The Challenge Of Worship
Those who have turned worship into entertainment miss the point that God is the audience of worship, not man.
Worship has always been a challenge for man from the dawn of time. The first time the word “sin” appears in the Bible, it is in connection with worship. This indicates how demanding worship is. In the first act of worship recorded in the Bible, Cain and Abel had different fortunes following their attempt to honour God. Cain failed while Abel succeeded (Genesis 4:3-7). It is clear that God had told the two brothers the way He wanted to be worshiped. Abel did it as told and received acceptance from God for his sacrifice. But Cain did not comply with the divine requirements, and his offering was rejected. His failure was reckoned to him by God as sin (v. 7).
Worship is difficult because God, whom it is directed to, is holy (Isaiah 6:3). For imperfect human beings to worship a perfect God is a tremendous endeavor. What makes this effort even more strenuous is the natural human inclination to please self rather than others. We may desire to approach God in a way that pleases us, because it appeals to our emotions, instead of seeking to follow what God has instructed.
Consider the case of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron. They were struck dead by God when they tried to worship Him using fire which He “commanded them not” (Leviticus 10:1-2). Both picked, for their incense, fire that God had not authorized. They must have presumptuously thought that any fire was adequate for sacrifice before the Lord. But God’s instruction with regard to this practice was specific; it singled out one kind of fire, thus excluding all other types. The priests were to take burning coals from the brazen altar in the temple, bring them to the altar of incense, then place the incense, a mixture of five spices, upon them to burn (Exodus 30:7-8). The two brothers were not uninformed about the divine ordinance concerning the fire, because they were priests. They simply irreverently ignored them.
There was a time in the national history of Israel when the Jews struggled to worship God reverently (Malachi 3:4). Worship had become problematic for this nation. At the heart of the problem was the hearts of the Jewish worshipers, as explained in the stern rebuke from God that followed when they brought animal sacrifices before Him on one occasion (Isaiah 1:11-18). In fact, the Lord rejected the sacrifices. There was nothing wrong with the people’s offerings; they presented them to God just as He had ordained. However, they failed to care for the needy (v. 17), thus failing to honor the Lord’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Worship had been reduced to a ritual and become a matter of formality. But God was not pleased with that.
Under the new covenant, Jesus commands, “they that worship Him [God] must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” God is not looking for worshipers. The reason simply is that man is by nature a worshiper. Whether it is a river god, the stars or self, man worships something. But God is seeking true worshipers, that is those who would worship Him following the “truth” that the Spirit has revealed through New Testament Scripture regarding, for example, the acts or avenues of worship. These acts concern singing, with no use of instruments of music (Matthew 26:30; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), the breaking bread on the first day of the week, also known as Lord’s Supper or communion (Acts 20:7), giving (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), praying (1 Corinthians 14:15) and preaching (Acts 5:42). These are the five avenues used to approach the throne of God in New Testament worship.
Religious people need to understand that Christians live under the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), and not the Law of Moses, although they learn from it (Romans 15:4; cf. Colossians 2:14). We “must worship Him [God] in spirit and in truth.” Those who have turned worship into entertainment, with a make-feel-good purpose, miss the point that God is the audience of worship, not man. The phrase “in spirit” conveys the idea that one has to have a profound attitude and respect for God during worship. It also implies that worship is a time for devotion, with our minds kept focused on spiritual matters, and not on what we plan to do later. That indeed is a challenge!
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