Updated: Sep 17, 2020
I follow many churches on social media to see what they do and teach. During this covid-19 lockdown many denominations have let the cat out of the bag on what their worship is about. One church had a jazz band playing instrumentals and as soon as it was over the “worship leader” said “I sure hope you enjoyed that”. She wasn’t talking to God; she was talking to the people who were sitting at home as an audience.
It is extremely rare for a church to be concerned with if God enjoyed their worship. For some strange reason, people just take it for granted that God is going to accept whatever they give to them. They have no interest whatsoever for HIS desires. Many act as if they have no idea that God is the audience of worship. And as if God must accept whatever we offer him.
In John 4 Jesus makes a statement about worship that should send chills down the spine of every person that thinks God just automatically accepts everything we call worship. He says “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (4:23-24).
Please notice a few words. First, Jesus is talking about worship. There is no doubt about that. Second, Jesus talks about “true” worship. That tells us there is such thing as “false” worship. Third, Jesus says that God ”is seeking” true worshippers.
When I was a kid Where’s Waldo books were very popular. You would try and find Waldo in a big cartoon picture filled with other people. Waldo had a little red and white hat, round glasses, and a red and white shirt. You were supposed to find Waldo in a large crowd and there were a lot of things that would grab your eyes. But you were not seeking those other objects and people. You were seeking Waldo. Waldo was a very specific character.
Take that same image to God. He is scanning the world looking for a specific type of worshipper. What kind of worshipper is He seeking? A true worshipper. He can see this group of people and they are worshipping. They think that God is listening to them but he keeps on looking because these people are not true worshippers. He is not seeking what they are offering.
Thankfully, Jesus told us exactly what a true worshipper is. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?
Jesus said in verse 24 “that those who worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth”. A true worshipper, the worshipper that God is seeking, is someone who worships God in spirit and in truth. That means if I want my worship to be found by a seeking God, I want to make sure it is in spirit and in truth. But what does that mean?
There are some that say that “in spirit” in John 4:24 is in reference to the Holy Spirit, and use that to further the practice of Pentecostalism. There is no basis to that for a few reasons. First, worship was not full of craziness and loss of control in the New Testement, but rather it was “decent and in order” (1 Cor 14:40). Second, when people who truly had the ability to speak in tongues by the Holy Spirit, they were speaking actual languages of that day (Acts 2:4,6). Not a series of random sounds. Furthermore, those gifts were promised to fade away as the New Testement was completed (1 Cor 13:9-10, Eph 4:11-14)
Worshipping “in spirit” is worshipping with your heart. It is worshipping with sincerity. It is worshipping with your inner thoughts and feelings matching the outward action that you are engaged in. A parallel verse is found in Joshua 24:14, “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in truth.” A simple way to put it is that God wants us to mean it when we worship him.
But there is a second component to the type of worshippers that God wants. Those old Waldo books would sometimes throw you off. They would put the red and white hat on someone not Waldo. It would be half a second before realized that was not Waldo and that I need to keep looking. Most of the time people don’t apply the same basic principle to God’s will. There are so many people who have a sincerity in their heart and think that is exactly what God wants. But both components are a must. Spirit without truth is not what God is seeking.
True worshippers must also worship in Truth. Truth is the word of God (John 17:17). That means that worship “in truth” is worship that is according to his word. There are specific acts of worship that are authorized in the New Testament. Those acts are according to the Truth. The New Testament also condemns self-imposed worship (Col 2:23). If I want to be a true worshipper, I need to be serious about making sure my worship is authorized and isn’t filled with things that I want.
In America we are free to worship any way we want. But true worshippers are not. True worshippers worship how God wants.
I know the Church of Christ is mocked within this community for not worshipping with musical instruments (Eph 5:19). I know people may roll their eyes at us for taking the Lord’s Supper every week (Acts 20:7). People snicker because we give every first day of the week (1 Cor 16:1) and don’t rely on bake sales. But we are simply doing what God’s word says because that is what he wants.