It is not likely that any who claims to believe in God would deny the responsibility of worshipping Him. God’s word declares, instructs, provides examples of and even commands that we worship God. When faced with the third and final temptation of Satan, our Lord’s answer to him was, “it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:10). When Jesus waited at Jacob’s well for His apostles to return, he conversed with a woman of Samaria. After a question posed by the woman, Jesus told her, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:23). There is therefore no doubt that Christians are to worship God.
Having concluded that we have a responsibility to worship God, an important question arises; is this worship regulated in any way or do we have free reign to worship God any way that we wish? In other words, must one worship God in any specific way, or may they choose the methods of worship that pleases them? It has often been heard that it does not matter by what ways or means one worships God, so long as it is done in sincerity.
In answer to the above question we must note first of all that there is worship spoken of in God’s word that is not pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God. The first two sons of Adam and Eve provide illustration of two individuals who worshipped God, one acceptable and one unacceptable (Gen. 4:3-5). We also read of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, who “took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord” (Lev. 10:1-2). Add to these two examples the words of Jesus when He said, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9), and it is obvious that not all worship is pleasing in the sight of God.
A second way to answer the question of whether worship is regulated or not, is seen in the words of Jesus as He conversed with the woman of Samaria. He said, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). It cannot be made any clearer than that. He has specified two requirements that must be met in order for our worship to be acceptable. One is required by God to worship Him in spirit. One is also required by God to worship Him in truth. Note that the Lord used the word “must” preceding these two requirements. Neither of these two elements may be excluded, both “must” be included.
What does it mean to worship God in spirit? The spirit of man is the inner man. When Paul was writing of the things the Holy Spirit had revealed to man, he said, “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him” (I Cor. 2:11). Another manner of expressing this concept of worshipping in spirit is to say, worshipping from the heart. Jesus once said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matt. 15:8). We all know that one can sit on a pew, singing the songs found in the hymn books while their mind is no where near God. This is worship that is not in spirit. Paul said, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). It’s all a matter of where the heart is.
Yet, there is a second requirement. One must worship in truth. What does it mean to worship in truth? God’s word is truth (John 17:17). Thus, to worship in truth would be to worship according to God’s word. In other words, worship in the manner that God has authorized. In the examples of Cain (Gen. 4) and Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10), they did not worship in the manner that God had specified. Cain offered the wrong sacrifice, fruit of the ground. Nadab and Abihu used the wrong fire. Neither was worshipping God in truth. When Jesus said, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9), it pointed to this same problem, forsaking that which is authorized by God’s word and substituting it with those teachings and practices that are from man. Jesus once posed a question to the chief priests and elders, “The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven, or of men? (Matt. 21:25). Every teaching, every practice and every means of worship comes from one of these two sources, heaven or man. If it is from man it is to be rejected, for it is not worship in truth. If it is from heaven it may not be excluded, for to do so would not be worshipping in truth.
God has regulated worship from the creation. The example of Cain and Able shows He had regulated worship prior to the old law of Moses. The example of Nadab and Abihu shows He had regulated worship under the old law of Moses and the words of Christ concerning vain worship shows He still has regulations for worship in this Christian age. Let us be diligent to search every avenue of worship we practice and be certain that we are worshiping in spirit and in truth.
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