Dr. James Naismith

Basic Studies in Christian Living for Young Believers, #6

Worship is the highest form of spiritual exercise in which a child of God can engage and one that brings special delight to his Father. It is therefore important that we learn its true meaning and rid ourselves of some common misconceptions relating to it. For example, in the minds of many, the term “worship” is applicable to almost any religious activity within a “church” building — a “place of worship.” Others associate it with one particular gathering of the church — the Lord’s supper — which is frequently referred to as “the worship meeting”; and some confine it, in their thinking, to the audible expressions of praise and thanksgiving at such a meeting, or even to the “prayers” of a few believers who lead the company. While it is true that the occasions when we meet to remember our blessed Lord afford special opportunity for collective worship — by all believers present, both audibly and inaudibly — our worship ought not to be restricted to the remembrance feast, but may be expressed at other gatherings of the Lord’s people. Nor, indeed, should it be limited to such occasions when believers meet together. Worship should be the constant exercise of every believer —wherever he is — and only when it is, will he be able truly to worship in company with others.

The word “worship” is an Old English word derived from the two words, “worth” and “ship,” and so means the acknowledgement of the worth of God — His glory, majesty, wisdom, power, holiness, love, etc. This acknowledgement may be expressed in the praise and adoration of our lips, or in the reverence, homage and devotion of our lives.

When Abraham, sitting in his tent-door in the plains of Mamre, lifted up his eyes and saw three heavenly messengers, he ran to meet them and instinctively “bowed himself toward the ground” (Gen. 18:2). The word translated “bowed himself” is the first occurrence of the Hebrew word most frequently rendered “worship” in the Old Testament. Its next occurrence is in the following chapter (19:1) when Abraham’s nephew, Lot, had a visit, in Sodom, from two angels, and he, too, “bowed himself with his face toward the ground.” Other renderings of the same word are “fall down” (e.g. Ps. 72:11), “make obeisance” (e.g. Gen. 37:7, 9; 43:28), “do reverence” (e.g. 2 Sam. 9:6), and, most often, “worship.” Thus, in the Old Testament, worship is the act of prostrating oneself in reverence and homage before a superior being, and, in particular, before God, the Supreme Being. The same meaning is implied in the New Testament, where the usual word for “worship” literally means to “kiss,” and is used of a dog licking the hand of and fawning upon its master. The hymn-writer has well expressed the adoration of true worship in the beautiful hymn:

“Gracious God, we worship Thee,
Reverently, we bow the knee;
Jesus Christ our only plea:
Father, we adore Thee!

“Low we bow before Thy face,
Sons of God, O wondrous place!
Great the riches of Thy grace:
Father, we adore Thee!”

In our study of this subject, we can profitably consider one central passage relating to it from both Old and New Testaments, and also the first occurences of the English word “worship” in both Testaments.

I. PSALM 96 can suitably be described as a Psalm of worship. The familiar call of the Psalmist in verse 9: “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” forms a fitting climax to which the preceding verses move, and from which the following verses proceed. Note:

(a) The Object and Source of worship (vv. 1-6) is the Lord Himself. True worship is inspired by contemplation of “His name,” “His salvation,” “His glory,” “His wonders,” and by consideration of “His honour and majesty … strength and beauty.” One of the reasons for the lack of worship and the pauses expressive of dearth in our gatherings today is that we are so occupied with our own interests and meditate so little on the glories of God.

(b) The Nature of worship is indicated in vv. 7-8, by the recurrent “Give … give … give … bring an offering.” In essence, worship is giving to God in appreciation of His worth, and, as we “come into His courts,” we should not be empty-handed but should have an offering to present to Him. Both Old and New Testaments contain excellent illustrations of worship which clearly illustrate this point. As we worship, individually or collectively, we should remember that worship is not getting but giving, not asking but adoring.

(c) The Characteristics of worshippers are emphasized in v. 9 — holiness and fear. Only those with “clean hands and a pure heart” can fitly “stand in His holy place” (Ps. 24:3-4). In view of the holiness and majesty of the Lord, they who worship Him must do so “in the beauty of holiness,” and with reverential fear — living holy lives even as He is holy, and approaching Him in a spirit of reverence, so sadly lacking in some of our gatherings.

(d) The Outcome of worship is the theme of vv. 10-13. Worship takes precedence over service, but true worship of God will certainly issue in witness for God (v. 10); and joy, gladness and rejoicing will invariably result if worship is given its rightful place in our lives (vv. 11-13).

II. JOHN 4:19-24. Surprising though it may seem to us, the Lord expounded the subject of worship, not to the religious Nicodemus, but to the sinful woman of Samaria. From His memorable words spoken to her we can learn:

(a) The Importance of worship indicated by His statement that the Father seeks worshippers (v. 23) —the only place in Scripture where we read of the Father seeking.

(b) The Place of worship. In Old Testament times, the place — in tabernacle and temple — was of great importance; the children of Israel were instructed to bring their offerings “unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose to put His name there” (Deut. 12:5, 6, 11, 14, 18, 26, etc.). The Lord Jesus clearly indicated that the material location is not now of importance. What is important is the spiritual location — within the holiest of all which we enter “by the blood of Jesus … through the veil” (Heb. 10:19-22); and also

(c) The Manner of worship, vv. 23, 24. Worship acceptable to God will be (i) In Spirit. Since God is Spirit, He is seeking today not for material but spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5), offered under the direction and by the power of the Holy Spirit (see also Phil. 3:3), (ii) In truth — in transparent sincerity; from the heart as well as by the lips; and in accordance with the truth of God’s Word.

III. GENESIS 22:5. We must not imagine that Abraham used the word “worship” here — its first occurrence in our Authorized Version —merely as a cover-up to conceal from his servants and Isaac the real purpose of his mission to Moriah. What he set out to do that day was worship in its true sense, and this is one of the most beautiful scriptural illustrations of the subject. Among many lessons, we can learn that worship is giving to God:

(a) An offering acceptable to Him. Abraham described it as a “burnt-offering” (v. 8), one of the characteristics of which was that all ascended to God as a sweet-savour (Lev. 1:9), bringing delight to Him. We cannot but discern in the story a picture of another Father and Son, going both of them together to the place of sacrifice; the heavenly Isaac in His unfaltering devotion to His Father’s will. Our worship brings greatest pleasure to God when we present His only, well-beloved Son as our offering.

(b) What He has already given to us. Isaac was God’s gift to Abraham: he was offering him back to God. So, when we present Christ we give what God has first given to us.

(c) An offering very precious to the worshipper. “Thy son, thine only Isaac, whom thou lovest.” What a costly offering was this! How costly, too, was Mary’s offering (John 12:3)when she expressed her worship by anointing her Lord’s feet with “ointment of spikenard, very costly!” And how much He appreciated it! So, the more precious the Lord Jesus is to us, the more we learn of Him and contemplate Him — and the more it costs us to do so — the more will our worship delight Him to whom it is offered!

(d) In accordance with God’s instructions. “I will tell thee of.” See Hebrews 10:22.

(e) Our bodies. Notice that Abraham includes “the lad” in this act of worship, for Isaac’s part in voluntarily yielding his life (and he was much more than a mere boy at the time; 26 years of age according to Bible dates) was as much worship as was Abraham’s. So, when we present our bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God,” this is “spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1, R.S.V.). This is one of the “spiritual sacrifices” that, as “holy priests” we can offer daily to God (1 Pet. 2:5) and thus worship Him. Praise (Heb. 13:15), good works (Heb. 13:16), and material possessions given to the Lord’s servants and people (Phil. 4:18) are other sacrifices we can present as we worship Him.

IV. MATTHEW 2:2, 8, 11. The first instance of worship recorded in the New Testament was that offered by wise men from the East to the young Child in the manger at Bethlehem — who, as God manifest in flesh, is worthy of equal honour with the Father (John 5:23). The last occurence of the word in the Bible in Rev. 22:9 reminds us that God alone should be worshipped. Since Christ is God, it is proper that we should join with angels (Heb. 1:6) in worshipping Him (Rev. 5:11-14). The wise men expressed their worship by (a) falling down — not before the mother, but the child; (b) presenting unto Him gifts — another illustration of the true nature of worship.