Acceptable Worship

Many people worship God, but few worship acceptably. Cain and Abel both worshipped God, but Cain's sacrifice was rejected because he was unrighteous (Genesis 4:4-7; Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3:12). Nadab and Abihu offered incense, but God destroyed them: "Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD" (Leviticus 10:1,2).

Just because we worship in some way, does not mean that God accepts our worship. We must worship according to His will.

What is worship?

Worship is a specific, conscious glorification of God flowing from an inner attitude of lowly submission to His authority and awe at His majesty.

What are some requirements for acceptable worship?

To please God, we must worship God only. Satan tried to persuade Christ to bow before him. He did not say: "Don't worship God." He said: "Worship me." Jesus replied: "Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve'" (Luke 4:5-8). Satan's trick did not work with Christ as it does with so many.

Are there not countless people who try to serve both God and Satan? Sunday they go to some church. But Saturday they frequent places where Satan reigns. They sing praises to God. But during the week they use profane language. They pray to God. But they love the world. John warns: "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). If we try to serve God and Satan, we serve only Satan. "You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve."

This also means that we may not worship people. Peter did not allow Cornelius to bow before him. "But Peter lifted him up, saying, 'Stand up; I myself am also a man'" (Acts 10:25,26). Many people today worship saints and the Pope who claims to be the successor of Peter. This is a false claim because Peter would not allow people to bow before him. We must worship only God. When we worship people, living or dead, our worship to God is unacceptable.

Neither may we worship things. Paul says that God left the nations to their lot "because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25 RSV). There are many warnings against idolatry in the New Testament. Idolatry is a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:20). "And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, 'The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play'" (1 Corinthians 10:7). Idolaters will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9). "Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry" (1 Corinthians 10:14). "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).

"But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk" (Revelation 9:20). God certainly is not pleased with those who bow down before images. Yet millions of nominal Christians worship in this unacceptable way.

Materialism is an even more prevalent form of idolatry. A covetous person is an idolater and has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5).

Some worship idols in the entertainment world. In many living rooms people bow down before a glowing, dancing, moving electronic image. Hours are devoted to television which should be spent serving God and fellow man.

Some worship pleasure. For others an automobile or a house can be an idol. Some have science or education as their god. Others devote themselves completely to their work, to some sport or to some political system.

Things can be useful in their place. But things are never worthy of devotion. Worship must be reserved for God, the Creator of all things.

Many worship God, but few serve God alone. And when we worship things or people, we cannot worship God acceptably. "You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve."

We must worship God correctly. Jesus said of the superficially religious people of His time: "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men" (Mark 7:6-8).

Christ's statement applies to many today. Millions worship with their mouths according to traditions and doctrines of men, while ignoring the word of God. Such self-willed worship is vain. God does not like it.

Genuine worship must be spiritual and true, as Christ told the Samaritan woman: "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers 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).

Old Testament worship centered in Jerusalem. It was closely associated with outward forms and rituals. New Testament worship must be spiritual and true. Materialistic pomp and ceremony are out of place in Christian worship.

The worship prescribed in the New Testament is simple and spiritual. The first Christians sang and prayed and admonished one another. On the first day of the week they broke bread in remembrance of Christ.

These passages illustrate Christian worship:

"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42).

"Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight" (Acts 20:7).

"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come" (1 Corinthians 16:1,2).

"What is the result then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding" (1 Corinthians 14:15).

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Colossians 3:16).

Through the centuries, however, worldly rituals have been introduced to entertain people who do not have the spirit of Christ. Denominations have arisen in which worship is apostate, superficial and vain. Materialistic people are impressed by pomp and ceremony, by costly garments and images, by flickering candles and mechanical instruments of music. How foreign these things are to the spirit of Christ.

God's statement echoes through the ages: "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."

Let us worship and serve God acceptably. True worship must come from the heart. We must worship God only, and we must worship according to His will.

"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:28,29). "Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth -- to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people -- saying with a loud voice, 'Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water'" (Revelation 14:6,7).

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982,
Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive