What does it mean to worship?

One of my favorite verses, in all of Scripture, and the most challenging one personally is Romans 12:1. I love the contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. I love to look at how atonement for sin was obtained during the Old Testament/passover era. We can look at how the passover lamb, that you would sacrifice, would be an acceptable offering to God for your sin. However, I can’t help but take some bias and prejudice toward the New Covenant because it is more personal to me. John MacArthur says this about the New Covenant. He says,

“..because of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, the OT sacrifices are no longer of any effect.”

What a perfect statement to prove that Jesus, the spotless lamb of God, paid the ultimate price for our sins on the cross and made a way for us to boldly approach the Throne. Clearly, we have an obligation to God. We owe him more than mere, redundant commitment; we owe him everything. This passage in Romans, that Paul wrote, explains to us that we must offer our bodies in sacrificial form, just as the lamb would be, as an instrument of righteousness. He explains that it is our logical (reasonable) duty to owe God our highest form of service (worship). I understand completely that, in essence, our entire lives should be committed to Jesus Christ and the work of His Kingdom.

There must be an object of our worship.

Before we can really get into the crux of the argument for appropriate worship, we must understand that there is an object of our worship. The Israelites struggled with idolatry. There was a huge problem with Israel wanting a material God, all throughout their wanderings in the wilderness. God, obviously understood this and this is where the 10 Commandments come into the picture and this is where I want our first point to be exhorted from: Commandment #1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Did you understand what God said? God is telling the Israelites that all other false gods stand in opposition to the one true God and the worship of them is incompatible with the worship of Yahweh. Once again, the issue here was idolatry. Anytime that the Israelites drifted from the worship of Jehovah, they fell into a religious confusion. Doesn’t that sound familiar? It seems like we do the same thing. In fact, a lot of times we fall into a confused state of worship where we worship “worship” more than we worship God. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that we see things done in worship services and want them to be done in accordance to our preference rather than what Scripture commands. We use our preferences and our pride to guide our worship rather than the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, we even use our feelings to guide a worship experience. For instance, gospel singings. I have nothing against singings. In fact, I love them. They are some of my favorite things to go to and even perform in. However, think about how many people would pay $40 to take their family to a gospel singing, but then never come to church because it is “not engaging.” We expect our feelings to be fulfilled, rather than our lives to be changed by the Holy Spirit’s conviction and the Gospel. Now where am I going with this? What I want us to really take into consideration is this: are we coming to church just to come and be energized or are we coming to grow and be transformed into the image of Christ? The object of our worship is not worship itself, it is God. It is the God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, the God who protected Daniel in the lion’s den, and ultimately the God who defeated death on our behalf so we could have life more abundantly. The Lord God, Jehovah should always be our focus, not who we are sitting beside, not what songs are sung, not what hymnal they are sung out of, not how hot or cold the thermostat is set, or anything else you could throw into that mix. Our focus should be Christ.

Our worship exists outside of the church building.

In some ways, I believe we have forgotten the crucial truth that God is concerned with our inner state. 1 Samuel 16:7, “..For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I say this in all honesty; with the little pastoral experience that I have had, there are a lot of people who still do not understand this implication about worship. Christians come to a corporate worship gathering to worship, however, almost every time they come with unprepared hearts. We must understand that God is concerned with your mode of worship. Let’s take a look at Ananias and Sapphira.
Please do not try to tell me that God is not concerned with how we worship. I could give you plenty of Scripture to back that up. It is true, God is concerned with your mode of worship, as well. He is concerned with your matter of worship, but also your motive for worship. Do you remember this story? If you recall the end of Acts 4, Barnabas had given a gift of money, from a sold piece of property that he owned, to the church to be distributed among the needy. As he should, he received an adequate amount of applause from the church. It was tradition to honor those who gave graciously to the church. Ananias noticed the applause that Barnabas received and coveted the same applause from the church. So he decided to sell a piece of land, but only give a fraction of the money and say it was all of it. Because of Ananias and Sapphira’s deception, God struck them dead immediately. In the original language, it even says that their deaths were of divine judgment. Clearly God was not pleased with Ananias and Sapphira’s offering.
But you see, we can look at this and justify this because any gift is better than none. Isn’t death a little heavy on the consequence side of things? Why couldn’t they have just been blinded or something a little less fatal? The reason that God was so relentless with them is because of their hypocrisy in their giving. God does not want you to give gifts to be like someone else. God wants you to give out of the graciousness of your heart. Here’s the deal. It wasn’t like Ananias saw Barnabas give his gift and say, “God, give me a heat to spread my wealth to help the needy.” Ananias gave because he wanted the attention and applause that Barnabas received.

I wonder, how many times do we raise our hands, or support things, teach classes, just to be seen. Once again, let me say that I am not questioning motives here, but I want us to examine ourselves. How many times do we only want to do things to be seen rather than in service to God, whom we owe our everything. If you tithe, I pray that you are tithing out of the abundance of your heart rather than because you feel like you have to. God does not want hypocritical Christians.

There must be appropriate ways to worship.

We have see the matter of worship, our motive of worship, and now we will look at our material for worship. In all honesty, there are several ways in which we could be appropriate in worship. But what I am going to talk about is an all inclusive idea: giving/bringing God your very best. I know there is a huge argument over what to wear to church and what type of music should be played. And in some ways, it can be a very controversial topic. Yet, I do see some principles in both the Old and New Testaments that we can take root in.

One thing that we can look at for this issue is the High Priests of Israel. They had specific instructions as to what they could wear. In fact, there is an entire chapter in the book of Exodus of God communicating the intricacy of the priestly wardrobe. Verse 43 of that chapter says,

“ and they shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they go into the tent of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister in the Holy Place, lest they bear guilt and die. This shall be a statute forever for him and for his offspring after him.“ Exodus 28:43

For some that do not know, here is what a priest would typically look like as he entered into the tabernacle, or the holy place.
What an illustrious outfit! We can see from this picture and from our text that God expects excellence from his people. John MacArthur states that “Such a severe consequence stressed the importance of their duties and should have motivated the priests not to consider their priestly role as a mundane, routine, and thankless task.” If you take a look at our verse in Exodus 28, you will notice that if the priests did not wear this attire in the holy place, they would be struck dead. As MacArthur pointed out very clearly, I believe we can see and grasp the thought that God does expect nothing less than excellence from His people in Worship. These sacrificial offerings were not just a system for atonement, although that was their prime purpose. This system was also set in place as an act of worship, just as we are set in place to offer our entire bodies as a sacrifice to God, as a new testament Christian.

I know we can look at the picture above and think, “I am not a priest; how does that apply to me?” Let me lovingly point out to you, Christian that, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” You are a part of a royal priesthood! I did some original language research to really understand the meaning of the GK word, priesthood. It literally means that you are a part of the priestly fraternity. However, its root word is hierateuo, which means to be a priest, ie perform his duties – execute the priests office. This is encouraging news to me, as a Christian! First, because it means that I do not have to go through a priest to confess sin or become righteous in God’s sight. Yet, it also tells me that all of that is made possible because of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. Jesus has made us a royal priesthood because of his ultimate sacrifice on Calvary.

God demands excellence.
I know it is more of a grey area subject on what to wear for corporate worship. However, I do believe that God demands excellence from His people, just like he did the Israelite Priests. Take a look to Cain and Abel and their story. Remember what happened when they both gave an offering to the Lord? One was accepted and one was not and in the end, someone lost a life. God instructed both Cain and Abel to bring forth offerings. Abel brought the best of his newborn animals, and Cain brought regular produce from the ground. God honored Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. The reason that God only honored one son’s offering was because Abel gave his offering out of sheer obedience to what God had commanded, even though it was not recorded in Genesis. Cain, however, ignored the instruction and brought, as MacArthur states, “what he wanted to bring.”

I am guilty of this, as much as anyone else. I love to be comfortable. I am all about wearing jeans to the office. In fact, if you were to come by during the week, you will most likely find me wearing jeans and a collared shirt in my office. I believe that there are implications from Scripture that we can take and apply to our material for worship. We can look at the intricate details of the priests of Israel and how they were to “be on Aaron and on his sons when they go into the tent of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister in the Holy Place, lest they bear guilt and die. This shall be a statute forever for him and for his offspring after him. Exodus 28:43“ There was a reason that God demanded his priests to wear such elaborate clothing; appropriateness. We can talk about weddings, funerals, etc. and understand the true meaning of appropriateness, but we see those things as demanding excellent dress, and put our corporate worship services on the back burner. Scott Anoil says,

“Maybe dressing down is effective outreach for audiences unaccustomed to church formality. But most in these same audiences probably still dress up for weddings, funerals, graduations and events they regard as significant. Evidently worship no longer counts as that significant to merit respectful dress.”

I believe, as a Christian, you ought to sacrificially give God you very best, because He demanded it from his Priests in the Old Testament, and He demands it from His royal priesthood in the present day. When we look at the story of Cain and Abel and how Cain was only bringing par offerings, we can take note that God is not pleased whenever we bring ourselves with nothing more than the status quo, outwardly and inwardly. I understand worship is a way of life, but God is concerned with both outward and inward appearance. If He was only concerned with inward appearance, we wouldn’t need good works to prove that we are Christians (Matt. 5:16, 1 Pet.2:12). We must take it upon ourselves raise up a generation that has a sense of appropriateness and excellence in worship and understand that God is excellent in all his ways, and so should we be as well. Jesus even told the woman at the well that:

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:24″

Literally what Jesus is meaning is that you must worship Him in every area of life; outwardly and inwardly. This verse proposes that every area of our lives should be done not only with excellence, but also in a worshipful manner toward Christ. We should pursue excellence in our corporate worship, and our lives. I am convinced that Jesus is honored and glorified only when we choose to hold ourselves to a higher standard in a fully devoted life of worship to him.