As I promised last week, here is “Right Worship” part two. Today I will take the time to properly define worship in this piece of writing. These days there are a lot of people that have a lot to say about worship. There are many different views and definitions presented by Protestant churches today as to what worship really is. For example I hear people say that there are different styles of worship when they are really referring to styles of music. Well nothing can be more inaccurate. Worship has no form, style, or genre; what really should be said is that we express worship in different ways. The biggest error on the subject is that the church has now almost entirely defined worship only in terms of music and singing. Hence we use the terms, “Worship Service”, or “after the worship”, as if to say when the music and the singing ends, worship is over. Music and singing does not properly represent worship, they are simply ways we express worship. True worship continues long after the music fades and the noise is over.
The English word “worship” is derived from an Old English word “worthship”. Worship then, constitutes those actions and attitudes that revere and honor the worthiness of the true and living God. Worship is not an event that takes place on Sunday morning or Wednesday night. True worship takes place in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Christian worship must take place in response to God’s revelation of Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. True worship is an expression of adoration that comes from the heart, and is independent of music. Therefore anything that is done in service for, and to glorify God, is in fact part of our worship to Him. The church must understand that almost everything we do in service to and for God are all part of worship, and not just the singing of songs. Another important element of worship is seeking God’s face in prayer, (1 Sam. 8:6; Gen. 20:17; Jas. 5:17-19). Confession of sin is also clearly an important aspect of worship (1 Kgs. 8:30-39). Worship also includes the reading of scripture both privately and publicly. In addition, the celebration of sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s Supper are key features of New Testament worship. And last but not least, praising God, which is different from worship. Praising God can be done as an act of worship, but praising God does not constitute worship itself. Sometime in the near future I will continue this worship series with an article dedicated to explaining the difference between Praise and Worship. Though these words are used interchangeably in the church, they are not the same thing.
Since worship under the old covenant was based on the sacrificial system, only the priesthood (descendants of Aaron) was reserved the offering of sacrifices to God. Those priests were assisted by Levites who did most of the physical labor in and around the temple. But only the priests were allowed to draw close to God in worship. They offered sacrifices in worship to God on behalf of the people who could not do so. Every day they would offer different sacrifices and offerings to God for the sins of the people. On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), which was one appointed day every year, the priest would enter into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of the lamb on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant.
Before doing so, he had to ceremonially cleanse himself and then offer up the sacrifice, first for himself and then for the people. Only the High Priest had the privilege of standing in the very presence of God Himself. Think about that for a moment, then think about the privilege believers now have of coming into the presence of God on a daily basis. Unlike the Israelites, we now have direct access to the Holy of Holies on a daily basis. The scripture says, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split” (Matt. 27:51). The tearing of the veil was symbolic of the free access now given to believers to worship God on his/her own. The writer of Hebrews said, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).
Saul’s Unacceptable Sacrifice (Worship):
Now let’s shift our focus to 1 Samuel chapter 13, where Saul offered an unacceptable sacrifice to God on the battle field. As I said in Part 1; under the Old Covenant, worship centered on the perfection of the sacrifices being offered to God and not necessarily on who was offering it. Under the New Covenant it is reversed; worship is now centered on who is offering the worship. Though this account was not under the New Covenant, this was the case with King Saul. While Saul’s offering itself would have most likely been perfectly acceptable, he was not fit to offer such a sacrifice to God. Prior to King Saul, Israel was a ‘Theocracy’, meaning they were a people ruled by God, and not a king or government. Against the original plan of God, Saul became the first king of Israel who did well at the beginning of his reign, but quickly rebelled against God and began to do whatever pleased him. His heart had grown cold and he totally lost the fear of God and found himself on a slippery slope to his destruction. The unlawful sacrifice Saul offered was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the moment God made up His mind that He would take the kingdom from him and give it to another.
It was only in the second year of King Saul’s reign when he gathered three thousand men to go up against the philistines. Saul, his son Jonathan, and their men were preparing to attack the Philistines military camp. However when the Philistines found out, they gathered their entire army, which the scripture describes as “the sand of the sea in number” (1 Sam. 13:5). When the Israelites saw the size of the army, they ran and hid themselves in caves, rocks, pits, and high places. They hid because they were terrified at the size of the Philistines army compared to theirs. Knowing that they were disproportionately outnumbered, they knew they would lose the battle without the help of God. This is where the story gets interesting. Historically, Israel always overwhelmingly won their battles when they offered a sacrifice to God prior to their attack. Only this time there was no one to offer the sacrifice. The sacrificial system did not permit anyone other than a priest to offer up any sacrifice to God, so that if anyone did, it was considered an abomination to God.
Fearful and reluctant to go to battle before worshipping God with their sacrifice, Saul rightly decided to wait for seven days for the prophet Samuel to return like he said he would. However, during that time, Saul began to lose men every day. Two Thousand four hundred of Saul’s men grew weary and others were struck with fear and they decided to leave the camp. Saul got to where he could no longer wait on the prophet/priest Samuel to return. Samuel happened to be the prophet of the Lord at the time Saul reigned as King, but he was also a priest, which made him suitable to offer the sacrifice. Samuel studied the priesthood under the leadership of Eli the priest and replaced him after his death. This is the same Samuel whom the Lord called and Eli advised him to respond by saying, “Speak Lord your servant is hearing”. The story goes on to inform us that to his own demise, King Saul decided to defy the word of God and offer the burnt offering himself. As soon as he was finished, Samuel the priest appeared.
King Saul made the biggest mistake he would ever make in disobeying God and offering an unlawful sacrifice. Unlike Nadab and Abihu, who offered wrong incense, Saul was the wrong person to offer the sacrifice. Nadab and Abihu were both priests and therefore were perfectly fit to offer sacrifices to God. The problem was they did not pay close attention to what they were offering, and as a result they lost their lives. In the case of Saul it was the very opposite. Though his sacrifice would have been unblemished, he himself was not fit to offer the sacrifice, and as a consequence he lost the kingdom. When Samuel saw what he did, he asked him, “What have you done?”(vs.11). Saul told Samuel when he saw his men fleeing he got impatient and forced himself to offer the sacrifice. Samuel’s response was“You have done a foolish thing” (vs.13), in disobeying God’s commandment. Immediately Samuel spoke his judgment and told him thus saith the Lord, “God would seek out a man after his own heart to be king in his place” (vs.14). Not too long after, God sent the prophet Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint David as the next king of Israel. From that day onward David was marked for death. He would not have peace, for Saul had sought to take him out before he would be exalted king. That moment signaled the beginning of the end of King Saul and his family. Instead of repenting and turning from his ways, he continued to allow pride to get the better of him and ended up literally committed suicide at the hand of the very same Philistines.
In light of Saul’s example, let us now take a look at right worship. Obviously, Saul did not display “Right Worship”. His worship was contaminated because he was illegally operating in the office of a priest to offer such a sacrifice. Unlike King Saul, believers today have been given the priesthood, which qualifies us to offer the sacrifice of praise and worship unto him. Revelation 5:10 says, “And have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.” The only difference with the priestly office we now occupy is that we are no longer required to offer burnt offering to God because Christ who was the perfect Lamb of God was offered as the ultimate the sacrifice for us. He was the Lamb of God who was slain from the foundation of the earth. It was at that point that God ended the sacrificial system and broke down the wall of partition and gave us free access to worship Him. However, care and caution as to how we present ourselves to Him in worship must be adhered to.
Hindrances to Worship
In order for worship to be right, our hearts must now be right. On one hand the sacrifice had to be right for the offering to be accepted. On the other hand the person who offered the sacrifices had to be qualified to do so. Today God is only drawn to and accepts the person who offers a true heart of worship to Him. God is seeking true worshippers. He is seeking for a people whose hearts and affections are perfect toward him. Not because those who claim to be God’s people gather together for worship, its guaranteed that true worship is taking place, or that God accepts it. If the worship of God is only lip service and not from the heart, it is equivalent to an Old Testament Priest offering an unacceptable sacrifice. Our Lord Jesus severely chastised the Pharisees for their hypocrisy in religiously and legalistically following the law of God. Jesus said to them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27, 28). Again He said to them, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:7-9).
Note the similar criticism that He charged against the church at Ephesus, who attempted to worship God but no longer loved Him. “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4-5). Another hindrance to worship is a lifestyle of compromise, sin, and immorality. God refused to accept the sacrifices of King Saul because he disobeyed His commandments (1 Sam. 15:1-23). Isaiah provides us with a picture of what is currently taking place in Christian worship. He castigated the children of Israel as a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers” (Isa. 1:4); the same time they were offering sacrifices and celebrating their holy days. Then the Lord declared, “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when you spread out your hands wide, I will hide my eyes from you. Yes, when you many prayers, I will not hear you, because your hands are filled with blood” (Isa. 1:14-15).
Similarly, James indicates that God will not hear the selfish prayers of those who have not separated themselves from the world (James 4:1-5). We are further admonished by the apostle Paul; “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:1-2). Worship can only be right when it’s coming from the heart of someone who is totally committed to serving God. God’s people can expect Him to draw near and accept their worship only if they have clean hands and a pure heart (Ps. 24:3-4; Jam. 4:8). Thus worship is God-centered, not man-centered. In Christian worship we draw near to God in gratitude for what he has done for us in Christ and through the Holy Spirit. It requires a faith commitment to Him and an acknowledgment that He is our God and our Lord. Until next time; PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR WORSHIP.