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  • Rick LoPresti

What worship is and is not

Updated: Jul 14

God created everything except Himself (Jn 1:3 & 10, Col 1:16). God is not created. He is the first cause. The Creator is not created, and the creation is not Creator (Ex 3:14, Ps 100:3). God created everything for His pleasure (Rev 4:11). All created things are to worship Him. This includes the angels (Ps 148:2) and man (Ps 150:6). To some degree this includes even the animals (Ps 148:10), trees (1Chr 16:33, Is 55:12), and even inanimate things (Ps 148:3-8). The Hebrew word translated worship means to bow down or prostrate yourself. This is more than just a physical position. It is a humbling, acknowledging, and submitting to God. God wants more than just a momentary, physical act or saying of words (Is 29:13). He wants our hearts. This involves acknowledging who He is and what He does, His authority and power over all, and giving thanks for His goodness (Ps 100). It has been said that there is a difference between worship and praise. Although there are several Hebrew words translated praise and they are different words than the one translated worship, the scriptures do not specifically denote a major distinction. While we cannot actually add anything to God such as glory or strength, we can acknowledge that God has such things and ascribe them to Him (Deut 32:3, Job 36:3, Ps 68:34). In its essence, worship acknowledges that God is the highest and credits Him with the center of our attention and adoration. It's all about Him. Worship is a spiritual activity that God accepts when it is done according to His word (Jn 4:20-24).

There are many misconceptions and incorrect statements about what worship is. The Bible does not make it a complicated subject, but man tends to make things more complicated than they really are. Man also tends to add to the scriptures things that are not actually there. This is the essence of religion. It is man making up his own way of doing things and then calling it what God wants. This was clearly happening in the days that Christ was on the earth. He said, "Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Mk 7:7)." Paul addressed the pagan Athenians on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31). They had so many altars recognizing so many religions that they even had one with the inscription "To the unknown God". Paul said they were too superstitious. Today we think of things like black cats, ladders, and knocking on wood when someone mentions superstition, but the word in this passage means religious. They were worshiping, but they did not know God. They were doing it according to the precepts and traditions of men. Colossians 2:18-23 also speaks about trying to worship God according to man's ideas. Verse 23 in the King James Version has the phrase will worship, which means "worship which one prescribes and devises for himself, contrary to the contents and nature of faith which ought to be directed to Christ (Strong's Concordance)".

Jesus addressed this with the Samaritan woman He met at Jacob's well in Shechem (Jn 4). The background of this conversation is found in the history of Israel in the Old Testament. The nation of Israel was made up of twelve tribes according to the sons of Jacob. King Solomon fell away from God and led His people to worship idols. As a judgment, God sent division (1Ki 11-12). Ten tribes became the northern kingdom of Israel and two tribes became the southern kingdom of Judah. The southern tribes were ruled by the descendants of king David. Some were good and some were not. None of the northern kings followed the Lord, and they worshiped idols. They set up an alternative religion with alternative priests in their capitol city of Samaria. When the northern kingdom fell to Assyria, they Assyrians took some Israelites captive and left some there. They also imported people from other lands they had conquered. There was a failed attempt at a hybrid religion of the worship of God and idolatry (2Ki 17). The Samaritans were looked at by the Jews as half-breed pagans, and the Samaritans had no dealings with the Jews.

This explains some of the content of the conversation Jesus had with this Samaritan woman. She brought up the issue of Jews saying worship should happen in Jerusalem, but the Samaritans worshiped in their mountain. Jesus said that the worship the Jews practiced according to the law of Moses in the temple was the correct way to worship, but then He went further and stated that geographical location is not what determines true worship, but worship in spirit and truth (Jn 4:23-24). It is often said that worship in spirit means to worship under the influence of the Holy Ghost. While that is a good thing to do, that is not what the Lord was saying. There are two indicators of this. First, the translators of the King James Version always capitalized the word spirit in the New Testament when they interpreted it to mean the Holy Spirit. The word is not capitalized in John 4:23-24. Second, the word spirit would have the article "the" before it if it meant the Holy Ghost as it does throughout the New Testament. Almost all modern translations have a small S and no article. The original Greek has no article. By these facts and the context, Jesus was saying that true worship is a spiritual thing between God and us and not just a religious activity by the precepts of men. To worship in truth means to worship the true God according to His word in sincerity.

There are many purposes ascribed to worship that have no basis in the Bible. It is often said that the music portion of a church gathering comes before preaching because worship prepares us to hear and respond to the word of God. There is no scripture nor precedent in the book of Acts for this specific order, nor for this purpose of worship.

Some say that worship is the way into God's presence. The presence of God is everywhere. He is omnipresent (Ps 139:7-10, Is 66:1, Jn 3:13, Acts 17:27-28). In that sense, we cannot get into His presence because wherever we go, God is already there. What God does is concentrate or manifest His presence at certain times and in certain places. For example, God manifested Himself on Mount Sinai, but He was also down below with the Israelites (Ex 19-26). Another example is that two people can be in the same room even sitting next to each other while one is having a profound interaction with God and the other is playing on their phone. The difference is the choice of the people to seek Him or not. In some places there is an overemphasis on "feeling God's presence". Feeling God's presence is a wonderful thing, but it is not the benchmark of worship nor of Christianity. The benchmark Jesus gave was keeping His commandments (Jn 14:15). We should do this whether we feel anything or not. Here are some examples of people who were in God's presence but not in right relationship with Him:

1. Adam and Eve (Gen 3:8)

2. Cain (Gen 4:16)

3. Backslidden Israel (Ex 33:14, 2Ki 13:23, Jer 23:29, Jer 52:3)

4. Satan (Job 1:12, Job 2:7)

5. The wicked (Lk 13:26)

6. Those in the lake of fire (Rev 14:10)

Today there is far too much emphasis on emotion (feeling) which sometimes is associated with the presence of God and sometimes is nothing more than emotion or stimulation of the senses from entertainment. Lights and entertaining, loud music do not guarantee worship. In fact, they are often a substitute for true worship. Sadly, much modern Christian music places man instead of God at its center both in melody and lyric. The Christian music industry and the entertainment atmosphere in some churches are too much like those of the world, as is their purpose.

Worship is not to get God to give us something we want. That is prayer which literally means asking God. Prayer and worship can go together as the Lord showed us in His example prayer (Mt 6:9-13). However, the purpose of worship is not "buttering God up" to get Him to do what we want. Worship has nothing to do with angels (Col 2:18-23). We do not worship angels (Rev 19:10, Rev 22:8-9), nor do we command or control them (Ps 8:4, Ps 103:20, 2Pet 2:11). Angels are real, but the goal of worship is not to interact with angels.

Spiritual warfare is real and Biblical, but the passages about it do not say that worship is the way we fight the enemy. The closest reference to that is when Jehoshaphat led Judah into battle against the Moabites and the Ammonites (2Chr 20). Jahaziel prophesied that they would not have to fight this battle because the Lord would do it for them (2Chr 20:14-17). The people responded by worshiping God, and when the army went out they put singers in front who praised God.

All of these examples of things people attribute to worship - following religious traditions of man instead of the scriptures, preparing us to hear preaching, to get into God's presence/get a feeling or emotion, to get answers to prayer, to interact with angels, and to engage in spiritual warfare - change the focus of worship from God to us. Worship is not for us. It is to be unto the Lord for His glory and pleasure. There is no other purpose of worship. We certainly are blessed by worshiping God, but that is not why we should do it. We should do it to acknowledge Him, thank Him, and honor Him.

The most detailed look into activity in heaven in the Bible including worship is the book of Revelation. Chapter 4:8-11 shows angels and men worshiping God. They are worshiping Him for who He is. He is the center and focus of what they are saying. Their only purpose is to glorify God. There is no reference to self. Chapter 5:8-14 is another example of this. They say that He is worthy and say, "Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne". Chapter 7:9-12, 11:15-18, 15:3-4, and 19:1-7 are additional examples. Worship is to bless God. Prayer is related to worship but not exactly the same, although it should have the same goal. God wants us to bring our needs and requests to Him, but He also wants us to trust His responses and to seek His will and purpose and not be singularly focused on our selfish desires (Lk 22:42, 1Jn 5:14-15). We cannot help but be blessed when God is the center and not us.

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