“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
God's Glorious Revelation
God’s glorious revelation to us in Scripture is, among many wonderful things, a history of worship. While we see Scripture’s grandest theme in the unfolding of God’s grace-filled redemptive plan, culminating in the majestic gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, along its inspired and perfect printed path the Word gives us countless examples of worship.
We see passages describing worship that is duly reverent (Hebrews 12:28-29), and others where it is worldly, selfish, and irreverent (Ezekiel 20:39). We see proper, holy worship (1 Chronicles 29:1-13), and we see worship that is profane (Leviticus 10:1-2). There is worship rightly oriented to the true and living God (Jeremiah 10:10), and there is worship given to idols, gods that are not gods (Jeremiah 16:20). There is acceptable worship (Nehemiah 8:5-6) and there is unacceptable worship (1 Samuel 13:9-14).
Throughout Scripture’s history of worship that is divinely prescribed, proper, reverent, rightly oriented, and holy, there is a consistent characteristic. Worship is serious.
“God is serious about how we worship Him, and we must be serious about it too.” R.C. Sproul
The Holiness of God in Worship
Worship is meant to be serious. It is to be solemn, sober, resolute, sincere. It is to be entered upon with the right motive and the right mind, directed rightly towards God. Acceptable worship, when seen in Scripture, is deliberate, genuine, thoughtful, obedient, and weighty. The seriousness of worship does not, of course, betray the joy, peace, praise, or thanksgiving with which believers are graciously blessed and encouraged by the Lord. Indeed, the presence of these compels the heart towards sincere, serious worship. (Psalm 43:4)
“Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the Lord spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.” (Leviticus 10:3)
The utter holiness of God seems almost mythological when considering the woeful state of worship in much of the contemporary church. The holiness of God, it seems, may have been appropriate for those ancient, wilderness-trodding children of Israel as they encountered the divine special effects of a thundering Sinai, but it’s a doctrine broadly disregarded by pulpits and generally unconsidered in the eyes of the culturally savvy, postmodern churchgoer.
Decades of seeker-sensitive, ecclesiastical hoopla have foisted upon the church myriads of “said the prayer” – but otherwise unregenerate – professors who demand a different form of worship than Scripture prescribes. God may want to be treated as holy, but it better not be before a visit to the mega-church latte bar, and certainly not before the church house lights go down for the opening act. No one, certainly, would rebuff the notion of honoring God, but frankly, if the pew-sitting crowd isn’t happy, engaged, entertained, cognitively unchallenged , and, most importantly, intentionally made the central focus of the “worship experience,” the honor of God won’t much matter. Honoring God may be important, but not before coddling the crowd.
“The failure of modern evangelicalism is the failure to understand the holiness of God.” R.C. Sproul
Serious worship with a sober view of the holiness of God is lost on a generation or more of churchgoers. The featured attraction of much of contemporary worship isn’t God, but rather the pew-sitter, and, since it isn’t God, who needs to be serious? Theatrical light shows, fog machines, and theologically senseless, but toe-tappable, tunes can set a favorable mood to give the crowd a pleasing worship “experience.” The pulpit can be replaced with a less imposing lectern or, better yet, eliminated altogether in lieu of bar stools, couches, or just left clear for roaming-around-room for the “pastor.” After all, expository preaching by the Book simply won’t fly with the 90-second attention spans of the “Insta” crowd. Thus, sermons aren’t sermons, but anecdotal stories, conversations filled with sound-byte, meme-worthy positive-thinking vibes, slathered with just enough Christian-ese to give the honored guest – the pewsitter, mind you, not God – adequate cause to check off their weekly worship to-do list on their smartphones. In other words, worship these days largely isn’t worship; it's much more about us and much less about God, and, whatever it is, it isn’t serious.
Israel knew, of course, serious worship. The Lord made it clear to them. The Old Testament contains ample details on acceptable worship prescribed by the Lord. He specified the particular place of worship, the times for required worship, and the specific functions, offerings, and sacrifices to be performed. He established an order of priests to facilitate worship between His people and Himself, and those priests had very explicit protocol to follow. So serious was the Lord about the details of His worship that He specified even the priestly garments to be worn when attending to the duties of His worship. From the outset, God made clear that His worship was a serious matter.
That God is so exacting, and not merely in His worship, is the ubiquitous testimony of Scripture. He is, after all, sovereign God. The specificity of worship which He commanded was intended, among other things, to make certain that Israel, His chosen people, was distinguished from the idol-worshiping pagan culture around it. To the Jews would be given the “oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). From them salvation would come to sinners (John 4:22).
God’s precise standards for worship also reinforced for Israel the worshipful mindset they were to have: the fear of God. Psalm 99 opens with these words, “The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble.” The psalmist then recounts the faithfulness of God to Israel, and closes the psalm with a call to worship, “Exalt the Lord our God, And worship at His holy hill, For holy is the Lord our God.” (Psalm 99:1)
The Fear of God in Worship
The fear of God is the sum of the entirety of God’s revealed nature – His holiness, His greatness, His strength, His faithfulness, His righteousness, etc. – that, rightly but feebly apprehended, produces in us reverence for Him and honor to Him. Though “the Lord reigns” still today, the attitude of many contemporary churchgoers is one hardly conscious of the fear of God, largely due to the fact that, to quench the experience-coveting crowds, God has to be presented as our best buddy known for His tolerance and His “us”-centeredness. “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it” hardly presents the powerful, thundering, law-giving God of Sinai who provokes fear, demands honor, and commands reverence.
Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs knew something of reverence and the fear of God in worship: “We do not sanctify God’s name when we come to hear the Word unless we come with trembling hearts.” Burroughs, in writing about acceptable worship and the fear of God, further said, “You do not glorify God as God unless you come into His presence with much fear and reverence of His great name. Fear in worshiping God is so necessary that many times in Scripture we find that the very worship of God is called the fear of God.”
Matthew Henry likewise noted that “It is a dangerous thing, in the service of God, to decline from His own institutions; we have to do with a God who is wise to prescribe His own worship, just to require what He has prescribed, and powerful to revenge what He has not prescribed.” Israel was duly instructed with the principle of worshiping in the fear of God, and the Lord made clear that their failure to do so would place them under the threat of His judgment.
“You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the Lord your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth.” Deuteronomy 6:13-15
“It shall come about that if you ever forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today, that you will surely perish.” Deuteronomy 8:19
“I will pronounce My judgments on them concerning their wickedness, whereby they have forsaken Me and have offered sacrifices to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands.” Jeremiah 1:16
While the Old Testament is laden with details regarding worship protocol for Israel, and warnings for failing to adhere to it, we do well to remember that our God is immutable and the principles He prescribes apply under the New Covenant also. While many of the accoutrements of worship prescribed for Israel in the Old Testament have been displaced for Christians, the attitude of worship expected and commanded by God has not changed. The fear of God, though largely neglected in the church of postmodernity, yet persists as a foundation for rightful worship and obedient Christian living. So too does the church today face warnings for failure to abide by the commands of God.
As John MacArthur has stated, “Everything in the Christian life starts with true worship of God.” When we consider Paul's instructions to the Colossians, we quickly realize that the entirety of the Christian life is to be worshipful: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17) But, as with Israel, dire warnings for disobedience and idolatry remain for believers.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many [a]miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’.” Matthew 7:21-23
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying. Revelation 22:15
Worshiping our Lord
As we engage in our daily worship, and worship on the Lord’s Day, let us be wary of a superficial and selfish approach. May we be serious, attentive, and reverent in our duties of worship. Our holy God is wholly unimpressed and utterly dishonored by our engagement in the mere pop pageantry that is so-called worship. Rather He desires, according to Jesus, “worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) He cares nothing for the flash and sizzle of the mega-church stage, but commands the submissive worship of the humble heart before His holy Word, the acceptable lifestyle of worship by presenting “your bodies a living and holy sacrifice,” (Romans 12:1) and the daily act of repentance and belief that corresponds with Christ’s call for His follower to “deny himself and take up his cross.” (Matthew 16:24)
Let us not be content with the flamboyant, boisterous, self-exalting show of presumed worship, but with the acceptable and serious worship of a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17), submitted to God (James 4:7),and yielded in awe, reverence, and honor to Him (Hebrews 12:28).
God is due our worship because He is our Creator.
He is due our reverence for He has revealed His incomprehensible holiness to us in His Word.
He is due our awe for He has shown Himself great, almighty, and majestic.
He is due our praise because He is righteous, loving, faithful, and just.
He is due our thanks because He alone is our Redeemer.
He is due our serious worship, for He is our Sovereign, the Lord the great God.
May our worship today be with a mind and heart that echoes the words of David, “I will extol You, my God, O King, and I will bless Your name forever and ever.” Psalm 145:1