What Is Worship?

In today’s religious world, “worship” has become anything that someone does in the name of God or Jesus (or any other deity, such as Britney Spears). It runs the gamut of everything from preaching, prayer, and singing, to basketball, pie-eating contests, and paintball. I’ve got a close friend who’s a big hunter, and someone recently told him that his hunting was a form of worship too. But we need to understand that just because we may have a skill in something, that doesn’t make it “worship.”

Here’s a link to several different definitions of “worship.” My favorite one is one from The American Heritage Dictionary, which says:

1) The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol, or a sacred object.
2) The ceremonies, prayers, or other religious forms by which this love is expressed.

Ok, so worship involves expressing our adoration and awe before God, but how exactly do we do that? More importantly, who should decide the things that constitute worship? The worshipper, or the worshipped?

Who Makes the Call?
There are three Old Testament examples that answer this question for us very clearly. Actually, let’s throw a fourth in there just for fun – the blog space is unlimited, after all. 🙂

In Genesis 4, we have the story of Cain and Abel. Cain excelled at farming, while his brother, Abel, was a shepherd. At some point, both brothers brought an offering before the Lord. Cain brought some of his crops, and Abel brought of the firstborn of his flock. God respected Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Why was that? Well, we don’t know specifics. Perhaps God had told them that he wanted animal sacrifice, but Cain ignored him. Perhaps God hadn’t specified, but something in Cain’s attitude made his offering unacceptable. We just don’t know; although, Hebrews 11 does tell us that Abel’s offering came by faith. Whatever the reason, Cain’s sacrifice was not what God wanted. Cain’s method of worship was unacceptable.

Another example is found in Leviticus 10. Nadab and Abihu were Aaron’s sons, and they were priests. We’re told in this passage that while performing sacrifices, they offered “profane fire” before the Lord, and he consumed them with it. We don’t know exactly what “profane fire” is, except that it was something God hadn’t commanded them. Now, in their minds, I’m sure they were still “worshipping” God; after all, they were offering sacrifices to him. So this wasn’t an outright rebellion against God; it was simply doing something differently than what he had authorized.

Moses also did something other than what God had authorized in Numbers 20. The Israelites were thirsty, and God commanded Moses to speak to a rock, after which, God would cause water to come out of it. Instead, Moses struck the rock (something God had told him to do on a different occasion) and said, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” Water came from the rock. But because Moses hadn’t done what God told him, he was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land.

Finally, though there are plenty of other examples, we’ll leave off with this one. In 1 Sam 13, Saul, who was the first king of Israel, had been waging a war against the Philistines, and the Philistines seemed to have the upper hand. Saul was waiting in Gilgal for Samuel to come, who was a prophet and priest, and would have been able to offer a sacrifice to God on their behalf. After seven days had passed, during which time Samuel was supposed to have come, Saul decided to offer the sacrifice himself. However, Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin, and only Levites were allowed to offer sacrifices. The rest of the story picks up 1 Sam 13:10:

10 Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him.
11 And Samuel said, “What have you done?”
Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, 12 then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the LORD.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.”
13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.”

Here, we see that Saul’s reason for offering the sacrifice was very good, but that didn’t excuse the fact that it was still wrong. Because of that, the kingdom was taken from his family, and David reigned instead.

By its very definition, worship is something that is done for the object of worship; therefore, it should be something that the object actually wants! And as luck would have it, God has given us the Bible to tell us what we should do in worship to him.

The Elements
No, I’m not talking about the ones on the Periodic Table. I actually memorized those in 10th grade – no one was surprised by that fantastic feat more than I. No, I’m talking about the elements of worship. I don’t want to go into a whole lot of detail with it, as most of them are pretty self-explanatory.

The worship service should consist of things like teaching (Col 3:16, Heb 5:12-14, Eph 4:11-13), singing (Col 3:16, Eph 5:19, 1 Cor 14:15), preaching (Matt 10:7, 27, Acts 14:21), prayer (1 Thes 5:17, Acts 2:42), the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7, I Cor 11:23-34), contribution (1 Cor 16:1-2), etc. Basically, what most people would think of in a “traditional service.”

Many times today, “traditional” services are looked down upon as being stodgy, uptight, and boring. Some of them are. There’s nothing wrong with doing things in a different format from what most of us consider “traditional” as long as it still includes the elements listed above, and as long as it stays in harmony with 1 Cor 14:40, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” But laser light shows, rock concerts, and theatrical productions lend more toward entertainment than exhorting one another or helping each other grow stronger in God’s word.

But We’ve Got to Make It Fun!
No we don’t. Of course, we don’t need to make it boring either, but God was never interested in the entertainment value of his message. Nobody puts a radio or a Parchesi board on a life-preserver because it’s designed to save your life, not show you a good time. God’s word is the same thing. It’s our life-preserver, and if we try to draw people in to learn more about it by having Bingo night and fried chicken dinners, we cheapen it. And we typically only get people who are interested in Bingo and fried chicken.

Instead, we should all be working in our personal lives to be shining examples of Christianity so people can tell that there’s something different about us. And our worship services should be full of things that will actually capture the attention of those who are interested in spiritual things – things that will help them grow in knowledge and wisdom. Gimmicks that are designed to draw more people in the doors, do only that. They bring more people in, but they don’t make more Christians.

In Other Words…
Touchy-feeliness is way too prevalent today. It sounds good and feels good to have this grandfatherly picture of a God who’s always happy his grandkids have graced him with a visit and is just “tickled pink” with everything those precious little kids decide to do. You know, the whole “kumbayah” idea. But that’s not the picture the Bible paints. Does God love us? Of course he does! He sent his own son to die for us! But because of that, the stakes are raised. He’s not going to send his son to be mocked, tortured, and killed by mankind, and then just accept any scraps we’re willing to throw his way. God is love. God is mercy. But he’s also veangeful and just. He demands the utmost respect, which includes respecting what he wants in worship.

It’s very important for us to understand that we don’t get to dictate to God how we want to worship Him. He tells us. And if we’re doing something that doesn’t fit that pattern, then we’re wrong. It’s just that simple. There are lots of things that are ok to do (swimming, cooking, playing cards, washing cars, playing video games). But not all of them belong in the worship service, and they certainly don’t all fall under the realm of “worshipping God.”

Read his word and follow the instructions. Everything else will follow.

Advertisements