Man is, by nature, a worshipping creature. Since the very beginning of time, man has sought to worship something or someone. In all lands and all ages, with or without the Bible, wherever man has lived on the earth, there has been the innate desire to worship.

When one considers the Bible, they see that it was not designed to teach man to worship, but what and how to do so. The word “worship” is found 108 times in the King James Version of the Bible, where we note that man is to make the God of heaven the true object of our worship. In this article, we want to examine four kinds of worship found within the Bible. 

VAIN WORSHIP

We begin by noticing the words found in Matthew 15:1-3, 7-9. In verse two, the Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus, “Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” The phrase, “the tradition of the elders,” signified the religious customs or precepts that had been handed down from generation to generation. These “traditions” were considered as sacred and binding as the written law.

The Jewish leaders taught that when Moses was on Mount Sinai, two sets of laws were delivered to him. One, they say, was a written record, while the other was handed down from father to son and from generation to generation. These “traditions,” they claim, were of an oral nature. It is believed that before Moses died he delivered the oral laws to Joshua, and who delivered them to the Judges, who delivered them to the prophets, so that they were kept pure until they were recorded in the Jewish Talmud. (The Talmud is the collection of ancient Jewish writings that forms the basis of Jewish religious law.)

The traditions were strictly enforced, and punishment for violation of them was just as severe as the punishment for violating the written law.

In verse two, the scribes and Pharisees had observed that the disciples of Jesus had not washed their hands prior to eating. Their oral tradition said, “He who eats bread with unwashed lands is as bad as if he were to commit fornication.” Of course, this absurdity was not taught in the Law of Moses. In verse three and following, Jesus drew a distinction between their traditions and the Word of God. He replied to their question by asking, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?”

In the following verses, Jesus went on to point out one of many conflicts between God’s commands and the traditions of the Jewish people. As He did so, He clearly taught that the Word of God must be held sacred above the traditions of men. He showed that the traditions were nothing more than the words of men while the Law of Moses was the Word of God. He went even further, and declared that their worship was “vain” (Matthew 15:9). The word “vain” means “empty, worthless, and fruitless, to no avail, without force of efficacy.” In short, Jesus said that the worship based upon the traditions of men was unacceptable to God.

In view of this, one might ask, “In what way was their worship vain?” To which we answer, they had substituted the commandments of men for the commandments of God. The washing of hands before the eating of a meal was harmless and commendable. As an act of cleanliness, it did not interfere with any part of God’s commands. Yet, when made a religious act, it was considered by Jesus to be “vain.”

It is presumptuous sin to add anything to the worship of God however “harmless” or “commendable” the act might be in our sight. Doing so constitutes an infringing upon the legislative prerogatives of God. When it comes to worship, as it is in all areas of life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), God’s part is to give the command and man’s duty is to obey what He has said.

When it comes to “vain” worship, the lesson is this. If men perform religious acts or service that God has not commanded or authorized, they become “vain” in the sight of God. Many present day applications can be made such as the counting of beads, the burning of incense, or the use of mechanical instrumental music.

IGNORANT WORSHIP 

In Acts 17:16-31, Luke writes of the confrontation of the Apostle Paul with those at Athens. In verse 23, Paul said, “I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” Those, to whom Paul spoke, were considered by him to be very “superstitious” or religious (Acts 17:22). We learn from this that it is not enough to be religious, but that one must be religiously right (Matthew 7:21-23).

The Athenians had not only erected altars to all the “gods” they knew about, but they had even erected one “to the unknown God,” just in case they missed one. We have to admire their religious zeal. However, Paul charged them with worshipping in ignorance. This reminds us of the words of Paul to the Roman brethren who had “…a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.” (Romans 10:2).

While confessing that they did not know Him, the God who they ignorantly worshipped, was the God Paul proposed to make known unto them in order they might worship Him properly. Since they acknowledged their ignorance of God, Paul would tell them the truth about Him. As he did so, he presented the true character and nature of God, which distinguished Him from all other “gods.” In verse 24, Paul speaks of God who “…made the world and all things therein . . .” and that He “. . . dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” Paul’s point was handmade temples were far too small to contain God. If the magnificent temple of Solomon in Jerusalem could not contain Him (1 Kings 8:27), surely the Athenian shrine could not do so.

In verse 25, Paul points out that God is not “. . .  worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing,” which they could supply, seeing “he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.”

He went on, in verse 26, to tell them that God “. . . hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth, . . .” Paul’s point was this; God is not the God of only one nation. He created every nation, and made them all from one man. In this statement, Paul struck down all imagined justification for the belief that the Greeks were superior to the barbarians, as well as all present day claims of racial superiority.

His words play havoc with the evolutionary theory that man is nothing more than that which has evolved over a period of millions of year. Under the microscope, animal blood and human blood are clearly distinguishable, while there is no distinction between the bloods of the various races. The same God that made the world, and all the creatures in it, will judge the world through His Son, Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30, 31).

In view of all of this, the evidence is available to sustain the knowledge of the existence and power of God. As with the Romans, it is not that man cannot know of His character and nature, it is because man has chosen to not know (Romans 1:18-22). If our worship is based on ignorance rather than knowledge, it is because we have rejected the ability to know what He would have us to know.

WILL WORSHIP

The Apostle Paul, in Colossians 2:23, introduces us to the concept of “will worship” with these words, “Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” The term “will worship” has reference to the kind of action engaged in because one seeks to please themselves, and not because they are commanded by the Lord to worship or serve in this way.

This kind of worship is rooted in the premise, “If it is not expressly forbidden, then it must be all right to do it.” However, this would allow for virtually anything in the name of worship. Such things as animal sacrifices, burning of incense, mechanical instrumental music, clapping of hands, humming, dancing, etc. would all fit here as being things not expressly forbidden with a “thou shalt not.”

Within the Scriptures, we find numerous examples of individuals who practiced “will worship.” Cain would be our first example as seen in Genesis 4:1-5 and Hebrews 11:4. We acknowledge that God rejected Cain’s sacrifice (Genesis 4:4, 5) because Cain wanted to worship God the way he wanted to. Thus, a classic example of “will worship.”

King Saul, in 1 Samuel 15, sought to do as he wished rather than doing what God commanded. God had plainly instructed him to “utterly destroy” the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3). However, Saul spared the Amalekite king and some of the animals for sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:9). It could be said that his intentions were good in that he wanted to worship God with the sacrifice of the animals that he kept. However, God saw it differently (1 Samuel 15:22, 23).

Religious denominations use mechanical instruments of worship, and observe religious holidays (i.e. Christmas and Easter), all in the name of worship. However “good” their intentions may be, they are plainly violating the teachings of the New Testament. We must keep in mind the words of Paul in Colossians 3:17, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. 

When questioned concerning their actions, our friends often say something like, “Well, the Bible doesn’t say not to.” This is nothing more than an argument from silence. It is “will worship” plain and simple. Stop and consider what could be practiced in view of the suggestion that unless something is expressly forbidden it is allowed. For example, where is the New Testament passage that expressly forbids the use of cornbread and milk for the Lord’s Supper? I recall reading of a man visiting a prisoner who desired to take the Lord’s Supper. The visitor was not allowed to bring in any kind of open container with the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine in it. Since the New Testament does not expressly forbid substitution of other items, this person substituted a Twinkie and Grape Soda Pop. If it must be expressly forbidden, then how would we say what he did was wrong?

The simple fact is there are several ways in which authority is found within the Bible. An express rule is one such way, but it is not the only way. Things are allowed or forbidden based upon the principle of exclusion, such as in the case of Noah and the ark. When he was instructed by God to use “Gopher wood” (Genesis 6:14), this included all that God wanted and excluded every other type of wood in existence. To use another type of wood would have been a case of Noah doing as he desired rather than what God desired.

TRUE WORSHIP

In John chapter 4:19-24 Jesus, while discussing with the woman at the well her questions concerning worship, provides us with information dealing with worship that is “in spirit and in truth.” In the past, the worship of God had been confined to one particular place. The Samaritans (racially mixed Jews) worshipped God at Mount Gerizim in contrast to the Jews who worshipped Him “in Jerusalem.” Now, though, things are about to change. God no longer desires to be worshipped at a specific place but, rather, to be worshipped “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23, 24).

In consideration of Jesus’ words in John 4:24, concerning how worship is to be conducted, we note that He sets forth three elements of true worship.

First, the element of whom it is to be worshipped. God is the right object of our worship, as seen here and in such passages as Matthew 4:10 and Revelation 22:8.  All worship is to be directed at God.

Second, worship must be “in spirit.” The idea here is that the right attitude or motive must be a part of the way we worship God. Proper worship must be prompted by the right motive, with a deep desire to meet heaven’s approval. When such is done, the other types of worship that we have considered will be eliminated. The right attitude behind any thing assists in seeing that whatever is under consideration happens the way it should.

Third, worship must be “in truth.” Jesus has in mind here the right way to worship. As we have already noted, just “any ole way” of worshipping God is unacceptable. When one worships God “in truth” they are doing so consistent with the Word of God, which is truth (John 17:17). To worship God “in truth” is to worship Him according to His directions found within the New Testament. It is imperative that we do all that He authorizes and requires. Nothing more and nothing less will be acceptable to God. Notice that Jesus places emphasis on the necessity of worship being “in spirit and in truth” when he says that the one who worships God “must” do so this way. The word “must” comes from the Greek word “dei,” meaning “it is necessary” or one “ought” to do such and such. In this case, it is “necessary” to worship as the Lord prescribed.

All three of these elements must be present in our worship today, just as they were in the first century. We can make this test in all of our acts of worship: prayer, singing, preaching, giving, and the Lord’s Supper. If what we do is not consistent with the proper attitude and truth then it must not be done.

As we seek to worship God, let us strive to make our worship pure and scriptural. Let us see to it that our worship is not in vain, it is not ignorant worship, and it is not self-serving worship, but that it is true according to the New Testament order.

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