Many Christians have only a vague notion as to worship. They may have turned from clerical formalism with its superstitious rituals, but they do not have a true understanding of what worship is. What, then, is it?
Worship is the honour and adoration rendered to God, by reason of what He is in Himself, and what He is for those who render it. Worship proceeds in heaven, and we have the privilege of entering into it here collectively. In doing so we have joy and blessing, our hearts feeling and responding to God’s love. We love Him in return.
Of course an isolated individual can worship, but not in its fullest sense. He or she can bless God for His goodness. But it needs more than one person for true worship.
What is, and what is not Worship
- A testimony respecting God and His grace is not worship.
- Preaching the gospel to the unconverted is not worship.
- A sermon is not worship.
- Prayers addressed to God as to our need are not worship.
- Referring to God’s glory, but not addressing Him is not worship.
The gospel might produce worship for it is God’s testimony to man. No Christian worship could exist without it, for the gospel makes known the God who is to be adored. The Holy Spirit leads the soul into the state in which it is able to render true homage to Go in spirit and in truth. It is sweet to rehearse, one to the other, the excellences of Him whom we love with God Himself in our thoughts.
But in worship Christians delight to address themselves to Him.
- They to speak to and converse with Him, adoring Him personally.
- They speak to God of His attributes and acts.
- They open their hearts to Him, to tell Him that they love Him.
- They delight in their relationship and communion with Him.
- They testify to His greatness and goodness.
In worship communion is between ourselves and God, and God is more precious to us than even our brethren. Our affections have a higher tone and communion is more complete.
As to Israel
The children of Israel worshipped God, but they could not draw near to Him. God had redeemed them out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm and had borne them as upon eagles’ wings, and had brought them even to Himself (See Ex. 19:4). God had promised that they should worship Him upon Mount Sinai, but it was amid thunders, fire, and the voice of a trumpet. Even Moses trembled.
Under the law God placed man in a position where he could bring forth fruit to His glory. He showed what man ought to be and blessed him if he was faithful and judged him if he was not. Under such circumstances God could not fully reveal His holiness and love. Either have had to tolerate iniquity, or banish those who sinned absolutely and eternally from His presence. So, under the law, God concealed Himself.
The people did not even enter into His house. The high priest alone went in once every year in order to carry in the blood of the ram and the bullock — the propitiatory victims — and to make reconciliation for the people with a God who could not endure iniquity. The people sought His protection, and worshipped Him for the benefits He conferred. This was a foreshadowing of Christian worship, but the principles of its exercise were totally different.
It has all changed now. God has not changed, the revelation which He makes of Himself has. Although there is a light to which we cannot approach, He has revealed Himself in Christ.
Christianity is based upon an altogether new relationship between God and man. It was in God’s counsels before the world’s foundation, but it waited for the height of man’s enmity against God: Christ appeared, and man crucified Him!
Now if there is to be a relationship, all must be grace. If God’s goodness and grace is rejected there can only be judgment. This dark background throws into relief the perfection and brilliancy of grace.
Thank God, we are now occupied with grace. There is no longer any question of guilt between the worshipper and God. Christ has abolished it by His sacrifice. The work of Christ has provided the meeting-place between God and the sinner: love has free course, and we can enjoy all God’s blessings. We are reconciled to God and have been brought to enjoy a new relationship.
We have a striking expression of the consequence of the death of Christ in the rending of the veil of the temple. The holy of holies was hidden behind the veil, so no one could draw near to God. Who would dare to present himself before God if all guilt had not been removed? But the veil has been rent from the top to the bottom: now we can enter the most holy place freely. The stroke which rent the veil, smote the Son of God, when He took our sin upon Himself. He has cleansed our consciences by His perfect and eternal work. Hence we are able to enter the holiest joyfully and without spot.
The relationship of God to the Church is presented to us strikingly in the title ‘God of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ When God is called the God of any one, it indicates that a tie of intimacy. Christ is viewed as a man, the head of a new family, who has ascended to His God and our God. We see this truth in Ephesians chapters 1 and 2 Those who were ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph 2:1) are to know ‘what is the hope of the calling of God, and what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints’ (Ch. 1:18). We learn the true power and extent of that glory: ‘the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places (v. 19-20). All that is His is ours – we have a place then in the presence of God! Even the glory that God has given Jesus, He has given to us, in order that the world may know that we are loved as He is. (See John 17:22-23).
The Holy Spirit
Another truth connected with the work of Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit shows, reveals, and communicates divine things to us. We are ‘strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man, in order that, being rooted and grounded in love, Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith, and that we may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fulness of God’ (Eph. 3:16-19). ‘That which eye hath not seen, which ear hath not heard, which came not into the heart of man — the things which God has prepared for him whom He loves — God has revealed them unto us by His Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God (1 Cor 2:9-10).
- The Holy Spirit is “the unction” by which “know all things” (See 1 John 2:20).
- He is the seal which God has put upon us unto the day of redemption
- He gives us the full assurance of the efficacy of the work of Christ.
- He imparts to us the knowledge that as cleansed by the blood of the Saviour, we are without spot in the God ‘s sight.
- He reveals to us the glory of Christ as presented in the scriptures.
- By the Holy Spirit, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.
- He is the originator in us of all the thoughts and affections which respond to this love.
- He gives us the consciousness of our union with Christ on high
But He is more than all this. “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor 6:17). This is not merely an imagination; it is a fact. The same Spirit abides in us, and we are united to Christ as members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. ‘By one Spirit are we all baptised into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). The Spirit is not only the power of this union, but He gives us the consciousness of it. Christ is the Head of the body, so each Christian is a member of it, united by the Holy Spirit. The Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (See 1 Cor. 6:19), and believers as together as a whole, they form God’s temple and dwelling place (See 1 Cor. 3:16).
We must know the character of the Father in order to worship God ‘in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24). God is a spirit: but it is as the Father” that He seeks worshippers.
- To worship ‘in spirit’ is to worship according to the true nature of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
- To worship God ‘in truth’ is to worship Him according to the revelation which He has given of Himself.
This is in contrast to religious forms and ceremonies.
The Samaritans did not worship God in spirit or in truth. The Jews worshipped God in truth, according to their imperfect revelation but not in spirit. They did not know the gentle and loving name of ‘Father’. By contrast, we are in a position of freedom before a majestic God as the children of His love and sons by adoption. The Spirit, who is the spirit of adoption cries ‘Abba, Father.’
The Christian, however simple, who understands the grace of God and has received the spirit of adoption, is entitled to enjoy all these privileges. Like a child, he or she does not reason things out, but knows, loves and enjoys its father’s love without describing it. This relationship is in Christ, and with Christ, He being ‘the first-born among many brethren’ (Rom 8:29). And we, who were formerly strangers, know that He is the only-begotten Son, the firstborn, the Eternal Son* of the Father, revealing His love to as He Himself knows it. [*]The feeblest Christian is therefore perfectly competent to worship.
- We worship the God of glory, in whose presence we have confidence, not terror.
- We worship the God of love and kindness, whose will it is that we should be perfectly happy in Him.
- We worship our Father who blesses us with all spiritual blessing.
- We worship our Father who knows all our present needs.
- We worship Him for that which He is in Himself.
- We adore God for that which He is to us, the children of His house for eternity.
But the effect of the presence of this ‘one Spirit’ goes much further. Not only does He give us the consciousness of being in Christ, He also gives us the consciousness of being ‘baptised into one body, (1 Cor. 12:13) – the body of Christ, and as such, ‘members one of another’ (See Eph 5:25). In the Church, which God has newly-created in Christ (the one new man), the redeemed worship in ‘the unity of the Spirit’. The Head has ascended up on high, in order that the members of the body may worship freely and joyfully before God, by the unction which is from Him.
Some practical Effects
God cannot admit sin into His presence, so only those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb, and who have received the Spirit, can draw near to God to worship Him. An unconverted man cannot please or worship God. He may pray for something and his prayer might be answered, God having tender compassion for him, as a poor sinner. However he does not yet know God, has not the Spirit, and is not washed in the blood of Christ. Therefore it is utterly impossible for him to worship God. If he thinks he can draw near to God, he is ignorant of what he is in himself, and of what the God is whom he thinks to serve. He does not have the Spirit, and is not of the body.
To enter into the sanctuary, we must be sanctified. Before entering, we might measure the value of the work of Christ by reference to our load of sin. But now, brought into communion with God, we taste the sweetness of His love, and value the work of Christ by the grace and love of God. Our consciences are set at liberty, free to draw near to God, by virtue of the efficacy of the work of Christ. We may be timid in drawing near, and need encouragement. But if we do not have a real knowledge of the efficacy of the work of Christ, we will be ill at ease in approaching God, because he will still have a guilty conscience.
Even if there are just two or three present, we can worship in common, because we are united in one body by the same Spirit. Each can say, ‘We’ in sincerity, when addressing God.
The two great elements of Christian worship are the presence of the Holy Spirit and the remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ. The Holy Spirit, who acts in the body, is the source and energy, of genuine worship. This is clearly established by 1 Corinthians 14: the assembly being formed as the body of Christ. The Spirit acts through spiritual men to express the love of the assembly. This is the way in which worship is rendered to God.
Our joy in the presence of God, worshipping Him in love is our eternal goal. Gifts will cease in heaven, and nobody will be ignorant or lazy. Worship will never cease.
The Value of the Cross
Instead of seeing the work of Christ as saved sinners, we contemplate its value according to God’s estimate – the greatness of Christ’s love for us. The death of Christ is of such value in God’s sight, as to constitute, so to speak, a new claim on the affections of His Father. His confidence in God, devotedness, patience, love, obedience, submission and sacrifice united in the cross. It was for us He suffered all. Satan was overcome; death destroyed, the veil removed from before the presence of God, making us heirs who enjoy the love of God. This must lead us to worship. At the cross God was glorified, otherwise His glory could not have been fully displayed.
But we are not dazzled by the glory of the cross. Christ hung upon the cross for us. It is the expression of love stronger than death for us. He loved us to the end. In doing so, He undertook to render us happy in the presence of the Father. ‘I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also’ (John 14:3). He said, ‘With desire, I have desired to eat this passover with you, before I suffer; for I will eat no more thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 22:15-16). As the passover was Israel’s memorial of the deliverance out of Egypt, so the supper is the memorial, not only of our deliverance, but of His love.
If Jesus attaches value to our remembrance to Him and produces deep affection in us, we can understand how the Lord’s supper is the centre of our worship. In the supper, united in one body, we show forth the Jesus’ death ‘until he come’ (1 Cor 11:26). We recall the act in which the Saviour has testified His love in the most powerful way. Other activities – hymns and thanksgivings are grouped around it. The worshipper is thereby reminded of that which is the most precious of all things in the sight of God — the death of His beloved Son. We enter with spiritual affection into the perfection His work. ‘He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him’ (John 6:56).
The peace-offering and the passover present the most vivid images of the true character of the Lord’s supper. The peace-offering was a feast following a sacrifice, the partakers being God, the priest who officiated, the priests, the worshipper, and those who were with him. In the passover, Israel fed on the sacrifice, the blood of which was their safeguard against judgment. This expresses the full satisfaction of God in the sweet odour of the work of Christ. Thus God Himself has His part in the joy, so has Christ: His joy is in our joy.
The Spirit’s Service
The Holy Spirit is the source and power of all true Christian worship. The unity of the body formed by Him, and in which He acts, necessarily holds a prominent place in the worship. The interceding presence of the Holy Spirit produces the consciousness of this unity. ‘We, [being] many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf’ (1 Cor 10:17 Darby). Jesus Himself is present in the midst, according to His promise. If the bread broken represents the broken body of Christ, the unity of the bread represents the unity of His spiritual body, embracing all the saints in love. We are united to them, wherever they may be, in the unity of the body of Christ. We have all the privileges which attach to it by reason of the love of Him who ‘nourishes and cherishes it’. Consequently, we have a sense of what we owe to God. We have received grace; now we desire to glorifying Him, expressing this in worship.
In the early days they broke bread in private houses, maybe daily. In Acts 20 it would appear that they broke bread on the first day of the week. It is clear from 1 Cor 10 that the supper was to be something special. They had been abusing it, and their lives reflected that. What sort of life should we be careful to lead in order to render suitable praise to God.
As there are two great subjects about which Christian worship is occupied, namely the love of God our Father, and the love of the Lord Jesus, seen in His work, and as Head of His body the Church. Those who give voice to worship will concentrate on different aspects. At times the Lord Jesus will be especially before the mind; at other times thoughts of the Father will be more present. The Holy Spirit alone can guide us in this; but the truthfulness and spirituality of worship will depend upon the state of those who compose the assembly. If the majority in the company are untaught and ‘babes in Christ’ then this will be reflected in what is said. Those with more experience depend on the Comforter — the Spirit of truth — for true united service to God, bringing in nourishment promoting spiritual growth. Nothing, however, is more simple or evident than the truth that the worship which is rendered should be the worship of all.
If there is evil in the company, or even in an individual, it will be felt in the service of worship. If a hypocrite is present, he will be a hindrance in the worship; but the unity will not be destroyed. If most have cultivated a delicacy of spiritual feeling, they will feel that the Holy Spirit has been grieved. If there is true spirituality and the Holy Spirit fills the assembly with His presence, evil of every kind is quickly discovered. God is a jealous God, and He is faithful. Fleshly pride loves to make much of a gift, claiming lordship over God’s heritage and arranging things humanly – this gets in the way of the free flow of worship. Likewise do narrow sectarian views. Achan was discovered at the commencement of the history of Israel ; a single lie in Ananias came in in the beginning of the Church’s history – and what has happened since! May God make us humble, watchful, and true to Him with a sense of the efficacy of the work of Christ, in order, despite the failure, to render spiritual worship. Even with two or three gathered together in the name of Jesus, He is there as the joy and strength. The name of Jesus unites us.
There is another hindrance to worship. In Philippians 3:3 it says, ‘We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.’ This is about the religion of the flesh, which is altogether as evil as its lusts, religiousness being one of them. Religion of the flesh does not tend to the glory of Jesus. It is occupied in good works, ethical conduct, outward piety and humility, talking of the love of God, but more of our love for God. In circumscision the flesh is cut off. We can judge these things if Christ is our all. As in Deut 26, the worshipper professed aloud that it was God that had accomplished everything for him.
Another thing which marks carnal religion is that, it does not ‘seek those things which are above’ (Col 3:1). The soul that has truly learnt that he was dead in sins, and that the Saviour has come down and been made sin for him and has died and been raised up for him, knows in God’s sight just one sole thing – that God has placed His delight in Jesus.
We should not mingle carnal religion with that of the Spirit. The effort of the adversary, at the commencement of the Church, was, not to substitute the law and circumcision in the flesh, in place of Christ, but to add to it. Paul saw clearly, by the Spirit, that if this were admitted, everything would have been lost. Instead of being in Christ and happy in God’s presence by virtue of a completed work, man tries to find a way of making himself acceptable to God. May God grant us to have no confidence in the flesh, but to rejoice in Christ Jesus (See Phil 3:3).
Let us revert to the subject of collective worship. What a sweet and precious privilege it is to anticipate that which will be our eternal employ in heaven! There our worship will be perfect. There, all the Church, in its completeness, will be assembled to render worship in the midst of the general assembly on high. There, without distraction and without fear, worship will be the Church’s eternal joy in the perfect favour of God. What a privilege, even here below, to close the door for a moment upon all the distractions of this world, and by the Spirit to satisfy the desires of the heart in rendering to God the thanksgiving which He is worthy to receive, and which in His grace, He has breathed into our souls!
[*] There are those who might object to this expression. But I have no difficulty. He is Son; He is eternal. As Man he is that now. Scripture does not go into the relationship prior to the incarnation. See Heb 1:5, Acts 13:33 and Psalm 2:7.
For original see On Worship