Worship as Honor
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me. (Matthew 15:8,9)
Worship is essentially a way of honoring God. It means recognizing His honor and ascribing it to Him in all the ways appropriate to His character.
Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth. The reason for saying gladly is that even mountains and trees reflect back to God the radiance of His worth: “Praise the Lord from the earth….mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!” (Psalm 148:7,9) Yet their reflection of God’s glory in nature is not conscious. The mountains and hills do not willingly worship. In all the earth, only humans have this unique capacity.
If we do nor gladly reflect God’s glory in worship we will never reflect the glory of His justice in our own condemnation: “Surely the wrath of man shall praise you”(Psalm 76:10). But this unwilling reflection of God’s worth is not worship. Therefore, it is necessary to define worship not simply as a way of reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth, but, more precisely, as a way of doing it gladly.
The word gladly is liable to misunderstanding because (as we will in a moment) worship at times involves contrition and brokenness,which we do not usually associate with gladness. But I keep the word because if we say only, for example, that worship is a “willing” reflection back to God of His worth, then we are on the brink of a worse misunderstanding; namely,that worship can be willed when the heart has no real desire, or as Jesus says, when the heart is “far from me”. Moreover, I think we will see that in genuine biblical contrition there is at least a seed of gladness that comes from the awakening hope that God will “revive the heart of the contrite”(Isaiah 57:15)
Worship is about God and not human centered. I say this at the risk of making a trite expression. I’m sure most of us would say that we know this but sometimes I think we get the two confused.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day have very elaborate worship rituals that were to be kept to infinite detail and woe to the one that varied those details. For example, the keeping of the Sabbath was so incredibly important as a detailed ritual that when Jesus healed a person on the Sabbath they accused Him of blasphemy. Sometimes it’s easy to worship the ritual more than the object of the ritual. This is what Jesus is referring to when He says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”
It’s quite easy to participate in rituals without being truly engaged. For example, it’s easy to come to church and sit through worship, sing the words of the songs, and leave without ever connecting to God. I think we’ve all had those times when in those moments of singing or hearing the sermon that our minds were a million miles away. We came to church but we didn’t come to God.
Worship is more that what we say or do. Worship, true worship is an expression of the heart. Think of it this way. What would your response be to someone who pulled you from the wreckage of an auto accident and saved your life or to the one who pulled you from the water when you were drowning? What would your response be to someone who paid your debts, all of them as a gift to you? How would you feel and what would be your response to someone who demonstrated their love for you beyond all realms of norm? This is in a small way what worship is. It is reflecting back to God almost as a token our gratitude, our acknowledgment of His mighty power and grace toward us. We have nothing else to give to Him other than this heart expression. But deeper than this is the heart that has come to know and deeply love God. We may begin with gratitude for all He has done but deeper still is to honor God for all He is. In order for us to worship at this level we require the help of the Holy Spirit. In the conversation with the woman at the well, the subject of where and how to worship evolved. The woman stated that the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem and the Samaritans worshipped in the mountains. Listen to Jesus’ response:
The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers 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.”
Often we miss the purpose of the Holy Spirit. Yes He is here to convict us of our sin. He is here to guide us into truth. He is here to comfort us. But more importantly, He is here to reveal Christ to us. True worship is connected to the revelation of Christ. The more of Him revealed, the more worth He becomes and the more our hearts desire to honor Him. To more fully see Christ is to more fully worship Him.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.”
Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.
The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.”
Dr. John Thompson