A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at the All Souls Men’s breakfast. I spoke on worship and used the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) as a paradigm for what worship is and ought to be. The talk wasn’t recorded but here I have given a summary of what I said though without the framework of the Magnificat.
The word “worship” seems to have a variety of meanings today. For some, worship is a musical genre. For others, worship is the time in a church service where everyone sings songs of praise to God. For still others, worship is the whole of the church service and includes everything that takes place there. But the Bible tells us that worship is much bigger than any of these ideas.
Worship is, according to Scripture, the expression of our entire lives to God. It is not only a duty but also a privilege of our relationship with God. A key passage on worship is found in John 4. Verse 23 says that God not only tolerates worship but God seeks worshipers. God actively desires people who will worship him. Verse 24 of the same text says that, “…those who worship [God] must worship in spirit and truth”. To worship God in spirit is explained by Jesus to mean that people will not have to be in a specific place to worship God. He says, “…believe me, an hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (v 21). Worship is not tied to a place. Because of this, worship is also not tied to cultic practices. The idea of worshipping in truth is that true worship, the kind that God seeks, is now rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. Worship of God without recognition of Jesus is not true worship. Hebrew worship was focused around the deeds of God, particularly the Exodus event. Christian worship is focused on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus; the ‘Christ event’.
In Romans 12, the apostle Paul tells us to, “…offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship”. Worship, then, is more than the acts usually associated with worship – it is the offering of our entire selves to God. Paul, however, not only tells us to do this but he also tells us why we are to do it: “in view of God’s mercy”. True worship is our response to God for who He is and what He has done.
The word ‘worship’ is derived from the old English word ‘worthship’. It carries the idea that the object of worship is something of great value. As a Christian, I recognize God as being of ultimate worth. Therefore, he is ultimately worthy of my worship. It would be a mistake to think that because of my worship I could add anything to God’s glory. But as Charles Spurgeon wrote, I will, “…add my drop to the ocean”. God does not need my worship to boost his self-esteem, he seeks worshippers to speak truth, and the ultimate truth is to speak rightly of who God is. Worship does, however, do something for us. It allows us intimate access to God himself through the blood of Christ (Heb.10:19). God has always desired relationship with his creation. Worship is the means to, and the expression of, that relationship.
So what about our acts of worship: singing, giving, attending to Scripture, Communion, etc.? These acts are still very important and followers of Jesus ought to regularly participate in all of them. They are part of our communal response to God but the acts of worship are to be a reflection of a life of worship, not simply things we do for an hour a week and then disregard until that same hour the next week.
O Lord, send down Thy grace to help me, that I may glorify Thy Name. John Chrysostom