‘Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the
Lord our maker’ (Psalm 95:2).
In spite of the many styles and forms of worship available today, there is great confusion on this subject. We do well, therefore, to consider what the Bible teaches about worship, for it is our only infallible guide.
Some confuse worship with religion. Humanity is incurably religious and you will not find a community anywhere that does not have some form of religious ‘worship’. The reason is that man is made in the image of God and is ‘God-conscious’. Although fallen and sinful, man retains a partially enlightened conscience (Romans 2:14-15).
Some confuse worship with an aesthetic experience. A Reader’s Digest article entitled ‘This too is worship’ describes the mood that came over the writer as he watched a sunset. He felt an elevating sense of awe as pink and golden clouds streaked the sky. This he believed was worship – just as surely as praising God in a church.
Some confuse worship with emotional experiences. True worship does involve deep feelings, but people can have powerful emotions and be utterly ignorant of the true God.
Opinions vary wildly. Some religious groups promote experience as the essence of worship – even to the extent of seeking violent bodily reactions, such as screaming, laughing, jumping, kicking, falling on the floor and foaming at the mouth. Whatever their cause, such exhibitions are not the worship of God.
On the other hand, ‘worship’ for many consists of little more than entertainment, with music and drama leading the way. This must be equally unacceptable for a Bible-believing church. Let us therefore consider the biblical principles that govern true worship.
To begin with, we must give some thought to the true object of worship. Before doing so, however, consider some negatives. Satan is a great counterfeiter – he cares not how fervent, sincere and dedicated devotees may be as long as they are not worshipping the true God.
The ancient world worshipped many gods – who went by many names and served many purposes. The whole social order often centred around temples where various rites and festivals were observed (this is still true today!).
A good example was the worship of the goddess Diana which Paul encountered at Ephesus (Acts 19). The Hebrew prophets and the apostles alike denounced such idolatry and when people became Christians they abandoned such practices (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
The heavens and the earth
The sun, moon and stars have often been worshipped by those ignorant of the true God. Pagan peoples often built shrines and towers symbolising their devotion to the sun-god or moon-god.
God warns against such folly: ‘take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage’ (Deuteronomy 4:19).
Similarly, many make the earth an object of devotion, preferring to pay homage to ‘mother earth’ rather than a heavenly Father. Pantheism – which replaces God by an all-pervasive spirit filling all nature – leads many to adore God’s creation rather than the Creator himself.
Angels and wisdom
The Gnostics of the New Testament period believed in a hierarchy of angels, linking an evil material earth to a pure spiritual heaven. Colossians 2:18 warns, ‘Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind’.
When John, overwhelmed by the appearance of an angel, fell down to worship him, the angel rebuked him, urging him to worship Christ alone (Revelation 19:10).
Other aberrations have appeared in modern times. Radical feminists, objecting to the conspicuously male characteristics of God the Father, have invented a goddess known as ‘Sophia’ (Greek for ‘wisdom’).
Her worship has cropped up in some mainline USA churches. Sophia was praised in a chapel service at a so-called Christian University in Eastern USA. No such god really exists, of course, though the ancient Greeks and many since have deemed ‘wisdom’ the ultimate goal.
Self and materialism
If the devil cannot persuade people to worship external objects, he turns them inward to self-worship. Such things as self-esteem, self-confidence and self-help are wholesome within limits, but the ego can easily become enshrined as god.
Mormonism – one of the fastest growing religions in the world – teaches that through obedience on earth we can become gods in heaven. The New Age movement promotes the notion that deity is in us all. Perhaps this cultic self-worship is the most delusive idolatry of all.
Physical possessions can also usurp the place that God alone deserves. It has been said that whatever possesses the heart is an idol, and in Colossians 3:5 Paul warns of ‘covetousness, which is idolatry’.
Many who claim they have no religion devote their time, energy and talents to the acquisition of material possessions. Even true Christians can be drawn into a culture of greed – hence the apostle’s warning.
No doubt we could name other false gods, but even this brief list should concentrate our minds on the fact that the God of the Bible is the only true object of worship.
Let us consider, then, his names, his nature and his worthiness to be worshipped.
This God was known to the Hebrew people as Yahweh (traditionally rendered ‘Jehovah’). Although mysterious in its origin, this name denotes the self-existent one – the uncaused cause, the eternal, all-sufficient source of all being – the great ‘I AM’.
The Old Testament also presents him as the covenant-keeping God who redeems. It mentions many gods, but reveals only one authentic deity to whom all are accountable.
This God clothed Adam and Eve, walked with Enoch, rescued Noah, and made a covenant of promise with Abraham. On Mount Sinai he gave Israel his law, which forbids the adoration of other beings. He gave them a tabernacle, a priesthood and sacrifices – all foreshadowing Christ. He sent them prophets to correct and guide them.
In the New Testament he reveals himself in Jesus Christ – the Word of God who existed from all eternity and created all things (John 1:1-3). Christ is identified positively as the God of Israel – for it was Yahweh whom the Israelites ‘tested’ in the wilderness, yet Paul says it was ‘Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:9).
His triune nature
The Old Testament hints that this true God consists of three persons, though this is more clearly declared in the New Testament. Jesus of Nazareth is the image of the invisible God, the embodiment of deity (Colossians 1:15; 2:9; Hebrews 1:3).
The Jews of his day understood that by claiming to be God’s Son, he made himself equal with God (John 5:18). He declared to their astonishment that to know and honour the Father one must know and honour the Son (John 5:23; 14:9-11).
Similarly the Holy Spirit (called also the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ; Romans 8:9-11) has all the attributes of personality (John 14:16-18ff).
In the New Testament the three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – together represent the essence of the one true God. The early disciples baptised ‘in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19), while Paul prays, ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all’ (2 Corinthians 13:14).
We can never fully understand the mystery of the Trinity, but Christians believe that they approach the Father through the merits of the Son and in the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. They bow in wonder and grateful praise to the God who has loved, redeemed and called them, out of darkness into glorious light.
The worthiness of God
The Bible teaches that God is worthy of worship. The 24 elders of Revelation 4:11 proclaim, ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power. For you created all things, and by your will they exist and were created’.
God is worthy of worship because of who he is. His holy attributes are calculated to draw from us supreme praise and adoration. He is eternal, self-existent, all-powerful, all-knowing, holy and sovereign. But he is also full of truth, mercy, grace and compassion towards his erring creatures.
God is worthy of worship because of his marvellous works. The wonderful works of God in creation and providence deserve the highest praise. He alone made the universe and all that is in it, including man.
He deserves our praise because of his self-revelation. Through his Holy Spirit he called, endowed and commissioned many men to write the Bible in which he reveals his nature and his eternal purposes in Christ.
Above all, he deserves our praise because of his redeeming grace. Moved solely by sovereign goodness, he provided forgiveness for guilty sinners through the atoning work of Christ.
Christians recognise that they are God’s children not because of any worthiness in themselves but because he has called them by grace and changed their hearts.