John 4:1-26 records a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. This conversation is significant for many reasons. For one, Jesus being a Jew, is conversing openly with a Samaritan and treating her as any other person (John 4:9). Another significant fact about this conversation is that Jesus does not compromise truth (John 4:17-18). But what concerns us this morning is Jesus’ statement in John 4:23-24 where He says, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Our English word worship is translated from the Greek Proskuneo (Pros-koo-neh’-o), which means to bend oneself before something (or someone) as an act of reverence, fear, or supplication. Applying this meaning to our worship, we do not physically bend ourselves. Still, we do come before Him, completely surrendering ourselves to Him. One writer commented that worship “may be regarded as the direct acknowledgment of God, His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heat in praise and thanksgiving or by a deed done in such acknowledgment.”
To worship God then is to bend ourselves before Him in service with reverence and honor directed to Him alone. This understanding implies an honorable or right way to worship God and a dishonorable or wrong way. We cannot simply do as we please and slap a “worship” sticker on it. This was the mistake of the Sadducees and Pharisees, and Jesus called them on it. In Matthew 15:7-9, Jesus said to them, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”
A Life of Worship:
Some view worship as this package that fits nicely into a time and place. However, worship in the fullest Biblical sense is much more than the time and place. It is a life lived in reverence and obedience to God. Near the end of the letter, the Hebrew writer encourages us to offer up praise to God continually. Note Hebrews 13:15-16“Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
This is not to say that the public assembling of ourselves together is not important or not essential. The Hebrew writer is also pretty clear that we should not be “forsaking our own assembling together… but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:25). However, the public assembling of ourselves together should be a natural extension of a life of worship in spirit and truth, not its total.
What does it mean, though, to worship in spirit and truth?
To worship in spirit is to have the right attitude, the right heart. It is not enough to simply go through the motions of worship. This was the problem of the Israelites in the day of Malachi. In Malachi 1:6-8, we read about God’s displeasure for their worship and how He wished that they would just stop.
The Jews never stopped worshiping. But it became an affront to God. This is because they lacked the right heart. They were giving God the leftovers, not the first fruits. They gave God what was convenient, not what was desired—making an application to us today. If my motivation to worship God is “I have to,” then I would say that 1.) fundamentally, I have not fully grasped who God is. And 2.) my worship is no different than that of the priest in Malachi’s day. Our motivation should be to express our love and devotion for God and express our thanksgiving for the great love shown to us. Our attitude should be one of “I get to worship” instead of “I have to worship.”
Making a further application. When we come before God to worship, are we prepared? Do we approach God’s throne with the attitude of I get to, or I have to? Here are a few attitudes or spirits I believe we need to have when we approach God in our worship (be it public or private).
- We need a spirit of obedience. God does not care how much you give, how much you serve, how well you sing if you are not seeking to live by His word. Notice what Samuel said to King Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22 when Saul disobeyed God and tried to justify it by saying He was saving some of the spoils for worship. “Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.”
- We need a spirit of holiness. The Psalmist says in Psalm 15:1-2, “O Lord, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart.”This does not mean that God expects moral perfection before you can worship, but He desires that His people live a life trying to please Him in earnest. One writer commented that “God does not require that you possess a beautiful voice in order to sing Him praises, but He does command that you have a beautiful life. One cannot live a sinful life and offer holy worship unto God.”
- We also need to have a spirit of edification. The Hebrew writer in Hebrews 10:24-25 says that one of the reasons we assemble for worship is to encourage each other and stimulate each other to continue living by the Gospel.
To worship in truth is to worship according to the word of God. Worshiping with the right attitude is vain if it is not in truth and vise versa. When it comes to knowing His will, God has never left mankind in the dark. This is no less true when it comes to worship.
- God instructed Cain and Able (Genesis 4:4-5 cf. Hebrews 11:4).
- He instructed Moses and Aaron (Leviticus 10:1-2).
The pattern for worship for Christians is in the New Testament, the Gospel. This is because Jesus having all authority (Matthew 28:18), has left us His word by which we are to follow. All that we do in religion is to be in the name of the Lord (Colossians 3:17). This means we must have Christ’s authority for it. Jesus and His word are the final say on all things and are the only standard we should be concerned about in our worship and religion. (Hebrews 1:1-2).
- Worship becomes a vain thing when we add things that are not God-pleasing, which He has not commanded.
- It is not within our rights to eliminate anything from worship that God has commanded; why else did He state it?
To worship God in spirit and truth is to show reverence to God with humility with the right spirit and action. Not because it is commanded but because we love Him, and that love drives us to worship. Worship is the heart’s outpouring in praise and thanksgiving, not checking a duty of a list.