, the Lord Jesus, in His ways, it is easy to see how worshipping Him would naturally flow.
Such an occupation is the Lord’s Supper for the church, where the death of the Lord for us is the focus in remembrance of Him.2 It is the Spirit that reveals the things of Christ to the New Testament believer, and glorifies the Lord Jesus. Therefore, if you have a people filled with the Spirit, you will have a people occupied with Jesus Christ the Lord.3
It is the Spirit in the believer’s heart that sheds abroad the love of God. And this love of God He sheds is by revealing the death of Christ for unworthy, ungodly sinners.4 So where there is a right understanding of our ruin in sin, and heart occupation with the Lord Jesus and His gracious death for us as enemies and sinners, it is not unreasonable to expect to see true worshipping occurring, that which the Father seeks. If the love of Christ Jesus, displayed on the cross for ungodly men, doesn’t evoke worship for Him I'm not sure what can!
May we bow low before the Creator, Redeemer, High Priest, Good Shepherd, Head, coming Sovereign King and righteous Judge. Then, give Him His due ‘worth-ship’ in these offices with heartfelt appreciation and obedient service.
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