When we express to the heavenly Father the adoration, praise and homage that is in our hearts, it should be beneficial to us and pleasing to God. To accomplish this two-fold purpose, such worship must be both spontaneous and scripturally directed. That is, our expressions must be made voluntarily and even enthusiastically; at the same time, such expressions must be made in response to Divine directions we have learned from the Word.
In jubilant, exuberant enthusiasm we may stamp our feet, clap our hands, scream in delirious delight, shout, cry and laugh, all of which may bring joy to our hearts and peace to our minds, and yet find no favor with God. Conversely, we may sing beautiful words of praise, pray eloquently, give generously and partake of the bread and fruit of the vine, doing all of these just because God directs such, but doing so without sincerity, humility and spiritual discernment, and still find no favor with God.
Worship: What is it? It is the offering of homage and praise to someone or something. Pattern: What do we mean by pattern? It is not merely an example but, rather, the total teaching of the Bible on the subject being considered.
God desires and expects to be worshiped (Jn. 4:23), and He asks that we worship "in spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4:24). But He has not left us to grope or to wonder what will please Him. He has very explicitly revealed that way. God knows what He wants us to do to express our worship and He knows that we are incapable of discerning His desires except as He reveals them to us. Consequently, He has given the written Word and in it He has given an absolute pattern for our worship today. He said, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9). Paul wrote that men could not know the mind of God by human mentality and, for that very reason, God has revealed such to us: ". . . so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God: that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God" (1 Cor. 2:9-12).
In every age, God has revealed His desires regarding worship. He has always hated presumptuousness. Thus, God has not only revealed to every generation what He wants, but by such revelation He has set a limitation. He has never been pleased with those who have taken the matter into their own hands and have followed human wisdom – either their own wisdom or that of other men.
Though we do not have the details of God's instruction to Cain and Abel, we know such instruction had been given (Gen. 4:4-7). Cain's error in worship was presumptuousness! We cannot be sure whether Cain offered the wrong item or if he merely offered an inferior item of the correct kind. We do know that God was very displeased with his lack of subjectiveness in the matter.
Saul lost his kingdom because he "forced himself" in making a sacrificial offering in violation of God's commandment (1 Sam. 13:8-14). God rejected and condemned those who "worship the work of their own hands" (Isa. 2:8; Jer. 1:16; Psa. 115:1-8). Of course this refers to idolatry – to the worship of images the people made but it would surely include any worship that is essentially a man-made system. We must face the reality that there is surely very little difference in worshiping a false god or in worshiping the true God in unauthorized ways! All such worship is of human wisdom, not of God's revelation.
Nadab and Abihu "offered strange fire before the Lord" and God destroyed them for disobedience (Lev. 10:1, 2). It was a very simple case of presumptuousness! From all such examples, we must surely learn that God has revealed His will and His way; we must not, dare not, disobey His Word and/or follow the way of men – either the way of our own wisdom or that of famous theologians.
We actually know very little about acceptable worship in the age of the patriarchs. We do know that such worship included sacrifice (Gen. 4:314; 8:20, 21; 13:18; 22:5, 13). It is significant, however, that God obviously revealed what sacrifices should be made, as we can necessarily infer from the story of the sacrifices made by Cain and Abel and by Noah after the flood. Actually, I believe correctness of the worship by the patriarchs depended mostly upon the sincerity and subjectiveness of the individual.
But we know much more about the worship of the Jews. Theirs includes sacrifice and various certain items were specified – animals of certain kinds and quality as well as grain, oil, wine and birds, etc. (see Num. 18:8-19). Indeed, the Jewish worship was significantly ceremonial. Favor with God seemed to depend principally on the rigid observance of the riturals and rites.
In the Old Testament dispensation, the Jews frequently neglected or rejected the God-given arrangement for their worship. For instance, some certain worship was to be done in Jerusalem (see Deut. 12:5, 11, 13; 1 Kings 9:1-3). But the ten tribes, under the leadership of Jeroboam, changed the place to Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:28-30).
Of course, in studying the reference given above, one will notice that idolatry is involved. That is, in addition to changing the authorized place for certain worship, they also set up images, etc. So we see the natural turn of events – one departure – one deviation from the pattern will inevitably lead to other departures! This was significantly true of the worship of the Jews, when one item of authorized action was violated, this usually led to other violations. One false step led to other wrong actions also. In this case, they made images, established "high places" of their own making and even changed the priesthood (see 1 Kings 12:13).
Jesus teaches us.that it has never been possible to compensate for disobedience by substituting enthusiasm in worship. He quoted from Isaiah who said, "This people honoreth me with their lips but their heart is far from me" (Isa. 29:13). So Jesus emphasizes, "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Mt. 15:9). This was not a new principle; it was an age-old principle that was always true and always will be true. A classic example is David, who, with the people, worshipped enthusiastically but disobeyed, so much so that David was forced to conclude that, ". . . our Lord made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order" (1 Chron. 13:7-10; 15:13).
The New Testament Pattern
Several features of the Jewish worship are completely eliminated in the doctrine of Christ. For instance: (1) There is no significance regarding any geographical location for any of our worship (Jn. 4:21); (2) The Sabbath day worship was repealed (Col. 2:14-17; Gal. 4:1-11, etc.); (3) The use of instrumental music in worship was eliminated in that it was not included in the New Testament pattern for praise (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16, etc.); (4) The significant ceremonial aspect of Jewish worship was replaced by that which is "in spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4:24); (5) The sacrifices that were permitted and even required under the Old Testament patterns were eliminated because of the supreme sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God, once for all (Heb. 10:10-14) and because of the superior sacrifice which we are to offer, that is, "the sacrifice of praise to God . . . the fruit of our lips . . ." (Heb. 13:15).
The New Testament pattern is very simple and uncomplicated. It involves the worshipper in direct communion with God. If we respect the positive Word of the Lord, we will find that we may express the worship that is in our hearts by singing (Eph. 5:19), by praying, teaching, giving and observing the Lord's supper (Acts 2:42). Furthermore, we find the following demanding characteristics of this simple means of worship.
1. We may express our worship in singing, prayer and study of the Word at any time, anywhere, alone or together (see Acts 16:25; Eph. 5:19, etc.).
2. We must express our worship in the Lord's supper and in giving on the first day of the week when brethren gather together for that purpose (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1, 2).
3. Thus, we may, on the Lord's day, when we will have come together for giving and for the Lord's supper, also sing, pray and study, since these latter three may be done any time.
4. If we fail not to have the Lord's supper and to give in the "togetherness" of the Lord's Day worship, we may then, on that same day, or at any other time on any other day, worship by singing, praying and/or studying. In other words, the Lord's supper and giving are specifically patterned for the first day of the week, but singing, praying and studying are patterned without regard to date, time or place.
All that we do must be done "as unto the Lord" (Col. 3:23). Indeed, it must be done "in the name of the Lord" (Col. 3:17), which simply means that we must conduct all of our worship by the authority of Christ (Jn. 14:6). He has fully revealed His will to us in the written Word (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:3, etc.). We must determine to be content with what is written – with the revealed pattern. The traditions of men, the customs of our fore-fathers or the desires of the people today are of no consequence in determining what we must do. In fact, we have no right to decide what we will do. We Pave only to discern what God has decided! Without wavering with regard to scriptural principles, we must worship God with correct attitudes and in authorized expressions. Today, let us have the honesty to examine every feature of our worship in the light of the revealed Word and then determine to worship in complete accord with the Bible pattern.