True Worship

"But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him". (John 4:23)

When we hear the word "worship" we may think of modern day church practices which are neither God-centered nor biblically based. Many who perform this type of worship base their practices almost exclusively on emotions. We might also think of people who worship consistently and stringently but have little evidence of the Spirit of Christ working in them. Hopefully these examples are not found in our ecclesias, but they can still affect us and our worship of God. We must not be derailed in our thinking about worship due to other's improper worship. Even worse would be to lose our focus on the importance of this fundamental subject. Coming together to worship God is a primary function of the ecclesia.

Christ tells us how important this subject is to God in his discourse with the woman at the well of Samaria as quoted above from John 4:23. God is actively seeking individuals (you and I) to worship Him! We must keep the worship of God and His son in the front of our minds and in accordance with His word. The scriptures consistently repeat this important theme:

These are just two of the many verses that illustrate the utmost importance that we need to place on worship. With that firmly in mind, we now notice the qualifications that Jesus places on worship. It is not just worshippers that God is seeking, but true worshippers. This distinction shows that there are false worshippers as well. This begs the question then, how do I know if I am a true worshipper of God?

Fortunately, Christ has given us the answer. He tells us that to be a true worshipper of God you must "worship the Father in spirit and in truth..." To understand these words it is important to know the context of the verses.

Christ and the disciples had traveled into the region of Samaria, in particular, the city of Sychar (also known as Shechem). It is here that Christ entered into a discussion with a woman of Samaria at the well of Jacob. Jesus directed the conversation to a spiritual lesson about living water in contrast to the natural water that he asked her to provide. Because of his knowledge of her personal life, the woman quickly realized that this is no ordinary man that she is speaking with and refers to him as a prophet. She then proceeded to make a statement which reveals some of the differences between the Samaritans and Jews at that time. It seems that she wants Christ to tell her who is right.

"The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." (John 4:19-20)

There was a significant history of conflict between the Samaritans and the Jews and it shows in her words. The woman wanted Christ to tell her which mountain was the right place to worship God. The Jews say Mount Zion in Jerusalem and the Samaritans say Mount Gerizim in Shechem. There are interesting reasons behind both sides of the argument and some quite plausible ones for the Samaritans. But she wanted to know who was right, once and for all; Christ's answer, we can only imagine, was a shock to her:

"Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews." (John 4:21-22)

Christ did not take a side, as she expected that he would. He showed the woman that despite the commendable spirit and zeal behind the Samaritan worship, it was not according to knowledge. They were not descendents of Abraham through Isaac and were not heirs of the promises. They were not worshipping in truth, although they most likely had the spirit or sincerity that God desired. It is interesting to note here that the Samaritans were referenced by Jesus in some of his parables not only because of the historical conflict and disdain that the Israelites had for these people, but because they probably had more compassion and brotherly love than their Jewish neighbors.

We cannot miss the contrast to the misbelievers that worshiped at Mt. Gerizim. Those who worshipped at Mt. Zion were being condemned by Christ as well. They, too, had missed the mark, but for a different reason. They worshipped with the truth in hand, but not in the proper spirit. Neither worship practice was acceptable to God. That is why Christ is restating the essential nature of worship. True worship must be done in spirit and in truth. Christ's words reflect the instructions given by Joshua at the same place many years before.

"Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD." (Joshua 24:14)

Worshipping the true God in spirit and in truth is a perpetual challenge. We must guard His truth and our hearts for our service to be acceptable to Him. We must guard against being like the Samaritan's spiritual worship - without understanding and void of saving truth. We must also guard against the problem of the Jews who were worshipping in the right form but without the right heart. The Jews had the promises but not the faith of their fathers. They worshipped with the heritage of truth but not in spirit. Proper worship of God will stir the heart and emotions through His revealed instructions - His Truth.

We can see from the following references that it is not the place of worship that is to be the focus:

"For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 1:11)

"Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?" (Acts 7:48-50)

Remembering what God has told us to do is the important part, not the location in which we do it. Our worship of Him in the appointed way with the right heart is the objective. Individually and as the ecclesia of God we realize that we are His temple and that He wants us to worship Him every day in every place.

"And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:20-22)

We are supposed to be growing into the holy temple God desires, individually and collectively. To become useful stones in this building we must be changed from our natural inclinations. Our worship of God is a means of chiseling us into the proper stones for His building. Some of us tend to have a greater affinity toward one end or the other of the Truth vs. Spirit spectrum. We must examine ourselves to see who we are more like, Samaritans, Pharisees or true worshippers. The biblical instruction is that you must have truth and spirit in proper balance. It is like the opposite sides of the same coin - inseparable. Worship must change us! If you are not changed by worship then you have not worshipped. Worship compels us to greater love and obedience to God's law and love of our brethren, or it is not worship.

The ecclesia is to be the gathering of the called out ones who promote and offer this acceptable worship. As an ecclesia, we come together to stimulate the truth and sincerity that we have with those of like precious faith, so that we may "provoke unto love and to good works." We come together primarily to give honor to God, remember our Lord Jesus Christ by his instructions through the memorial supper, and to serve fellow believers. Worship is about what we can give, not receive. The product of this proper worship naturally overflows to fellow believers. Far be it for us to consider our assembling together an obligation, but rather a privileged opportunity. This primary function of the ecclesia must be cultivated and kept in focus continually.

True worship is our goal now and eternally. It is our ultimate priority. When God's plan is fully realized it is the worship of Him that will remain. May we each through God's mercy be a part of the true body of Christ that participates in the eternal worship described in Revelation 4:10-11:

"The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."

Let us each understand the importance of worship in spirit and in truth as the ecclesia of God, just as the apostle Paul prays:

"For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith (spirit and truth?); that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church (ecclesia) by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." (Ephesians 3:14-21)

David Love
South Hill, VA