God’s Pattern for Worship in The New Testament – Doug Post

Doug Post

Without the Bible we could not truly know God. We could not know how to please Him and be saved by Him. We are hopeless without God because we are unable to direct our own steps (Jer. 10:23). However, God has provided us with instructions, in the form of commands, principles, and examples found in His Word. Therefore, in order for us to properly love and serve Him, we must turn to the Scriptures to discover His Will for us.

This is how God directs our steps—by means of His Word—the Bible, and in no other way. We are completely furnished by His guidance through the Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Scriptures provide us with directions for conducting ourselves in our daily lives and for the worship and teaching of the church. In fact, God has furnished us with “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3) as found in the Scriptures. The Word of His grace instructs us to live soberly, righteously, and godly (Philp. 2:11-12; cf. Acts 20:32). This is our Divine guidance. What God has provided for us in Scripture is the pattern to follow.

A pattern is an example, or a model, and something from which a copy is made. Someone or something may be seen as an example or a pattern to imitate—an exemplar. Closely related to the idea of a pattern is the word form, which has to do with shape. A thing or a person may shape or mold another person. Therefore, there is a connection and a relationship with the meaning of the above words pertaining to following God’s Pattern.

When we consider the idea of loving God, we are necessarily considering loving His Word – the Truth. Jesus speaks the Truth saying: “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. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Here we learn from Jesus that there is such a thing as “true worshipers,” implying there is such a thing as “false worshipers.”

Worship Involves Truth, Truth Involves Pattern

Worshiping God in “spirit and truth” is what makes the difference. Jesus had already given this Samaritan woman bad news, and some may be shocked to learn that He told the woman that she and her people were ignorant, saying to her, “You worship what you do not know” (4:22). What had she and her people been doing all this time? Quite simply, they were not offering God “true worship,” implying they were not “true worshipers.” The Samaritans had not been worshiping God correctly for centuries, worshiping at Mt. Gerizim rather than in Jerusalem. From their perspective, they drew near to God with their mouth, but, from God’s perspective, they only provided “lip service (cf. Matt. 15:8). Again, worship and/or worship actions are fruitless when folks are disobedient in other areas. The Samaritan woman and her people were deficient, and it was not unkind or unloving for Jesus to say what He did to her. Worshiping is significant, worshiping correctly does matter! While we must worship “in spirit,” in genuineness and sincerity, we must also worship God according to “truth”—His Word (John 17:17; cf. John 8:31-32).

Recognizing worship must be in accord with Truth is as vital to the Lord’s church as is Truth itself. While God’s Word is designed to regulate and control our behavior, we must submit to its authority. As finite beings, we have the proclivity to make wrong choices, often because of the desires of the heart (Prov. 14:12; Jer. 10:23; 17:9). This is certainly true when it comes to spiritual matters, including worship. The book of Colossians demonstrates this with a case study:

In his letter to the Colossians Christians, Paul addresses a heresy that was a threat to their faith. It consisted of a variety of elements, including Judaism, Gnosticism (a pagan system claiming supernatural insight), the worship of angels; etc. One component of this philosophy, strongly condemned, was called “will-worship” (2:23). Exactly what is will-worship? J.H. Thayer notes that will-worship is, “worship which one devises and prescribes for himself, contrary to the contents and nature of the faith which ought to be directed by Christ” (Greek Lexicon, p.168). Or, as W.E. Vine observes, will worship is “voluntarily adopted worship, whether unbidden or forbidden” (Expository Dictionary, IV, p.236). This New Testament admonition is totally at variance with the modern notion that worship is unregulated” (Jackson, 112).

Similarly, there are some who are willing to leave the confines of the Truth and worship God according to their own whims and desires. They are self-willed, imposing worship practices completely foreign to the New Testament of Jesus Christ. The fact is, in rejecting the Truth, they reject the pattern of the New Testament. As the church cannot be separated from Christ (and vice versa), neither can pattern from Truth (and vice versa).

While Truth is designed to regulate human behavior, it is also designed to be understood and followed. But, again, we must handle it correctly (2 Tim. 2:15). Concerning the church at Corinth, Paul said he “planted” and Apollos “watered”:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase … as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:6-11).

Jesus said He would build His church (Matt. 16:18). He laid the foundation, but the work continued, involving others who followed, including the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20-21: cf. 1 Cor. 12:28). The construction continues and Jesus continues building His church through the agency of His church (Eph. 3:10-11). The “blueprint” has been provided to follow, namely His Word (John 12:48; cf. 8:31-32). Following His blueprint, we can be sure we are building the way He desires. When the church began on Pentecost, the new disciples “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). They devoted themselves in acts of worship, vital to the church, and continually devoted themselves in the apostle’s doctrine (cf. 2 John 9), adhering to their inspired teaching. New Testament doctrine is the basis of the New Testament church, which is why Paul said “Preach the word!” (2 Tim. 4:2).

When it comes to preaching and teaching the Truth, we must not go to the left or to the right (Josh. 1:7) or go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6). We must speak exactly as God speaks in His Word (1 Pet. 4:11), or more literally, speaking Just as the oracles of God.” Doing “just as” or “exactly” as the Father commanded, is what Jesus did: but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31, NIV). The word “exactly” derives from the Greek word kathōs, which is also found in 1 John 2:6: “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as (kathōs, DP) He walked.” Since Jesus is our example in everything, we can do no less, in doing exactly as He did. Therefore, we must speak and do exactly what is taught in Scripture. The New Testament, or the faith, is the blueprint of the church for all we teach and practice.

The apostle Paul directs our minds to authority, saying: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17). The phrase “in word and deed” refers to teaching and practice. The word “deed” is the same word for “works,” which some declare are not essential for salvation. However, Paul specifically says we must do only authorized work, contradicting those who say work(s) are not essential for salvation. To say, on one hand, that doing only authorized work is essential, then, on the other, say the work we do must is not essential is a blatant contradiction. Paul specifically says that “whatever” we do “in word or work” that we do only all those things that are “authorized” or “in the name of the Lord.” Doing what is authorized relates back to allowing “the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom” (Col. 3:16). When we allow God’s Word to rule our hearts in all spiritual matters, we will do only that which is “legislated.”

New Testament Worship

When it comes to understanding the Bible and interpretation, many folks quickly become anti-logic, anti-reason, and anti-implication, confusing rational thinking with “Rationalism”. God communicating His Will to mankind through Direct (Explicit) Statements, Examples, and Implication, is antithetical to some since the use of reason is involved. Reason is “kryptonite” to all anti-logicians. Paul reminded Timothy to “hold the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard from me” (2 Tim. 1:13), and seven verses later he says: “And the things (the pattern) which thou has heard from me…commit thou to faithful men” (2 Tim. 2:2). He taught Timothy the pattern and he intended for Timothy, and all faithful Christians, to commit the same pattern to others. This implies a perpetual pattern to be taught and followed. The pattern of sound words serve as our authority for all matters of faith and practice. The very fact Christ and the apostles are examples, inherently involve a pattern or blueprint: “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern” (Phil. 3:17).

We know there is such a thing as ignorant worship because Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “You do not know what you worship” (4:22). In that same encounter we learn there is wrong worship since the Samaritans were worshiping God in Gerizim rather than Jerusalem. Paul told the Athenians they were ignorant, worshiping a God they did not know, and such ignorance would not be overlooked (Acts 17:23, 30). Jesus said there is such a thing as “vain worship” (Matt. 15:9), and Paul said there is such a thing called “will-worship” (Col. 2:23). Of course, we also learn there is such a thing as “true worship,” as well as “true worshipers.” Worship is either acceptable or unacceptable, but what makes the difference? Worship must be done in sincerity and genuineness of mind (“in spirit”), with a willingness to do only that which accords with God’s Word (“in truth”).

We find a clear pattern in the New Testament in its teaching and example, “in word and deed.” We can clearly see what they did and did not do. What we find lacking, is the church assembling for the purposes of offering animal sacrifices, the burning incense, having Priests mediate between man and God, and all other Old Covenant worship practices. But we do read about them coming together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2), finding them praying, singing, preaching and teaching, giving, and sharing the Lord’s Supper. In one passage, alone, we find three acts of worship: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Here we find “teaching” (doctrine), the Lord’s Supper (the breaking of bread), and prayer, being offered up as acts of worship. An “act of worship” is something done, collectively, upon being assembled together, with the intent of paying homage or honoring God. The most common Greek word for worship is proskuneō, which means “to kiss the hand toward,” to do obeisance,” “to prostrate oneself,” which is closely akin to the Hebrew word, shachah. These terms convey the idea of bowing or prostrating oneself before a superior or before Deity. It is a sign of respect, reverence, and honor.

Worship is often viewed in the imagery of “sacrifice.” Collectively, Christians are priests and a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:5, 9), and are referred to as “spiritual Israel” (Gal. 6:16)—the church of Christ. As priests and a holy nation, Christians offer up sacrifices, but these sacrifices may not be just any kind of sacrifice, any kind of sacrifice we wish to offer. On the contrary, we are to “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Pet. 2:5, emphasis DP). Those who do not offer acceptable sacrifices are said to be “disobedient to the word” (2:8, cf. 2:2). We get a glimpse of worship as a sacrifice from the life of Abraham. His offering up of Isaac as sacrifice was called “worship.” Here we see worship involves an act, or acts, dedicated to God. Worship, therefore, is something we do, which has a beginning point and an ending point. Some contend all we do in life is worship, but here we see that there is an obvious distinction between what is termed “worship” in the sacrifice of Isaac, with what Abraham and Isaac were doing before reaching the place God told Abraham to go (Gen. 22:2-5).

The book of Hebrews offers much regarding the imagery of sacrifice. We learn “singing” is called the “sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips” (Heb. 13:15). The absence of mechanical instruments of music is obvious in the New Testament. Ephesians 5:19 literally says, “…singing (aeido) and plucking (psallo) the strings of your heart to the Lord.” However, a good rendering is “singing and playing your heart to the Lord.” The word aeido means “to sing” and psallo means “to pluck the strings,” and when used with aeido, it means to play. When used alone, psallo could mean “sing” or “play,” depending on the context and if aeido was present. However, Ephesians 5:19 specifically provides the instrument to be played, the “heart,” which excludes the use of any other instrument. The Hebrews writer also tells us that acts of benevolence (giving) are also sacrifices Christians offer up to God (Heb. 13:16; cf. 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8:1-7; 9:13; Phil. 4:18). When it comes to prayer, the Hebrews writer provides the imagery of the High priest offering up gifts and sacrifices for sins, and as such, we may approach the throne of grace with our needs and desires (Heb. 4:14-5:1). The Greek word for prayer is proseuchomai, which is a derivative of the Greek word proskuneo, the very word for worship. Therefore, when Christians either assemble or not, and prayer is offered, they are worshiping God. Of course, the Lord’s Supper is all about sacrifice, and remembering by partaking of those emblems representing His body and blood.

This, again, is an act or something that is to be done. Moreover, like the priests of old, and in sacrificial form, we are to: “draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope, without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:22-23). Finally, we are told that the Word is living and powerful, able to influence the inward man (Heb. 4:12). Paul says we are to “Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). The Hebrews writer speaks of the Lord’s Will, as found in the “second” Covenant, (New Covenant) is that very Will that sanctifies, along with the Sacrifice of Christ, His blood of the New Testament (Heb. 10:9-10; Matt. 26:28). It is to this covenant we are to hold and proclaim (Heb. 2:1-4). Proclaiming the good news of the New Covenant or Testament, for which Christ died (Heb. 9:15-17), is the message that brings about salvation (Rom. 1:16-17; Jas. 1:21), designed to influence the conscience or inner man, in order to effect the appropriate spiritual sacrifice of denying self, taking up one’s cross in order to follow Christ (Matt. 16:24). And so, the church of Christ comes together to worship the Lord.

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