I had left off with a new understanding that worship in the Bible literally meant to bow down, as well as with the teaser of some expanded insight from 2 New Testament chapters. The chapters in question are John 4 and Phillipians 3, which helped me turn the answer of “what is worship” into a much more concrete and applicable action in my life.
The instances of worship in the New Testament were substantially less than that of the Old, with Revelation taking the majority of the count, but John 4 had a well known story that was essential to my study. The woman at the well runs into a man she’s apparently heard things about, “The Messiah”. Jesus in his infinite wisdom speaks into her life, and during his talk with her, mentions something interesting regarding worship:
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. Yet the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. For the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.”
– John 4:21-24 (MEV)
When I saw the words “true worshippers” I knew I had to pay very close attention, as God himself was going to describe these people (of whom I want to be a part of). At least, so I thought. As you can see, it’s not like Jesus gets too in-depth with this concept of “worship in spirit and truth”. However, there is still some good stuff to extract from these verses.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. -v 21
The Samaritans “worshipped” on this mountain, the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem, neither of these locations were going to matter soon as Jesus reveals more but the first thing I noticed about worship as defined by Christ is that it is not bound by location. Jesus mentions it in terms of cities, but I believe it implies a little more than that. Jews didn’t worship just “anywhere” in Jerusalem, there was a very holy place known as “the temple” where they’d go do that. Bowing down and making sacrifices in the temple was the form of worship that God has established back in the Mosaic Law. This was all going to change though.
You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. -v 22
Admittedly, I’m not exactly sure what Jesus meant by this first part. I know the Jews “know” what they worship, they are God’s chosen people and were given the Scriptures from the time of Moses. They are well aware of the one known as “the Messiah”, that He is coming, and that He too will be a Jew. The Samaritans “worshiping what they do not know” makes it sound like they might have some understanding of who the Messiah is, but aren’t well versed enough in Scripture to really understand who He is? I would imagine if the Samaritans were worshiping something else (like idols) Jesus would have sounded more harsh than this. Either way, the key here is the fact that salvation is coming.
Yet the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. For the Father seeks such to worship Him. -v 23
The new “style” of worship is apparently linked this new hour (which is now here). From here on out a true worshipper will worship God “in spirit and truth”, and those are the type of worshippers the Father seeks. This is crucial as it’s the only thing I care about. All the stuff a pastor or leader teaches me about is worthless if it’s not actually what my Father is seeking. What is “in spirit and truth” though?
God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.” -v 24
Jesus finishes off what He tells the woman with this. In context I’m linking this straight to verse 21. I believe Jesus is making a comparison, “before you worshipped physically at the temple, by bowing down and making sacrifices, but now you will truly worship, spiritually.” You must worship God in this way now, says Jesus. It’s amusing to me that the woman answers by saying “she’s heard of the Messiah”, which to me sounds like a very strange response to Jesus telling her about a new form of worship. I guess even the Samaritan lady understood that this new form of worship was being brought upon by the Messiah? What’s even more amusing (and powerful, it’s one of my favorite responses) is that Jesus answers her by revealing that He is the Messiah. One thing about Jesus that I kept in mind here is the way He responds to other people. When He is asked questions by other people, Jesus usually cuts to the chase. It almost feels like he doesn’t even bother answering what was asked and answers more direct to the heart of the question. When Jesus is talking to this woman, it doesn’t feel like he is doing that. To me that indicates that the woman’s train of thought, is exactly what Jesus had in mind. The Messiah, worship, true worshippers in the spirit, they are all linked together very closely. Unfortunately, the story veers off into a different direction from here leaving me a little hungry for more. Fortunately, Philippians 3 adds the final piece to my puzzle.
Watch out for dogs, watch out for evil workers, watch out for those who practice mutilation. For we are the circumcision who worship God in the Spirit, and boast in Christ Jesus, and place no trust in the flesh, though I also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinks that he has reason to trust in the flesh, I have more: I was circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, and a Hebrew of Hebrews; as concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; and concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. -vv 2-6 (MEV)
Starting from verse 2, we see Paul giving out a warning. Those “dogs who practice mutilation” are compared to Paul and his group who “are the circumcision who worship God in Spirit, boast in Christ, and place no trusts in the flesh”. I believe Paul is talking about the Judaizers he warns the Galatians about, who use circumcision as some requirement for salvation, as a form of justification, and ultimately corrupt the true purpose of the covenant that was established with Abraham (amusingly enough, the first one to claim to worship). Either way, the important thing to note is that Paul and company worship God in the Spirit, just like Jesus said they should! What this means is unraveled as the chapter continues…
But what things were gain to me, I have counted these things to be loss for the sake of Christ. Yes, certainly, I count everything as loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have forfeited the loss of all things and count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God on the basis of faith, to know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if somehow I might make it to the resurrection of the dead. – vv 7-11 (MEV)
Paul tosses out (like he does in Galatians) all of what man would use to regard him as “very Christian” (or in his case, “very Jew”). His circumcision, being from the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee of the utmost zeal, he’s thrown it all away for the sake of Christ. Although what Paul is really getting at here is the idea of righteousness through faith, and not by the works of the law, I love the parallel from Old Testament worship. Paul sounds like he’s sacrificing so many things for the sake of Jesus. His sacrifice is spiritual though, as we’re not talking about the blood of animals here, but rather the sacrifice of everything Paul had done in his life.
Not that I have already attained or have already been perfected, but I follow after it so that I may lay hold of that for which I was seized by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not count myself to have attained, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let those of us who are mature be thus minded. And if you think differently in any way, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, according to what we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. -vv 12-16 (MEV)
One thing Paul is clear about is that he’s no where near the finish line; he is being sanctified just like the rest of us. He encourages the Philippians to press toward the calling of Christ, to be like minded (have the same doctrine), and allow God to correct their errors.
Brothers, become fellow imitators with me and observe those who walk according to our example. For many are walking in such a way that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. I have told you of them often and tell you again, even weeping. Their destination is destruction, their god is their appetite, their glory is in their shame, their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, from where also we await for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our body of humiliation, so that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working of His power even to subdue all things to Himself. -vv 17-21 (MEV)
The chapter finishes with this: imitate and walk like Christ. This is how Paul brings it all together! Within this single chapter we see Paul and company “worship in the Spirit”, then we see that Paul and company walk according to the example of Christ, therefore the most logical conclusion is that worshiping in the Spirit is equal to walking according to the example of Christ. It’s that simple, and suddenly everything makes so much more sense. Jesus said true worshipers were going to be different from the coming of the Messiah forward, that it would be in spirit and truth. A Christian is someone who walks and imitates Christ (sacrifices his flesh in order to live after the will of God), living a life truly dedicated to Him (in reverence and obedience, a form of spiritually bowing down), which in turns allows his Spirit to live and be conformed to the image of our Savior. A good Christian life is the worship our Father seeks. There’s nothing special you have to do; there’s no “state of mind/emotions”, music, or anything of what commonly comes to mind when one thinks of “worship” – living for Christ is worship.
Now, to be clear, that doesn’t mean that what happens in churches is false or useless. I’m sure the prayer and tears shed for the Lord can and are received by Him. I’m sure he enjoys the praises of his people when instruments and voices shout out to Him. However, biblically speaking, none of that is actually worship. If any man says God requires something more than that, have them show you in scripture where to find it! I don’t know what name to use besides “praise” (even for the slow stuff) for what we consider “worship” in the church nowadays, but I’d encourage you to try and find any other definition of worship, that is based on scripture, besides a simple “walk with Christ.”
It’s this simple change of definition that caused me (and I imagine so many others) a life of doubt and confusion. The vocabulary used in Christian circles today like “worship music” or “worship time” really limit the whole concept of what worship truly is. It’s just one word which I’m glad that – as Philippians 3 says He would – God (I feel) has revealed unto me, with a proper understanding, through His wonderful Word.
I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service of worship. – Romans 12:1 (MEV)