As Jesus sat on the well known as Jacob’s well in Sychar of Samaria, a Samaritan woman came to draw water and a conversation began that resulted in first the woman and then many other Samaritans becoming believers in Christ (John 4:5-42). A part of the discussion centered around the subject of worship. In that context we read where Jesus told the woman, “…the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). There are three great lessons concerning worship that we wish to take note of in this article.
We must first understand that there is worship that is pleasing and acceptable to God, that which Jesus referred to as “true worshipers”, and there is worship that is not pleasing and acceptable to God. In this age in which we live, it would seem that many think that they can worship God in any manner that they wish, so long as they are sincerely worshipping Him. Many seek to worship God in a way that is pleasing and enjoyable to them, rather than to God. But, as Jesus noted by the use of the words, “true worshipers”, not all worship is acceptable to God. In fact, the very first example of worship to God found in the Bible presents us with an example of both worship that is acceptable to God and that which is not acceptable to God. In the fourth chapter of Genesis, we read of two brothers, the first two children of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel.
We read where they both offered up sacrifices to God. This of course preceded both the laws of Christianity and that of the law of Moses. We really know relatively little about what worship was required by God during that time, but it is obvious that making an offering to God was a form of worship and if done properly, it was acceptable to God. We know this because the offering of Able was pleasing and acceptable to God (verse 4). His offering was so acceptable that his name and the offering made here is the first noted in what is often called “Faith’s Hall of Fame” (Heb. 11:4). However, Cain’s offering was not acceptable to God (verse 5). Leviticus 10:1-2 records an example of worship not acceptable to God as well. And several times in the prophets it is mentioned that God would not accept the worship of Israel (Jer. 14:12; Amos 5:22). Do be aware that not all worship is true worship.
Secondly, we note the first of two major restrictions that Jesus placed on worship to God, that must be heeded if one is to be a true worshiper. Jesus stated that in order for one to be a true worshiper, his/her worship would have to be “in spirit”. Many are quick to jump any time they see the word spirit, to assume it is the Holy Spirit that is referred to. However, the context clearly shows the “in spirit” refers to the inner man, that our worship must come from the heart, not just be outward actions.
Many of the newer versions of the Bible fail to make the distinction, but the old King James version used the capital letter “S” when in reference to the Holy Spirit and the lower case “s”, when in reference to man. This made it easier to see the spirit under consideration in this text. The Bible clearly teaches that service, including worship, to God must be such as comes from the heart. Jesus said the first and great commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matt. 22:37). However, let us take note of the fact that worshipping out of a sincere heart, having all the zeal and sincerity one could possibly possess, yet lacking obedience to God’s word comes short of the goal of being a true worshiper, which brings us to our next point.
The second of those two restrictions and our third point is that worship must be “in truth”. Jesus prayed for His apostles saying, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Thus, worshiping “in truth” is to worship according to the instructions given by God. When one goes back to those examples earlier mentioned, one might note that the reason Cain’s worship was unacceptable was that it was not in accordance with what God had commanded. We know this because God told him that “sin lieth at the door” (Gen. 4:7) and sin is disobedience to God’s word (I John 3:4).
Nadab and Abihu died because they offered fire other than that commanded by the Lord (Lev. 10:1-2). Jesus said of those of His time, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9). We can see a failure both to worship in spirit and a failure to worship in truth in the words spoken by Jesus. We must find authorization in the New Testament for every act of worship. Please keep in mind that the word worship is a verb; it is something we do, not something we get. The very meaning of the word will require that what we do in worshiping God will be that which is pleasing to Him, not us.
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