A couple of decades ago there was a song by the rock group Bon Jovi called “Someday I’ll be Saturday night.” It speaks of someone having a difficult life but looking forward to things getting better. One line in the song sums it up: “I’m feeling like a Monday but someday I’ll be Saturday night.” In other words, this person is confident that his life will improve from the worst case (Monday) to the best (Saturday night, obviously).
It’s no surprise that the song makes no mention of Sunday morning. Surely nobody would ever define the best time of their week as Sunday morning, unless they really love sleeping in! But what about you? If you were writing this song, would Sunday morning get its proper respect? Is it the best time of your week? If you’re a faithful child of God, it should be. But if not, maybe it’s because you’ve forgotten, or have never known, what worship is really about. John 4:24 says “God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Let’s look at what this statement teaches us about what the purpose of our worship should be.
What does it mean to worship in truth? John 17:17 helps answer this for us: “thy word is truth.” God’s word provides all truth for us, and this certainly includes the topic of worship. The Word tells us what God wants in worship. Anything else, every man-made invention, is either explicitly forbidden, implicitly forbidden, or missing entirely from the Word (i.e., God is silent on it). And 2 Tim 3:16-17 makes it abundantly clear that the Bible’s silence on an action forbids that action: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” The Bible will thoroughly equip the Christian on how to worship. So, if there is an action we can perform in worship on which the Bible is silent, that action is, by definition, unauthorized; the Scripture doesn’t “furnish us unto it” and it cannot be consider a good work. Let’s look at this logically, then emotionally.
A logical approach says I want to worship God with the piano because I know how to play it and I want to express my love to God in this manner. There’s nothing wrong with this attitude; but what about the action that will result? Logically I understand that the Bible’s silence on an action forbids that action (again, 2 Tim. 3:16-17). So, I search the Scriptures and find nothing (silence) on the Lord’s church worshiping God with mechanical instruments of music. There’s no command, no example; nothing expressed, nothing implied; just silence. Therefore, I correctly conclude that this action is not authorized; it is forbidden.
Now let’s look at it from an emotional perspective. So often, people who don’t respect the authority of the Scriptures will accuse this logical brother of having no emotion, or that there’s no “spirit” in his worship (a baseless attack because they have no idea what “spirit” means, particularly in regard to worship). On the contrary, this brother logically and correctly concluded that the piano in worship is unauthorized. Then, with his heart/mind (yes, his emotion) he concluded that he doesn’t want to sin by adding to God’s Word (Gal. 1:8-9; Rev. 22:18-19). He simply wants to worship God in truth and in spirit, with all the attitude and emotion of someone who knows that his spiritual condition (i.e., saved) is because of the grace of God in sending His only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for his sins! He therefore concludes that it doesn’t matter what he (the worshipper) wants; it only matters what He (the Father, the Savior) wants!
His conclusion: The logical and emotional approaches to worshipping in truth lead him to worship God only the way He wants/commands. This causes the worshipper to worship God only in the ways God has commanded: song, prayer, preaching, giving, and the Lord’s Supper. This is worshiping in truth.
What does it mean to worship in spirit? This is about one’s attitude in worship. While one can worship correctly in attitude but be wrong in action, it is also true that we can worship with the right action but not have the right attitude.
Jesus’ initial point regarding the “spirit” in John 4:24 had to do with location (v. 20–the mountain or Jerusalem?). God isn’t limited to a physical location and neither is our worship. Worship can be done anywhere, as long as it’s in accordance with truth and in one’s spirit.
This is about one’s attitude when worshiping, and it includes his attitude prior to worship (i.e., what he thinks about worship, how he prepares for worship, etc.). Is he excited about it or is it just something he’s required to do? This may be why many brethren can’t say that Sunday morning is the best time of their week—because they don’t have the right attitude(s) about worship.
What are some attitudes that are required in order for worship to be genuine and acceptable to God?
Humility. In general, it’s putting others above yourself (lowering yourself without devaluing yourself). We must have humility toward the brethren. This is important at all times, but certainly during worship. It was necessary in the first century in dealing with miraculous abilities (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:30–“if anything be revealed to another, let the first hold his peace”) and it’s necessary for us today. You can’t worship God in spirit when there are problems between brethren (Matt. 5:24)!
Humility toward God is also an obvious necessity. We must put God above ourselves. It’s sad that we even have to discuss this. But lack of humility toward God is why we have the rampant additions to and subtractions from His instructions for how He wants to be worshipped! Folks need to recognize that, even with all the numerous items of worship, God only commanded five. Presuming to worship God the way you want is the height of arrogance and pride; it is not humility. It’s this attitude that causes the religious world around us to call it a “worship experience.” Who is supposed to be “experiencing” the worship, you or God? (Consider the obvious difference between a worship experience and a worship service.)
Gratitude. This is about being grateful for what someone has done for you. If someone saved your life, surely you’d be thankful! Do you think it would be possible for you to thank him enough? You’d unabashedly over-thank him until the poor guy was embarrassed! And this is for someone who saved your physical life, not your spiritual life.
God saved you spiritually. He sent His only begotten son to be a blood sacrifice for your sins (1 John 4:9-10), “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). How much gratitude do we have when we show up to worship Him? Gratitude is what leads to the next attitude.
Praise. This is about honoring, glorifying, giving acknowledgment to and appreciating someone who deserves it. Again, if someone saved your life, surely you wouldn’t have a problem responding to that person with these attitudes. At bare minimum you’d acknowledge him for saving you; and in reality you’d probably announce it loudly and with excitement to your family, friends, coworkers, etc., posting it on Facebook, etc. You’d want to give this person all the respect, honor, and even payback that he would accept (cf. Ahasuerus with Mordecai; he even asked Haman what he should do to honor someone who was worthy of honor, Esther 6). Would you force him to accept some sort of gift that he didn’t even want (e.g., tickets to a football game when he hates sports)? No! You’d do your best to find out what he likes and that’s what you’d do for him!
Why do people ignore what God wants and instead offer to Him what they want, especially given His documented response to such attitudes (e.g., Nadab and Abihu in Lev. 10)? The answer is a lack of humility, gratitude, and praise that God requires of His people who want to thank and worship Him for what He has done for them.
What is your favorite time of the week? Is it Sunday morning? If not, why not? Are you too enamored with the world and all that it offers that you’ve lost your perspective regarding our purpose here. Have you forgotten the fact that God freely offered His Son on the cruel cross in order to forgive your sins and save you (2 Pet 1:9)? Have the pleasures of this world blinded you to the fact that the best day here pales in comparison to eternity in Heaven (Psa. 84:10)? We need to have the right actions and attitudes in our worship if we are going to be pleasing and acceptable to God. We must worship in spirit and in truth.