STUDY FOUR: QUESTIONS ABOUT BIBLICAL WORSHIP
© Rosemary Bardsley 2007,2013
This study looks at the question ‘What are we supposed to do when we come together for ‘worship’?
This is a very serious question because of the very real potential for false worship. The Bible makes us very aware of how easy it is to engage in false worship. Of the 107 references to ‘worship’, just under a third either describe or warn against false worship. Of the 66 references to ‘worshipped’, more than a third refer to people individually or corporately engaging in false worship.
1 What kinds of worship are forbidden?
The following types of worship are outlawed and condemned in the Bible:
- The worship of gods created by man [Exodus 20:3-7]. In the biblical days, this usually meant physical idols, but also included worshipping ‘God’ with a wrong concept of God in your mind. In other words – worshipping a ‘god’ created in and by the human mind.
- The worship of things created by God – such as the stars, or the sun [Romans 1:25].
- Worshipping ‘God’ and idols [other ‘gods’ or god concepts] at the same time [Amos 5:21-26]. This of necessity reduced ‘God’ to one among many gods, and therefore the concept of ‘God’ was wrong.
- Worshipping Satan or any other spirit being [Matthew 4:8-10; plus several references in Revelation]
- Worshipping angels [Colossians 2:18; Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9].
- Worshipping God with an insincere heart or mind [going through the outward process of worship, but with no truth or sincerity towards God in what one is saying or doing in worship; or, worshipping in such a way as to draw attention to oneself] [Matthew 6:1-18].
- Worshipping the true God in any way other than the way he has appointed [Leviticus 10:1-3; John 14:6; Ephesians 3:12]. [In the Old Testament, to worship God a person had to go through specified cleansing and sacrificial rituals and then enter God’s presence in the way he commanded. In the New Testament it means we approach God only ‘in Christ’, trusting in his sacrificial death by which our sin is forgiven and we are declared holy in his sight.]
How does this relate to worship today? It confronts us with three very important questions:
? Is the object or focus of our worship the God made known in the Bible, and only this God?
? Are we approaching him in the one way he has commanded – through Jesus Christ?
? Is our heart and mind sincere, not just going through an outward form or process?
It also confronts us with two significant challenges for some perceptions in contemporary worship:
1. The challenge to focus on God whom we are worshipping, and not on the person worshipping.
2. The challenge to focus on the God we are worshipping and not on the personal or corporate experience of worship.
The purpose of worship in the Bible is not to ‘experience God’, or ‘encounter God’, but to acknowledge and honour God because of who he is. Biblical worship assumes that the worshipper already knows God, and on the basis of that knowledge, worships God.
2 How did the people of the Bible worship in the verbal sense? What did genuine worship sound like?
Some answers to this question are:
- They addressed God, thanking or praising him for who he is and what he has done.
- They addressed each other, reminding each other of the greatness of God and what he had done for them, and encouraging them to praise and worship him.
- They personally contemplated God and verbally expressed their knowledge of God, and their confidence in God that was grounded in that knowledge.
The first song of praise and worship recorded in the Bible is Moses’ song is Exodus 15:1-18. Together with Miriam’s song in verse 21 these two songs contain each of these three aspects.
From Exodus 15:1-18 and verse 21 identify examples of each of these aspects of praise and worship.
Statements addressed directly to God [These normally contain ‘you’ or ‘your’, or ‘thee’ or ‘thy’.]
Statements addressing other worshippers exhorting them to praise and/or worship.
[Usually don’t have ‘you’ or ‘I’, but contain an exhortation to others to do something e.g. sing, or praise.]
Personal affirmative or contemplative statements arising from personal knowledge of God
[These usually contain ‘I’ ‘me’ and/or ‘my’; or, if a group statement, ‘we’, ‘us’ and/or ‘our’.]
Notice that this song of praise and worship is grounded in objective knowledge of God. Out of the objective knowledge of God comes the personal and corporate verbal expression of praise and worship.
A similar grounding of verbal praise and worship in objective knowledge of God is evident in the Psalms.
Read the following Psalms.
Identify expressions of the three aspects of praise and worship in these Psalms. [Addresses God in terms of what is known of God. Addresses others present telling or reminding them of the truth about God. Personally affirms faith in God on the basis of what is known of God.]
Psalm 8, 18, 23, 29, 47, 95, 98, 100, 111, 116, 146
3 How did the people of the Bible worship when experience shouted that God was not there?
Sometimes, and sometimes quite frequently or for a long period, life is dark. Nothing we are currently experiencing gives us any reason to even believe that God is there. Can we still worship then … when everything in our lives seems to be shouting that God isn’t there, or, if he is, he simply doesn’t care?
The Bible answers ‘Yes!’ even there in the dark times, even when we cannot seem to make any contact with God, yes, we can still worship him, we should still worship him, because that which we know to be true of him is still true. We do not worship on the flimsy and variable basis of our experience, but on the solid ground of the objective truth that God has revealed about himself.
Consider these two people of God:
Everything that could go wrong had gone wrong for Job [read Job chapters 1, 2 & 30]. In the midst of all this suffering Job couldn’t even get through to God when he prayed. It seemed that God had stopped listening and stopped caring [read 23:1-9]. Yet even in this feeling of darkness and isolation from God, Job still knows that God is there and that God is for him, and because of this foundational knowledge, worships God saying:
‘I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!’ [Job 19:25-27]
Job is so committed to the honour of God that he makes this incredible statement:
‘Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off! Then I would still have this consolation – my joy in unrelenting pain – that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.’ [Job 6:8-10]
So intense is his suffering that he fears that he will break and dishonour God. He would rather die, than live and run the risk that he will curse God. That is a true heart of worship!
The nation of Judah was in ruins. Injustice reigned. Invasion by hostile armies was immanent. Famine ravaged the land. There was no observable evidence that God was looking after his people. There was no observable physical reason to worship God [read Habakkuk 3:16-17]. Yet, on the basis of his knowledge of God as Saviour and Sovereign Lord Habakkuk worships God with these words:
‘ … yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength’ [3:18,19]
4 In what way is Christian worship different from Old Testament worship?
As we have already seen in the previous three studies, there is a high level of continuity and similarity between Old Testament and New Testament worship. But there is also a significant level of discontinuity and difference. This is because much is the Old Testament is a physical prophetic symbol of the spiritual reality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We must never, therefore, lose touch with the following contrasts and slide back into a form or understanding of worship that has been made redundant by its fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
The fundamental contrast: Old Testament worship – largely tied to physical Christian worship - spiritual
Old Testament worship remembered a physical redemption – the deliverance from slavery, and prayed for example, for physical deliverance from invading nations.
Christian worship remembers and rejoices in a spiritual redemption – deliverance from our sins, from sin’s penalty, and from Satan. [Revelation 5:9]
Old Testament worship was tied to physical objects – the tabernacle or temple, the altar, the incense, the candlestick, the laver, the holy place, holy city, etc
Christian worship takes place in the spiritual temple of God – the church [people, not building], and is not tied to physical objects or places. It is ‘worship in spirit and in truth’ [1Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:21; John 4:21-24]
Old Testament worship was dependent on the Levitical priests fulfilling their appointed roles of service.
In Christian worship every believer is a priest who can serve the Lord [1Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10], with Jesus Christ as our great High Priest.
Old Testament worship depended on a never-ending offering of sacrifices, day after day, year after year.
Christian worship depends on the one, once-for-all, permanently effective sacrifice of Christ, by which we have gained permanent access into the presence of God. [Hebrews 10:10-18]
Old Testament worship depended on the mediation of numerous, fallible, priests.
Christian worship depends on the mediation of one Mediator – the man Christ Jesus. Because of his permanent mediation we approach God with confidence. [Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:19-22]
Old Testament worship looked forward to the coming of the Messiah.
Christian worship remembers and rejoices that he has come.
Old Testament worship required the worshipper to be ceremonially clean.
Christian worshippers have been declared clean because of their union with Christ. [John 15:3; Colossians 1:22]
Full access to Old Testament worship was denied to people who were deformed, sick, non-Jew, female, etc …
In Christian worship all such distinctions and prohibitions do not exist. [Ephesians 2:11-22; Galatians 3:26-29]