Written by Ron Hutchison
April 6, 2008

Worship is one of the most important duties and privileges that Christians enjoy. One of the things we must understand about worship is that we canít just worship any one we want or in any way we want.  The Bible teaches that God is the only One we are to worship and that He has instructed us on what kind of worship He desires.

When Jesus was taken by the devil to a high mountain and shown all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, he said to Jesus, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me" (Matthew 4:9). Jesus responded by saying, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'"  God, the One True God who is revealed to us in the Bible, is the only One to whom worship is to be offered.

This great truth is not generally accepted in much of the world. When we read the Bible we see idol worship warned against and condemned time and again, but we need to know that idol worship is not something that just happened in Bible times. Much of the population of the world today is involved in worshiping idols of some kind. The majority of people in our world today do not worship the One True God who is revealed to us in the Bible.

But even those who claim to worship the One True God take the view that they can worship Him acceptably any way they think best. Is this true?

Jesus said in John 4:24, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."  The fact that Jesus used the words "must worship" shows that this is the only way to worship God acceptably. We MUST worship God in spirit and truth. There is no acceptable alternative. If we do not worship God in spirit and truth then our worship is not acceptable to Him.

Did you know that the Bible speaks of different kinds of worship?  In fact, it mentions 5 different kinds of worship. In this study we want to examine each of these kinds of worship.


Jesus said in Matthew 15:7-9, "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.'"

The Pharisees and scribes worshiped God. However, the fact that they worshiped God did not mean that their worship was acceptable to Him. Jesus said that despite the fact that they worshiped God, their worship was vain ("useless," "empty," "groundless," "invalid"). We can see from this verse that vain worship consisted of: people drawing near to God with their mouth, honoring Him with their lips while their heart was far from Him. They taught as doctrines the commandments of men. The Scribes and Pharisees were worshiping, but their worship was insincere. Their heart was not in it. They were worshiping according to the commandments of men.

Do we need to go back to the Scribes and Pharisees to find vain worship? Does vain worship not take place today? There are many today who are worshiping in vain because they are worshiping according to the commandments of men. They are worshiping according to what their creed books, church manuals or church traditions tell them, rather than what the Bible teaches.

My friends, God just will not accept vain worship. He will not accept our worship if we just honor Him with our lips while our heart is far from Him. He will not accept our worship if we teach as doctrines the commandments of men.

This is why it is so important to read the New Testament and to worship in the way that it teaches - "in spirit and truth."


In Acts 17:16 the Bible says, "Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols." I think we can appreciate what Paul must have felt. Are not faithful Christians "provoked" when we see so many in the religious world worshiping according to the commandments of men?  We are saddened - we wonder how people could do the things they do in worship in light of what the New Testament teaches.

The people in Athens were worshiping idols. In fact, Paul says "that the city was given over to idols." I have been told by those who have visited Athens that the city still has temples all over. These temples are dedicated to the different Greek "gods."  Evidently, in Paul's day there were idols everywhere and almost everyone in the city of Athens worshiped idols.

The Bible says,

"Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, 'What does this babbler want to say?' Others said, 'He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,' because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, 'May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.' For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing. (Acts 17:17-21).

I think it is interesting that people today are much like the Athenians of Paul's day. They are interested in new things. The way the New Testament teaches us to worship is just not exciting enough. It just doesnít invoke the emotional response that they are seeking. So they want to try new things. They want to change the worship so that it will be "more meaningful, more spiritual, and more contemporary." "We need popular and dynamic preachers,  praise groups, dancing, dramatic presentations, and entertainment. We need to appeal to the young people with Christian Rock bands!" If you watch some of the religious programming on TV, you will find a lot of this. Many people, like the Athenians, are not interested in anything but to either tell or to hear some new thing when it comes to worship. They have no interest in the simple, effective, reverent, way of worship set forth in the New Testament.

So we hear people saying things like: "I just donít get anything out of worship. It's so boring." This certainly shows that there is a problem. But itís not a problem with the worship that God has set forth in His word. The problem is with the person who is making the statement. It shows a misunderstanding of why one worships in the first place. You see, when we assemble together with other Christians to worship we are there to worship God! We are there to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God. We are not there to please ourselves, or to be entertained, or to get on an emotional high. It is true that if we worship God in the way He has directed - in spirit and truth - we will receive great blessings - we will get something out of it. But if our purpose in attending worship is just so we can get something out of it in the sense of a worldly emotional feeling, weíre going to be disappointed. If our purpose for attending worship services is to worship God - to offer praise and thanksgiving to Him - to show our love and appreciation for Him, then we will receive the blessings God has for us in acceptable worship.

Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:22-23). The Athenians worshiped God, but they did not know Him. They were ignorant of the One who made them. They were very religious, but just being religious is not enough. Even being very religious is not enough. Evidently, from what Paul said, you must be religiously right. Would Paul not have been wasting his time in teaching the people of Athens about the One true God if ignorant worship is acceptable?

There is absolutely no justification today for ignorant worship. "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31). People donít have to be ignorant about how to worship God today. All we need to do is take our New Testaments, see what God teaches therein as to the how, when, why to worship and follow that.


In the second chapter of the book of Colossians, Paul speaks to the brethren about his fear of them falling away from the faith:

Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations; "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using; according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Colossians 2:20-23).

The Colossians were subjecting themselves to regulations that were according to the commandments and doctrines of men. These had an appearance of wisdom in what Paul called "self-imposed religion," false humility," and "neglect of the body." In other words, it looked good - it looked wise, but it did not make them any better spiritually.

The words "self-imposed religion" are defined by the "Complete Word Study Dictionary" as, "Voluntary worship, worship in which one goes beyond what God requires without any particular command." This seems to be the dominating feature in many places. Things are done in worship without any thought as to what the New Testament teaches. "If it draws crowds, if it makes us feel good, if we think we are glorifying God, then letís do it" seems to be the way folks think today.

The first question that needs to be ask when anything is proposed for the work and worship of the church is rarely asked.  That question is this:  "What does the Bible say about it?" "Does God authorize it in His word?"

If we would only ask that question first, then there would be no departures from the word of God, and there would be no self-imposed worship.


In Mark 15:19-20 the Bible speaks of some of the things that Jesus faced when He was crucified:

"Then they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him; and bowing the knee, they worshiped Him. And when they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him."

Notice that the Bible says they "worshiped Him." This was not true worship. This was mock worship. This action on the part of the soldiers is the height of contemptible mockery. For almost 2000 years people have looked on this scene, some with indifference, others with sincere regret because of the blasphemy and scorn that was heaped upon the Son of God.

Human nature has not changed. People still mock, ridicule, and blaspheme Jesus Christ. They worship any way they see fit, and mock the simple way of worship that is set forth in the New Testament. When you worship God any way you see fit you are mocking Christ. When your heart is not in your worship, you are mocking Christ. The Hebrew writer says such people "crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Hebrews 6:6). If you go out and live during the week in rebellion to Jesusí will, then on Sunday morning you go through the outward acts of worship, you are just as guilty of crucifying the Son of God and mocking Him as those people we read about in Mark 15.

When we come to worship God, it must be with a pure heart and sincerity of purpose.  We, like David, need to pray this prayer: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14). If we have this attitude, we will never be involved in mock worship.


Then, the Bible speaks of "true worship." "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). God has appointed certain things to be done in worship. We see Godís wisdom in the fact that He requires nothing so complex that it makes it impossible for any person to worship Him in an acceptable manner. On the other hand, that which God requires is plain enough that we are without excuse if we fail to do what He teaches us to do in His word. The simplicity of worship makes it possible for the Christian to worship God in the beauty of holiness (1 Chronicles 16:29).

There are those who are true worshipers today and they may and can be identified. Their worship is according to or in keeping with the teaching of Scripture. Jesus said, "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him" (John 4:23).

Think about what is said in this passage for a minute. There is such a thing as "true worshipers." That implies that there is such a thing as false worshipers. The true worshipers are those who worship the Father in spirit and in truth. It is these true worshipers who God is seeking to worship Him. He does not seek false worshipers to worship Him.

The word "seek" means "to seek after, look for, strive to find."  I wonder if we can appreciate the fact that God desires our worship because He loves us. In reality, when we worship God it is for our good. Worship is designed not only to praise and glorify God, but also to encourage and build us up. It is designed not only to express thanksgiving to God, but to convict us if we need conviction. So, God seeks for us to worship Him, for our own good.

To take the view that God desires us to worship Him because He is selfish or egotistical is to fail to understand that God is love. Since God is love, everything that He requires of us, He requires because He loves us. That love is the highest form of love - the kind of love that always does what is best for the person who is loved.

We may not be able to appreciate fully everything that God requires of us. It may be hard to understand why He would have us worship him in a particular way and with specific acts. But we must always remember that God is love, and He requires us to worship Him in a certain way and with certain specific acts because of that love. He requires it because that is what is best for us.


The New Testament teaches that when the church in the first century met together on the first day of the week to worship God they were involved in the following acts:

1) Partaking of the Lordís Supper (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:20ff).

2) Singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:15).

3) Preaching (Acts 20:7; Acts 2:42).

4) Prayer (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 14:15).

5) Giving (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

These simple acts of worship, with the correct attitude and the involvement of one's spirit, is all we need and all we should offer to God in our worship. Above all, we should remember that when we assemble together with the saints to worship God, we are there to please Him. That should be our number one goal. If it is, we will have no trouble enjoying the benefits that God has placed in the worship that He has designed for us.

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