Tom M. Roberts
Ft. Worth, Texas
Man is a worshiping creature. The annals of history attest to this wherever written or archaeological records have been found. Literally every nation on earth, whether they worship Jehovah of the Bible or not, have been found to be a worshiping people. It is a matter of fact that philosophies of thought which reject God as the Supreme Being of the universe still recognize that man, generally, looks outside himself to something greater and directs reverence to it. Some philosophers debate whether this tendency to worship is explained by an evolved awareness or historical traditions or by something yet unproven. Bible believers accept that man has an innate need to worship which was placed within him at the creation. As a free will being, man may choose either to worship his Creator or something else, but he must worship.
It is outside the scope of this material to argue that Jehovah of the Scriptures is worthy of our worship. Such belief can be and has been defended in numerous places. Your acceptance of Jehovah must be assumed in this study as we direct our attention to matters based upon the premise that man is a worshiping creature. To deny this is to deny not only the Scriptures which explain this phenomenon, but secular history as well. With this understood, we next need to determine how man may direct this worship to God in an acceptable fashion. Mankind worships, but often this worship is vain. Jesus said, "In vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men" (Matt. 15:9). We must learn how to worship God in a manner pleasing to Him.
What Makes Any Worship Valid?
An act of worship within itself does not make it right before God. It is not the action (fervency, frequency or sincerity) of worship which lends it validity or value, but the object of that worship. To illustrate, let us contrast the worship of an idol with that of Christ. Surely we must admit that among those who are idolaters are found those who by fervency, frequency and sincerity declare their faith in the idol to be as qualitative as those who believe in God. One would be hard pressed to prove that an idolater who sacrificed a first-born child to his god loved that god less than we love Christ when we have not made such a sacrifice. But if worship that is so sacrificial is vain, why is that so? Friend, it is because true worship takes its power, its value, its validity from the object that is worshiped. An idol is nothing but the product of one's imagination; Jesus Christ is God, the "living One." An idol is a representation of a created thing; Jesus is the Creator (John l:lff). For worship to be of any value, it must have God as its object and do His will.
How Does One Determine True Worship?
But even among those who worship Jehovah, there are those whom Jehovah will not accept as true worshipers. The Old Testament is replete with examples of worshipers whom God rejected (Nadab and Abihu, Nu. 26:61; Israel, Amos 5:21; etc.). How can we know the difference between the true and the false, between the accepted and the rejected? I suggest that we can be sure of worship that God accepts only as God expresses Himself about what He wills and wants. Jesus asserted of Him, "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be his worshipers. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23, 24). In this passage, we see a number of things. First of all, God seeks us to worship Him. Secondly, there are true worshipers and false worshipers (note the context). Thirdly, true worship must consist of worship that is of the spirit and according to truth. God does not seek ritual worship or unauthorized worship.
Men have long been asking, "What is truth?" (John 18:38). Some continue to ask as though there has been no answer. Jesus has stated, "Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17). Acceptable worship is worship that is according to truth and the truth is defined by what the Scriptures teach. Hence we are seeking to find what is "scriptural worship." Nothing else is worthy of our consideration. Feelings, traditions, popularity, etc. are not bases on which we determine true religion. It must be based on a "thus with the Lord."
New Testament Worship Is Scriptural Worship
No better example of scriptural worship can be given than that of the Scriptures themselves. The New Testament church was led by the apostles under the headship of Christ (Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:18) as the Scriptures were being written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We can be assured that we are on safe ground when we imitate approved apostolic examples (Phil. 4:9). The true and faithful disciple of Christ will attempt to follow these scriptural patterns and not invent unscriptural ideas or follow traditional practices which are not rooted in God's word.
So far as the various words for "worship" are concerned, the New Testament indicates that worship is an act of devotion or praise (either public or private) or an act of service directed toward God. Various words used in the text describe the action of worship as "to make obeisance, do reverence," "to revere, stressing the feeling of awe or devotion," or "to serve, to render religious service or homage" (cf.: Thayer, Vine, etc.). The church of Jesus Christ in the first century, from its beginning in Acts 2, worshiped God. The definitions used above described their worship. Can we find a better example to follow in our worship today than this New Testament church? Would any deny that what they did under the direction and approval of the Holy Spirit and the apostles was pleasing to God? Let us examine the Scriptures to learn what these early Christians did in worship to God. The New Testament reveals that the first century church offered these acts of worship and service to God:
Items of Scriptural Worship
Prayer: Worshiping people are praying people, as were the early disciples. ". . . prayer was made earnestly of the church unto God. . ." (Acts 12:5). "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). Please read also: Romans 15:30; Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:17.
Singing: Worshiping people are people who sing. The New Testament church did not use choirs, quartets or special singing groups in their worship. They practiced congregational singing. It should be noted that music is mentioned nine times in the New Testament and, without exception, singing is specified. New Testament Christians sang as they worshiped. No instruments of music were used until centuries later as unauthorized practices began to multiply. If the apostles and early Christians were guided by the Holy Spirit in their worship, it should strike us as significant that the Holy Spirit did not authorize anything but vocal music. Note carefully these passages: Matt. 26:30 (Mk. 14:26); Acts 16:25; Rom. 15:9; 1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:12 and As. 5:13). We can know that our worship is scriptural when we sing praises to God.
Lord's Supper: Before ascending back to heaven, Jesus gave the apostles instruction about a memorial feast to be observed "in the kingdom" (Matt. 26:29). He shared this first supper with them and, through the apostles, set it in the church for regular observance (Acts 2:42). The Holy Spirit revealed to Paul (who was not present at the first supper) how it was to be observed. The church at Corinth was observing the supper but not in accordance with truth and Paul wrote to correct it (1 Cor. 11:17-34). Likewise, he was present at Treas. when the church there met to remember the Lord's death by eating the feast (Acts 20:7). By reading these Scriptures we learn that the early disciples, with apostles present, ate the supper regularly on the first day of the week. No other day is authorized. Every week has a "first day." Scriptural worship includes eating the Lord's supper upon the first day of the week, every week.
Giving: Worshiping people are people who give to the Lord. New Testament Christians were liberal in their giving. Whereas the Old Testament specified that an Israelite was to give a tenth of all (tithe), the New Testament does not state any given amount. Rather, the principle is given that we are under a better covenant with better promises (Heb. 8:6), having a better sacrifice (Heb. 9:23). We are to give accordingly, with abounding liberality (2 Cor. 8:2), with a ready mind (8:12), not sparingly (9:6) but cheerfully (9:7). Such giving is to take place on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1, 2), as is the Lord's supper. No Scripture supports the church being engaged in business to raise funds, begging from the world at large or selling literature or anything similar to raise funds. When Scriptural giving is faithfully observed, the Lord's church will have the funds necessary to fulfill its vital work. Giving can be considered an act of worship since funds are contributed to God to support God's work. Failure to give is failure to worship in this matter.
Teaching or Preaching: Worshiping people are evangelistic. Some have wondered whether or not teaching or preaching should strictly be considered as an act of worship. As we have seen with the definition of words used in the New Testament for worship, it is not only "to make obeisance, do reverence," but also "to serve, to render religious service or homage." Preaching God's word can be correctly understood as an act of worship in the light of this definition. While teaching and preaching are directed toward men, it is an act of service to God. Paul felt an obligation toward God to preach to lost men and said, "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16). He considered preaching the gospel to be a stewardship entrusted to him from God (v. 17), indicating that preaching was a service to God concerning something that belonged to God and not to God and not Paul. Other passages that stress the importance of this act are: Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 5:42; 8:4; Acts 15:35; 1 Cor. 15:1ff; Gal. 1:6-9; Eph. 2:17; 3:8; Col. 1:23; 2 Tim. 2:2.
Be Content With Scriptural Worship
As we have seen, man is a worshiping creature, but he often is not careful to worship scripturally. If we are claiming to be Christians, we should learn to be content with scriptural worship. We have learned that scriptural w6rship is worship that God has ordered, worship that pleases God. If it pleases God and fails to please us, there is something wrong with us. There are those who complain that they cannot "feel right" unless they worship in some way other than, different from and in addition to scriptural worship. Such has it always been with people whose main concern is "will worship" (Col. 2:23) instead of "true worship" (Jn. 4:23, 24). Which is it with you? Are you among those whom God seeks to be His worshipers because they seek to worship God in spirit and in truth? Remember, "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov. 14:12). It is our prayer that you will seek the worship which pleases God and through it, direct the reverence and devotion of your heart to the throne of Him Who is worthy of all our soul's adoration.