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  • December 2009
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ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP (15) – Bringing It All Together

Thou Shalt Worship the Lord Thy GodAt its finest, worship is an outpouring of praise to God from a grateful heart expressed in word and in deed.

Worship does not benefit God, for “He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything” (Acts 17:25a). Rather, it is the other way around. We need Him. Worship in the sense of adoration and homage recognizes this basic fact of our existence.

While men have expressed many concerns about the precise manner of worship, the New Testament gives little attention to these details. Rather, the stress of Scripture is upon the heart. This is true, even in the Old Covenant where many chapters detail the particulars of the ordinances governing worship in the Tabernacle and Temple, but many passages also rebuke the following of ordinances without serving God from the heart.

As we looked at various times when God expressed displeasure with man’s worship, we observed that the greatest displeasure was with the heart of the worshiper. He has never approved insolent or irreverent disregard for His instructions. However, when the heart of the worshipper was truly seeking Him, God accepted their worship even if it was “contrary to what was written” (2 Chronicles 30:18).

When David first went to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, he set out with 30,000 chosen men from his army. He treated it as a military expedition, not as a matter of worship. He did not enquire of the Lord how to do it – and disaster followed. After David’s anger subsided, he went to the Book of the Covenant to learn how to move the Ark. On the second attempt, he employed the priests – and involved all Israel in a festive procession that involved much praise and sacrifice. The results were far different.

The first siblings worshipped in very different ways, not because they brought different gifts – but because their hearts were different. Abel was righteous while Cain was of the evil one. While opinions about why God rejected Cain’s offering abound, when we looked at the testimony of the New Testament it was easy to see that the problem was in his heart.

The prophets of the Old Testament spoke frequently of the failure of the people to worship acceptably. Again, the problem was often that they followed the forms correctly, but were not living as God required.

Jesus, in the tradition of the prophets (in fact, quoting from Isaiah), strongly rebuked the hypocrisy of the Pharisees for giving lip service to God while their hearts were far from them. In fact, He applied these words from Isaiah to those vain worshippers.

Worship of gods other than Yahweh was never acceptable. This was true of Israel and Judah – as well as the pagans of the New Testament era. In fact, worship of these false gods was worship of demons (1 Corinthians 10:20). Thus, Paul looked to turn the Athenians away from their ignorant worship to serve the true and living God, even as the Thessalonians had turned just weeks before Paul arrived in Athens (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

Paul called false humility and worship of angels “self-imposed worship” (NIV) or “will-worship” (KJV (Colossians 2:23). These things, though, he said lack any value in bringing one into the likeness of Jesus by restraining sensual indulgence.

The worship approved of God is, first of all, humble submission of one’s whole being to God. While the word worship does not appear in Matthew 22:37 where Jesus told us the greatest commandment is to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, that passage describes true worship. When we love God that way, we will worship Him and Him alone.

Obedience to the second commandment, love your neighbor as you love yourself, also plays a part in Christian worship. We serve Jesus when we serve the least of His brethren. In serving others, we offer service to God.

All of the Christian’s life is a hymn to God, sung not with lips but in a crescendo of praise that glorifies God. When people see Jesus living in us, we offer the purest form of worship.

Even in the Christian assembly, the conduct of the congregants is a major factor in their worship. The church at Corinth had little regard for one another. Paul said more to them about correcting their abuses of worship than all the positive instruction in the New Testament about the ideal assembly. Their abuses were many. They had no regard for the poorer members of the church when they gathered to eat the Lord’s Supper. They coveted the spectacular spiritual gifts, especially the gift of tongues. They used these in ways that were disruptive in the assembly.

When unbelievers came into such an assembly, Paul said they would think you are out of your minds (1 Corinthians 14:23). On the other hand, edifying worship would help even the unbeliever to recognize that God is among you!

The assembly has as its purpose the spiritual formation of the worshippers. Real worship will edify the church. This takes place through psalms, prayers, and prophecy as Christians encourage and exhort one another as they remember their Lord in the celebration of our foretaste of the heavenly wedding feast of the Lamb.

The Christian assembly is to be joyous, festive celebration of God’s glory in the presence of the angels, all the heavenly hosts and with the spirits of just men made perfect. It is not a time to squelch the spontaneity of those who may even make themselves undignified in their joyful worship. The spirit of worship is not a spirit of rules and regulations.

Worship is not a time for personal exhibition either. This was part of the problem at Corinth. What balances between joyful spontaneous participation and exhibition? The law of love balances what we do. We express love for God in ways that will help, not hinder, our fellow worshippers.

When we fuss and fight over worship, we play into the hands of the devil who wants us to worship him, not God. He turns our hearts from God – and our worship becomes unacceptable.

True worship that is in spirit and in truth is in relationship to God. It is also genuine worship from the heart.

We cannot worship acceptably in the assembly if we are not genuinely serving God in our whole life. You cannot partake of the Table of the Lord and the Table of demons. You cannot dance with the devil on Saturday and worship God acceptably on Sunday.

Present your body to God as your sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Allow Him to use it to His glory – all of the time, not just, when you are singing in the praise team or leading prayer in the assembly. Think less about yourself and more about Him. Focus on the needs of others, not on yourself. Like David, forget your dignity, but be reverent. Dignity refers to how we act before people to impress them Reverence is the sense of awe and adoration we have before God.

Above all, love the Lord, your fellow worshippers, and all others around you. Your life will glow with His presence in your love.

Here is a complete listing of posts in this series, or go here.

  1. Awe Before God
  2. Cain and Abel
  3. Acceptable Worship in the Old Testament Prophets
  4. Nadab and Abihu’s Mistakes
  5. Irreverent or Undignified Worship?
  6. Worship Contrary to What Was Written
  7. Vain Worship of the Pharisees
  8. The Athenians’ Ignorant Worship
  9. Self-Imposed Worship in Colosse
  10. Worship in Spirit and in Truth
  11. Bow Before Him
  12. Regulations for Worship
  13. Serve God Acceptably
  14. The Christian Assembly
  15. Bringing It All Together

One Response

  1. I received the following from a subscriber to this blog (and long time friend) by direct email concerning this post.


    Just want to commend you for your great work in your retirement years with the blogs. I confess I don’t read them so much, but what I do read is so good. I saw your summary work on worship and it was wonderful, and I glanced at some of your articles in that series, and they looked so good. Thanks for sharing good thoughts with us. Many good ideas.

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