God has always demanded worship from His people. The first sin recorded outside the Garden of Eden had to do with improper worship (Gen. 4:1-6; Heb. 11:4). The first three of the Ten Commandments given Moses in the Mount had to do with proper worship (Exod. 20:1-6). Worship is defined: “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity; show reverence and adoration for; treat (someone or something) with the reverence and adoration appropriate to a deity.” (New Oxford American Dictionary). There are a number of Greek words that are translated by the English words worship, worshiped, worshiper, and worshiping. Some of the meanings of these original words are given as: to kiss (the hand) toward; to be reverential, pious; to bow self down; to do obeisance (Young's Analytical Concordance).
John 4:23-24 is an important passage relative to worship requirements. Jesus said: “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Note that from this statement we learn (1) the object of worship is God— God seeks true worshippers to worship Him; (2) The attitude of worship—in spirit; and (3) the law of worship—in truth. Furthermore we also learn that there is such a thing as true worshippers implying that there just might also be those whose worship is not true. As far as space and time permit, let's look more closely at these things.
First, God is to be the only object of our worship. Jesus told Satan, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” This was said in response to Satan's attempt to get Jesus to fall down and worship him. The worship of any man, the bowing in obeisance to any human being, is forbidden by Scripture. This includes the so-called “pope” of Rome and all others. Worship of angels is not even permitted. When John on Patmos “fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things,” he was told by the angel, “See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God” (Rev. 22:8-9).
The attitude of true worshippers is to be in spirit. Our worship must truly be from the heart; it must be sincere, not hypocritical; it must not be for show. It must be done in humility, in awe and admiration for the God who created us, who sustains us, and from whom every blessing comes.
The law of worship is God's word, the truth (John 17:17). This simply means that God has decreed in His truth what He expects of those who worship Him. Man is not left free to determine what he will do in worship to God. God has already decided for us. He has given His word as a pattern, a road-map, a light for our path, that we are to follow (Psalm 119:105; Jer. 10:23).
The verses under consideration describe true worship. There are other kinds of worship. There is will worship (Col. 2:23). Will worship is worshiping according to our own will and desires. Have you ever heard anyone explain why they do something in worship that is not authorized by God in this way? In defending their sinful use of the mechanical instrument of music in worship to God, when God has clearly only told us to “sing,” we hear statements like, “We like it,” “It sounds good,” and “It will draw a crowd.” That is will worship in the highest sense of the word.
There is also vain worship. Jesus stated: “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9). Note that this type of worship is vain because it violates both the attitude and the law of worship. This vain worship is merely lip-service, not sincere from the heart. It violates the law of worship by being the “doctrines of men” instead of the truth of God.
Reader, examine what you do in worship to God. Is it clearly authorized in the Truth? (Col. 3:17). If not, why not give it up and worship God truly in the way that He seeks for men to worship Him, “in spirit and in truth?”
Paul M. Wilmoth