I was recently reintroduced to the differences in worship in the New Testament, and have been left astounded. I was struck by the contrast of these definitions and my younger perceptions.
When I was a child I looked at worship as a meeting where I could catch up on sleep if need be, but mostly a time of extreme boredom. When I was older, I looked at worship as an action done by certain men, and still the clock was studiously watched. Today I see some other aspects of worship, which I hope to share with you) and I understand my learning is not over.
It is not my goal to try to teach anyone what worship is, for many have been in the Lord much longer than myself, and you all have studied the passages and bring your fruits to the Lord every Sunday. No, my goal is simply to share how my view has changed in light of what the New Testament says about worship.
Indeed, it has been said we will spend eternity worshipping God. Right off the bat, my younger self would have shuddered at the looming eternal boredom (I speak as a fool), and my slightly older self would wonder if he would be spending eternity on the sidelines while such giants as Paul, Timothy, Peter, John and many of yourselves stand up to offer the worship due to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is above all, forever and ever. Amen.
And it strikes me, in light of the Christmas season how many people return to the assembly and some may even stand in prayer, adding their voices to the people around them. And it strikes me that during the Christmas season the songs on the radio that play may offer praise or honor to our blessed Lord and then be interspersed with songs of sleigh rides and hunger in Africa. Indeed, it almost appears that America embraces her Christian beginnings and starts proclaiming the feelings associated with the Bible for a few months, before putting it aside and returning to the real world.
This all came to the forefront when I was walking in the city with my In-Laws, wife and child and caught sight of a huge yellow sign which harkened back to the words of the philosopher Rene Descartes as he made that famous existential statement, now re-cast by Nextel with the words “I do, therefore I am”.
I knew there was something wrong and asked my father-in-law what was the original quote–it was really bugging me. Even after backtracking and remembering that it was “I think therefore I am” the sign continued to nag at me. There was something fundamentally wrong with the logic being proclaimed in the ad which tied directly into the flavor of the holiday season on everyone’s lips.
I understand what the ad campaign is trying to do, but the way it seemed to call up exactly what people believe struck me to the very core.
The New Testament offers some definitions on worship and although I don’t enjoy bringing in Greek words in my discussions (I am not, after all, even remotely related to a Greek linguist much less being one) I find myself forced to bring in certain Greek words to progress the thought of the paper.
In Christ’s day, as all know, there was a religious leadership known as the Pharisees and Sadducees. These men were steeped in the Word of God. They had it memorized from front to back, with no numbering or such divisions. They would stand in the Temple and would open the scroll and begin reading from where some event was happening and the others would know what the reader was referring to and could follow along in his mind. The scribes would carefully transcribe the Word of God, by hand, in a grueling process of looking at the letter, speaking the letter, mimicking the writing the letter, rechecking the letter, then writing the letter and speaking it once more for good measure. The legends say that if there was a single mistake, these men, after meticulous hours of work would take the entire scroll and burn it, only to start from the beginning.
These men knew the prophecies of the Messiah and knew the words of the fathers, and the covenants, and the law and the prophets. With all this information in their minds they were blind when they saw the Messiah, rejected him and in turn, sought his death. They questioned Him on the Law and on his right to be who He claimed to be. They cursed him and reviled Him and said His power was of the devil. They subverted their own self-inflicted laws and rejected the Messiah with lies and hatred and turned Him over to Rome for capital punishment by crucifixion. On the cross they mocked Him and dared Him to come down. After His resurrection they bribed soldiers to hide the truth of His rising by contriving an alternate story and then made it a point to harass and hunt down those who were known as Christians with zeal and passion.
These men had one day questioned Jesus on letting His disciples eat bread without washing their hands (Mark 7:5), questioning Him on the letter of their traditions and not the Word of God. Jesus quotes then from the prophet Isaiah and says in Mark 7:7 that “in vain they do worship me (God), teaching forth the commandments of men”. Jesus’ use of the word worship is that which I can equate with today’s climate. The word here is sebomai and it’s one of religious reverence and in this case embracing the commandments of men instead of the very Word of God.
These wicked men somehow believed that they were worshippers of God because of the actions they did and the law that they knew. They figured that which the world embraces in this aspect ?I do? the act of worship via religion ?therefore I am? a religious worshipper of God. In Spanish, when a person is converted, those who do not believe in such things refer to the person as ?finding religion?, not God. Paul himself, referred to his pre-conversion life as being zealous for God and at one point refers to the Jews as having a zeal for God but not according to knowledge (Rom 10:2).
But Paul came to awareness on a certain road to the city of Damascus that the actions he was doing did not make him a worshiper of God at all. He lay awestruck on the ground as light brighter than the sun shown about him and a voice spoke to him specifically asking him why he was persecuting him. Paul, in much fear (and I’m sure a nagging suspicion) asked who was it that spoke to him and his world was completely shattered when he came face to face with the reality of the risen Messiah, the Lord Christ Jesus. The very God he proclaimed to worship was the very God he was persecuting and working against.
There is another worship spoken of in the New Testament and this is the one that Paul refers to in Acts 17:23 when pointing out the Unknown God who those in Athens were worshiping. The word here is eusebio and means to respect or show piety. They were showing respect and piety to an Unknown God but it wasn’t the true worship that a true and living God demands.
When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, he made it exceedingly evident how worship of God is immensely different from the worlds’ definition of worship. Jesus has just finished telling this woman about water which He has to offer which will quench thirst and make a fountain spring out of the person, such was the overflowing he would give. The woman perceived something in the man Christ Jesus and stated that He was a prophet and immediately questioned where it is a person is to worship?in Samaria or in Jerusalem . Jesus points out the error in her ways and then substantiates it with the truth in the heart of the people who are keepers of the way by stating that the time has arrived where those who truly worship God don’t worship on hills but in spirit and in truth for God is a spirit. (John 4:1-24)
It’s not showing respect or piety and lighting a candle nor is it being steeped in religion, it is something much more. In fact the word that Jesus uses is proskuneo which is to prostrate oneself or to bow down. In that Jesus says this is to be done in spirit and truth it shows that the bowing down extends beyond the physical prostration that many may do, but reaches into the depths of the heart of man. This bowing down to God is immensely important–so much in fact that Satan himself demanded that Jesus do this, only to be rejected (and amazingly so).
Satan stands before Jesus as they are in a high place looking down at the lights of the world, it’s cities and glory and he tells Jesus that he would give Him all this, if Jesus were to fall down and worship him (Mark 4:9). He wanted Jesus to fall down before Him and prostrate himself in an act that pictures the way a dog would lick its master’s hand. This physical prostration is one only reserved for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The wise men who followed the star in Matt 2:2 sought this King of the Jews so that they could bow down or prostrate themselves before Him. When John bows down to the angel in Revelations, the angel tells him to bow down or worship the Lord your God only (Rev 22:9).
And here, the Bible continues to amaze and astound in that it does not limit the definition of worship to the prostration before God. Indeed, when Jesus answers Satan in Matt 4:10 He tells him that a person is to worship or bow down before the Lord God and him alone will you serve. This word “serve” here is latraio , which is a word off of latria . The word here is not merely an act of service or duty, this is the act of service that refers to the ministering or worship of God.
This word is the same word when referring to Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:37 ) who served God in fastings and prayer. How is someone “serving” God in an action of prayer and fasting? Well, it’s not merely a physical service which defines service to God but it is a service of worship. Jesus is actually telling Satan that a person is to bow down before the Lord God only, and him alone will you serve in worship.
These stern words slap down Satan in that it reflects what is given to God. Satan, its not only physical action?it’s in spirit and truth and it results in a constant ministering to Him who all power, glory and honor are due.
The thought is brought to a focal point in Romans 12:1. This verse has been used to commend purity in our lives and in commitment to action. The verse finds another level in this point that the picture is that of a priest laying an offering on an alter. It’s a living offering and holy, pleasing to God and it is a reasonable service of worship. The Word of God stands as an implacable mirror to the words of the World which say “I do therefore I am” and says in this stark reality referring to true believers “I am [a believer] therefore I do”.
It is a humbling thought, and one that can set the very fibers of ones being shudder with excitement to think that every single song, help, action, thought, meditation, reading, prayer when done in spirit and truth, transcends this physical and temporal realm but enters into the very presence of God as being holy and pleasing and a sweet aroma. It is an amazing thought to think that these actions are not done to make us worshipers of God, but they are done because we are worshipers (those who have bowed down) to God in spirit and in truth. Therein the service of worship is enacted before the Lord in these five to one hundred and five years of life, in this temporal home. Not only in this service done during the holiday season as some may think or perhaps certain Sundays as others may think or even as part of the priesthood in some huge religious system.
No, the true worshipers of God, who worship God in spirit and truth, find that they can worship at all times, and in any place. In a God honoring relationship with your wife, as true worshipers you are offering an act of service unto God. In your morning mediations, you are offering a service of worship unto God. In our walks and prayers, in our talks and sharing with others, beneath the stars and beneath the air, we offer a service of worship unto our God. It is, with this understanding, that we find in the writings of Paul, he would be laying down mind boggling doctrine but in its conclusion, he would stand amazed and put in written form some of the most astounding doxologies (praises) ever written.
I pray that these words can be used to lift each other up, in knowledge and understanding, letting our imaginations marinate with these truths at the possibilities of worship of God. I am young, and my understanding limited, what joy it actually will be that eternity is not some daunting boredom as my former self thought, but an eternity of mind thrilling excitement where we can search those unsearchable depths of the glory of God and develop a truer and richer understanding of what it is to worship him. To God be all glory, honor and praise for all things are for him, and through him and to him. Amen. (Rom 11:36 )