Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 20, 2005
Celebrating New Life in Christ – Worship
This morning we come to the fourth aspect of how we at Grace Bible Church strive to carry out our purpose of Glorifying God by Making Disciples of Jesus Christ. We do that by Communicating New Life in Christ – Evangelism; Cultivating New Life in Christ – Edification; Caring for New Life in Christ – Fellowship, and finally, Celebrating New Life in Christ – Worship.
A.W. Tozer referred to worship as the crowning jewel in the purposes of the church, and Yet, even with worship being so fundamental and central in the basic purposes of the church, worship is too often, as one writer put it, the Missing Jewel of the church instead of its crowning jewel.
How can that be? Doesn’t even the ancient catechism teach that the very purpose of our existence is to glorify God & enjoy Him forever? How then could worship be the missing jewel?
The major reason is that it is too easy for true worship to be replaced by substitutes. Just as socialization is often a substitute for true Christian fellowship, so in a similar way erroneous or even false worship can easily substitute for true worship. It became apparent last Fall that some of the confusion about worship that exists in our society was starting to affect us, so today I want to present an overview of the main characteristics of true worship. Then, after several special services in March, we are going to spend a couple of months on the topic of worship. We need to make sure our worship is done the way that God tells us to worship Him, and not the way we think best or want to do it.
Some people fall into the trap of form replacing substance which eventually results in a cold liturgy. This has happened in most of the main-line denominations over the last century. They lost their foundation in solid doctrine and their love for Christ, and all that was left was their rituals and traditions, so they are dying. Some are trying to revive themselves by changing their liturgies, but without the substance of Biblical truth, they will never have true worship.
Other people replace true worship with a shallow facsimile that has high emotion and energy, but little substance. Frankly, that is the weakness of the church growth movement. The desires and felt needs of people become the driving force instead of God’s revelation of Himself. The result has been the elevation of musical style, drama, and technological innovation over Biblical preaching which is often reduced to moral stories instead of the declaration and explanation of God’s revelation. This is not to say that use of various musical styles, drama or new technology is wrong. It is to say that too many have ended up diminishing or even replacing true worship with emotional hype which gives the appearance of life, but it is only a shadow of the reality. True worship is founded in solid doctrine, not emotionalism. In addition, emotionalism is too shallow to hold onto people for they will either keep looking for more and greater emotional experiences or give up and look for something else. A person needs something solid to take them through the tough times of life.
There are also those churches that have kept their foundations solid, but in reaction to emotionalism, the modern church growth movement or to ritualism, they often try harder to demonstrate what they are not than what they are. The result is good theology lived poorly. There is a lack of warmth among the people. The heart is missing. It is correct doctrine with a lack of enthusiasm for God and joy in the worship of Him. That is not true worship either.
It is my duty to make sure that Grace Bible Church avoids these various pitfalls and truly worships God. What then is true worship? Turn to John 4 where we can find out what Jesus says about it.
In the midst of her conversation with Jesus, the woman at the well pulls up the old conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans of “where to worship.” Jesus’ response was completely different from what she expected. He gave an answer that went beyond the place of worship and explained the nature of worship.
The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:19-24
Jesus points out four important points about true worship.
1. The places is not the issue (v. 21)
2. You cannot worship what you do not know
3. The nature of God is spirit
4. True worship must be in spirit and in truth
This last point, that true worship must be in spirit and in truth, is the essential requirement of true worship. You cannot do it any other way. Lets examine this first and then add the other elements.
True Worship is Regenerated in the Spirit
This text is not talking about just any spirit. It is talking about our spirit reacting to the working of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:12-14) . True worship is regenerated in the Holy Spirit. God created man to worship Him, but that relationship was broken because of man’s sin. It is the Holy Spirit that regenerates or “makes alive” (Eph 2) the spirit in a man or woman so that they can have a relationship with God.
A person who does not have a personal relationship with God cannot worship Him. In fact, Scripture says that natural man, man apart from God, regards the things of the Spirit as foolishness (1 Cor. 2:12-14). It is the Holy Spirit that intercedes on our behalf with God because He knows the Father and searches our hearts (Romans 8:26,27) . The Holy Spirit is our helper (John 16:7) , and He is the one that convicts us of both sin and righteousness. He guides us away from sin and into truth (John 16:7-13) . The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ and reveals Him to us (Jn 16:14) . The Holy Spirit is the first essential element in worship, for without Him we could not fulfill the second requirement of worshiping in truth, for it is the Holy Spirit that is the “Spirit of Truth” and who is the one who reveals the truth (John 14:17; 16:13).
True worship is Regained in Truth
Jesus’ words to the woman at the well were straight and to the point. “You worship that which you do not know,” and “True worshipers must worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21,24)
Ignorant worship is false worship. At its very best it is just religion which is man’s attempt to fill that God shaped vacuum in his heart. True Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship with God brought about by God! The woman thought she knew what she was doing. She thought she was truly worshiping God, but she was actually lost in her ignorance. So it is with many. They believe they are true worshipers of God, but in their ignorance they worship many things other than God. This is true of paganism, pantheism, eastern mysticism, new age religions, cultic and occultic religions and sects. Even many that come under the name of “Christianity” worship in ignorance. They try to worship God by ritual rather than in reality. And we must take warning on this point too because this also occurs within conservative, fundamental, evangelical Churches. It doesn’t take long for something to become “sacred” just because that was the way it was done for a long period of time. Whenever something is done simply because “we have always done it that way,” then you can be sure that the reason and meaning have been lost and it has become an act of ignorant worship. That is cold liturgy, not true worship.
True worship is regained in truth because it requires sound doctrine. This is why the early church put teaching doctrine as a centerpiece of their worship. Acts 2:42 records the “worship service” of the early church as “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The requirement is to worship God in truth, for without the truth, you are worshiping something other than God!
What are the other elements of Worship? Coming directly from the foundation of spirit and truth is that true worship is:
Reverent in heart.
One of the Greek words used for worship in the N.T. is sebwmai (sebomai). This word stresses the feeling of awe or devotion in the worship of God. Lydia, in Acts 6:14, was characterized by this devotion and was called a “worshiper of God” as was Titius Justus in Acts 18:7. In fact, without the heart, worship is false. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and Scribes for this very thing in Matt 15:8,9 – “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”
Let me caution you however to not let those times that you do not “feel” like worshiping the Lord be an excuse for not worshiping Him. This is not talking about your “feelings,” but about the direction of your heart, for in the Scriptures “heart” signifies that which is at the center of the life, not just the emotions. We will see as we go on that many aspects of worship can be and should be carried out regardless of your emotions at the moment. It is your heart, what is at the center of life, not your feelings, that make up true worship. Feelings are to follow action, not lead them. If your heart is set correctly on following God and you begin to worship, I can guarantee that the feelings will come as your heart, mind and will all agree on the wonderful character of our loving Lord. This can be seen in several of the Psalms in which David begins in despondency, but as his thoughts focus on the nature and character of God and what He has done, his emotions turn to joy.
In addition to being Reverent in Heart, true worship is:
Respectful in Action
The root meanings of the main words for worship in both the O.T. and in the N.T. describe the respectful action of the worshiper.
In the O.T., Shaha means to “bow low” or to “prostrate one’s self.” This refers to the oriental custom of bowing to someone as a sign of respect. A person would also bow down in reverence to the deity he worshiped. This was true of both idol worshipers and the true worshipers of our Creator God.
In Exodus 20:5 the second commandment is to not make any idols and to not “bow down” (worship) them. This commandment was stressed again in Exodus 34:14. In Deuteronomy 6:13 Moses emphasizes to the people preparing to go into the promised land that “you shall fear only the LORD, your God. You shall worship (bow down to) Him…” That is why we do not “venerate” any statues though such is practiced by some claiming to be Christian. That practice is against God’s commands concerning worship.
On the other hand, our worship of God should include the humble, respectful action of bowing down. Psalm 95:6 in calling us to worship God says “come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our God our maker.” It is regrettable that in the effort to distance ourselves from the liturgy of Catholicism that the evangelical church got rid of the kneelers on the pews. There is something about kneeling before God that reminds us that we are but His creatures and that He is to be highly respected.
The main Greek word translated as worship (proskunew – proskuneo) literally means “toward to kiss.” It is an act of obeisance and reverence. We might think of the ancient custom of a person coming before a King, bowing down and kissing his feet. That is seen in Psalm 2:12 were the nations are told to “kiss the son, lest He be angry” (KJV), or “give homage” (NAS). It is an act of respect to the king. This was done by the woman at the home of the Pharisees who came and kissed Jesus’ feet (Lk 7:45).
This reverent respect can be demonstrated in ways other than a kiss. The wise men came to the baby Jesus and “fell down and worshiped Him” – Mt 2:11. The leper who came to Jesus for healing did the same thing (Acts 8:2), as also did the Canaanite woman with the demon possessed daughter (Mt. 15:22). After the resurrection, Mt 28:9 records that the disciples ‘took hold of his feet and worshiped Him.” But again, we must be careful that in worship our respectful actions toward God come because of a reverent heart for Him and not because of mindless rote practice or being worried about what other people might think.
In addition to worship being Regenerated by the Spirit, Regained in the Truth, Reverent in Heart and Respectful in Action, true worship is:
Rendered in Service
This idea comes out strongly from two other Biblical words translated as worship.
In the O.T., service for God was part of worship. All the duties of the Priests and Levities (Num. 3:7,8; 4:19) and all of their ritual service was part of worship. The reason that Israel was called out of bondage in Egypt by God was so that they could serve (worship) the Lord (Ex. 3:12). Joshua worshiped the Lord following the conquest of Canaan with the ritual service of Sacrifice. Ritual service is true worship providing it is done from the heart with respect. Thus we are told in Psalm 2:11 to “Worship (serve) the Lord with reverence.”
The same is true in the N.T. We get our word “liturgy” from a Greek word (latreuw – latreuo) translated as “worship,” but it carries the expanded meaning of “service of worship.” In Phil. 3:3 Paul says, “we are the true circumcision (the ones truly following God), who worship (latreuw – latreuo) in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no glory in the flesh.” The same idea is also seen in Romans 12:1 – “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present you bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (latreuw – latreuo) (literally “logical service of worship). So, when we are using our spiritual gifts, whether they be helping, teaching, exhorting, giving, leadership, showing mercy or whatever else, that is part of our worship of God for it is serving Him.
True worship is also:
Radiated in Proclamation
Whenever we proclaim the character of God or speak of His works, we are worshiping God. This idea comes out very strongly in the Psalms for they were written for worship.
Ps 8 describes the Lord’s glory
Ps 19 tells of the works and word of God
Ps 34 tells of the Lord’s provision and deliverance
Ps 50 tells of God’s judgement
Ps 68 tells of God’s character
Ps 77 & 78 tells of God’s dealing with the nation of Israel
Ps 91 tells of God’s security and protection
Ps 139 tells of God’s omniscience and omnipresence
Ps 145 tells of God’s goodness
Add to these the centrality of the teaching ministry in both ancient Judaism and the early church, and we see the importance of proclamation in the worship of God.
Let me add that the confession of sin is also proclamation. Confession is openly agreeing that God is right and just and that I am wrong. That can be and is an act of worship. If you recall the story of Achan in Joshua 6 & 7 you will see this. The army is defeated at the little village of Ai because Achan did not obey the ban that God had placed on taking spoils from Jericho. Achan is found out, and in Joshua 7:19 Joshua says to Achan, “My son, I implore you, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give Praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done. Do not hide it from me.” Achan confesses in verse 20 based on giving glory and praise to God, not on bargaining for a leaner sentence (try that in modern society).
Worship is given when we proclaim either the truth about God or the truth about something in relation to God. By proclaiming Him, we radiate His glory, and that is worship.
Related to proclamation is praise, and worship is:
Resounded in Praise
To praise is to commend, to glorify, to express approval of something or someone. That is central to worship. We commend God to others, we glorify Him and we express approval of all that He has done and all that He is. Psalm 96 speaks of singing to the Lord, telling of His greatness, and ascribing to Him glory. This is the worship of praise.
Praise is not something that is always easy to do. Hebrews 13:15 speaks of it as a sacrifice. “Though Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” What is the sacrifice that is required to praise? Several things. 1. It takes time, so there is a sacrifice of my time. 2. In order to praise, I have to turn my thoughts to God, so there is a sacrifice in what I think about in order to focus my attention on Him. 3. In order to give thanks, I have to realize that I am a receiver of God’s blessing and that I need Him. That is a sacrifice of pride. 4. In order to continually offer up praise, I have to learn to see all things from God’s perspective and not my own, so I have to sacrifice my self-centeredness and self-pity.
Praise is best when it comes from a heart that is already full of the joy of the Lord, but there are times when we start our praise to God as a sacrifice. And when we do, it is amazing at how fast the joy of the Lord will return. Praise is the aspect of worship which echoes back and forth. It resounds the greatness of our Lord.
Worship that Resounds in Praise also:
Responds in Prayer
When a man or woman has their heart right with the Lord, then they will be controlled by the Spirit of God resulting in their serving Him and telling others about Him, so it is only natural that they are also going to respond in prayer. Too often we tend to think of prayer as bringing our “wish list” to God, but prayer is so much more than that. Prayer is intimate fellowship with God. Prayer is that personal communion with the Father. Talking with Him and letting Him know personally your love for Him and the things that are on your heart. True prayer begins with adoration of God and confession of our sins (two acts of worship) before any requests are made.
And finally, True Worship is:
Reflected both as Individuals and as a Congregation.
We call this the “Morning Worship Service” because it is that time when we come together as a manifestation of the local Body of Christ to worship our Lord. However, whatever occurs here in this building corporately will only be a reflection of what has occurred in our lives individually throughout the week in our personal worship. It takes individual preparation to have a good corporate worship service. What do I mean by that? If I prepare myself properly I will be able to worship the Lord properly myself when we gather together. I will also be able to encourage others to do the same. If I do not prepare myself, I will have difficulty in worshiping the Lord properly myself, and I may be a detriment to others in their worship. Let me give you some suggestions on how to improve both your individual and the corporate worship on Sunday mornings.
1) Get into the habit of spending daily time in individual worship. Read your Bible, pray, sing, and give thanks. Again, the foundation for corporate worship is our individual worship of God throughout the week. 2) Prepare for Sunday on Saturday night. Be careful about how late you stay up. It is harder to give to God in worship when you are tired. Also, decide what you are going to wear the next day before you go to bed. If you have kids, do the same for them. This help keep Sunday morning from being a flurry of rushed activity. 3) Use your time on Sunday morning wisely, which starts by getting up early enough to do everything you need to do. Plan to leave early enough so that you can enjoy a leisurely drive to church. Begin to praise God while you drive. You might even want to point out some of the beautiful things of God’s creation as you drive – trees, birds, animals, ponds, rivers, mountains, beautiful scenes, etc. These simple preparations allow you to come ready to respond to God in true worship even as you receive truth from His word and encouragement from His people. The less prepared you are when you arrive at church, the longer and more difficult it will be to get your mind and heart focused properly to be able to worship properly.
Let me close with a quote that has been attributed to several different men, but regardless of who said it, it is thought provoking.
“Some have felt that the coming to a church service is similar to going to a theater. The platform is a stage upon which the preacher, the musicians, the Scripture readers, etc. are performing before the congregation. The congregation is the audience that can then show their approval by how much they leave in the offering plate. In truth however, the preacher, musicians, Scripture readers, etc. are simply the prompters of the congregation who are the ones that are on stage, and it is God Himself who is the audience of their worship”
Folks, true worship takes work. Worship is not a passive activity, but a very active one. You are not here to be entertained, but to work hard at giving the best of all you are to God. That is the final thought I want you to leave with today.
True worship is Rigorous Work. It takes work to set aside the thoughts and emotions of daily existence to focus your mind on the scriptures. It takes work to prepare your heart to praise Him. It takes work to pray thoughtfully. It takes work to sing to God’s glory. We will talk more about worship beginning in April. For today, just keep in mind these basic truths about worship:
True worship is
Regenerated in the Spirit
Regained in Truth
Reverent in heart.
Respectful in Action
Rendered in Service
Radiated in Proclamation
Resounded in Praise
Responds in Prayer
Reflected both as Individuals and as a congregation.
I pray that today and every day that God will find our worship, both as individuals and as a congregation acceptable to Him.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term “Worship” is used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about what it means to worship God. How are you doing at it.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Why is it that true worship can easily be missing in the church? What are some of things sometimes substituted for true worship? What are the essentials of true worship? How does the Holy Spirit fit in our worship? Can you truly worship without Him? How important is truth in worship? What is the result if truth is missing in worship? What does the Bible mean when it talks about your “heart” in worship? How important are your feelings in true worship? What should your attitude be? How physical effect will your attitude have on your worship of God? What physical things might you do to improve your worship of God? What are some of the practical results of true worship? What have you learned from the Psalms about true worship? How do Service, Preaching, Praise, and Prayer fit in true worship? Is your worship active or passive? What can you do to improve your worship of God? How will you prepare during the week for next Sunday’s corporate worship?
Sermon Notes – 2/27/05 a.m.
“Celebrating New Life in Christ: Worship
True Worship is Regenerated in the Spirit
True Worship is Regained in Truth
True Worship is Reverent in Heart
Acts. 6:14; 18:7; Matt. 15:8,9
True Worship is Respectful in Action
True Worship is Rendered in Service
True Worship is Radiated in Proclamation
True Worship is Resounded in Praise
True Worship Responds in Prayer
True Worship is Reflected as both Individuals and as a Congregation
True Worship is Rigorous Work
For comments, please e-mail Church office