Worship is important to God so it should be important to us. He deserves it and desires it. But does that mean that we can offer Him whatever we want and assume that it is acceptable to Him?
To begin with, what exactly is worship? The English word worship is rooted in the idea of worth and generally means to revere or value someone or something. That’s not the exact meaning of the original Bible words that we translate as worship. Sometimes when words are translated from the Bible languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), there may not be an exact equivalent word in English. That’s the case with the word worship. Knowing the meaning of the original words that we translate into English as worship can help us better understand what God means. (Strong’s concordance is a good resource for this.) The most common Hebrew word for worship in the Old Testament is shachah. It means “to bow down” and conveys an obvious picture of submission. In the New Testament, the most common Greek Word for worship is proskuneo. It means “to kiss the hand”. This word symbolizes the idea of showing respect to someone deemed worthy of it. When used in relation to worshiping God, both words involve much more than mere physical posture, respect, or worth. They express high honor and deep humility: honor to the one receiving the worship, and humble submission on the part of the worshiper.
With that in mind, there seems to be a lot of confusion today about what is acceptable worship. Some would say that worship is a subjective thing, that each person should decide for themselves what is right. Others have suggested that if you don’t worship in a certain way then you haven’t really worshiped at all. Is it an action, an attitude, an event? There are many voices out there… and lots of opinions. But, have you ever wondered what God says about the matter? Thankfully we don’t have to wonder. God has spoken.
In John 4 we find Jesus sitting by Jacob’s well outside the Samaritan town of Sychar. It’s noon and a woman comes alone to draw water. She’s needy – thirsting for something more than the well could offer. It’s in this setting that Jesus lays a foundation for our understanding of true and false worship. When Jesus addressed the woman’s spiritual need she responded by comparing the religions of the Jews and Samaritans. This is how their conversation went:
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:19-24 (NKJV)
Notice what Jesus said about worship in the last two verses (underlined). Let’s take a closer look.
True worshipers: It’s interesting that Jesus uses the word “True”. What’s at the heart of this word? Joseph Thayer, a guy who really knows the Greek language describes it’s original meaning. He says: “that which has not only the name and resemblance, but the real nature corresponding to the name, in every respect corresponding to the idea signified by the name, real, true genuine”.
True worshipers are authentic – they aren’t fake. They’re not pretenders. They are known by God to be real, genuine worshipers.
True worshipers will worship the Father. It’s not about themselves, it’s about Him. He is the focus of their worship. Sadly, worship has been turned upside down in many places. Rather than worshiping the Lord from a position of humility and reverence, some have chosen to elevate and honor themselves, believing that God must delight in their high view of themselves. They have taken center stage where the worshipers are the focus of attention. But Jesus is clear, true worshipers will worship the Father.
True worshipers will worship in spirit and truth. This is opposite of the worship both the Jews and the Samaritans practiced. The Jews were not authentic worshipers. Though they made a good showing on the outside, their hearts were far from God (Mt 15:7-9). Neither their ceremonies, nor their place of worship made them true worshipers of God. The Samaritans came up with their own hybrid faith. As they mixed God’s truth with the false religions and practices of the nations around them (2 Ki 17:33-34), they ended up worshiping what they did not know, and it was unacceptable to God.
We worship a God who is Spirit, and it is with our spirit that we worship Him. The emphasis is no longer on the outward, but rather the inner posture of our spirit. The protocol has changed from physical ceremonies to spiritual sacrifices (1Pe 2:4-5). We worship as our very lives are bowed-down in willing submission to the Father, revering Him with our hearts. Our ability to worship in spirit begins when we’re saved. In the previous chapter (John 3), Jesus said to Nicodemus that if he wanted to see the Kingdom of Heaven he must be born again. In explaining what He meant, Jesus said, That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Jn 3:6) To be born again is to be born of the Spirit… to be born into God’s family. That’s when our spiritual life begins. Then, as we walk in His Spirit (Ga 5:16,25), we are able to offer true worship from our spirit within us.
We worship a God of Truth (Dt 32:4). Truth is essential to true worship. Good intentions don’t insure that God is pleased with what we offer Him. If we worship God apart from truth, we are offering Him something contrary to His nature. God has given us His Spirit and His Word to show us what truth is (Jn 16:13). They are inseparable and consistent. The Holy Spirit will never lead us to do something that disagrees with what God has said in His Word. True worship flows from a heart that is sincerely motivated to worship God in a manner consistent with His Truth. True worshipers will gladly place high value on God’s Word because His Word is Truth (Jn 17:17)
The Father is seeking true worshipers. What an amazing thought. The Father is looking for those who will worship Him in spirit and truth. Notice that He is not looking for pretenders. He’s not interested in those who worship themselves or their culture in His name. He’s not seeking people who idolize various expressions of worship. The Father is seeking those who will worship Him on His terms.
Those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth. Jesus uses a strong word here – translated as “Must”. He doesn’t leave any wiggle room. If you want to be a true worshiper you must worship in spirit and truth. It’s not an option to worship God in any other way. Anything else is false, unacceptable worship. No amount of outward expression, sincere motivation, or self-theologizing will change the standard that Jesus set for those who are true worshipers of the Father.
There are other principles and boundaries that God has given to guide us in worship including love (1Co 13), order (1Co 14:40), liberty (Ga 5:13-14), and warnings (Dt 12:30-31). There’s plenty more to consider. But what Jesus said in John 4 provides us the solid foundation we need to understand God’s design for worship. God desires the bowed-down life… the living sacrifice of our lives (Ro 12:1-2). If our worship is to be acceptable to Him, it must be genuine, flow from a humble and submissive spirit, and be guided by Truth. These are the marks of a true worshiper. Does this characterize you? Is your worship acceptable to your Creator? Consider what He says, and let’s commit ourselves to become the worshipers that the Father seeks. If we really love Him, we really shouldn’t want anything less.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.