Worship is much more than attending a Sunday service. In fact, it is a way of life. Worship is our response to God—it is how we show him honour. This chapter looks at why we worship and the ways we worship.

Mark 14:1–9

There could have been no better time for a woman to anoint Jesus with precious perfume. Jesus was acutely aware that he would die in two days—he was alone, he dined with his betrayer and close friends who didn’t understand. Meanwhile, a woman humbly approached Jesus, broke the neck of a sealed alabaster jar and poured its contents on his head. As the perfumed oil ran down his face, the disciples mumbled against her, spoiling her spontaneous act of love and worship.

1. Why did Jesus say “She has done a beautiful thing to me” in v6?
2. It was a Jewish custom to give gifts to the poor on the evening of the Passover. Were the disciples (Matthew 26:8) justified in their accusation?
3. The perfume cost more than a year’s wages. Would you willingly give this much money away for a godly cause? Was this a godly cause or a frivolous act?
4. How was this act a form of worship?

True worship
Regardless of race, culture, location or time, people all over the world seek to worship something. The Australian Aborigines worshipped the earth, the ancient Egyptians worshipped gods of nature, and the Japanese worshipped their Emperor. Today, many people worship materialism, heroes and human rights— democracy, freedom and peace.

We worship when we show reverence, adoration and honour. Why do humans seek to honour something? The answer is quite simple—God created humans to worship him. In each one of us is a desire to worship someone greater than ourselves.

False worship:
Exodus 23:24–25; 34:14; Numbers 25:3–5; Deuteronomy 4:19; 5:9; 8:19; 12:2–7; Judges 2:12–19; 1 Kings 12:28–33; 2 Kings 17:24–41; Daniel 3:1–30; Matthew 23:23–27.  
Examples of true worship:  
2 Chronicles 29:20–36; Nehemiah 8:1–8; Job 1:20–22; Daniel 6:1–28; Zechariah 14:16–21; Matthew 2:1–12.  
Instructions about worship in the New Testament:  
Matthew 22:34–40; John 4:19–24; Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 11:17–34; Ephesians 5:19–20; Colossians 3:16.  

The evidence that the God of the Bible is the Almighty Creator is overwhelming and undeniable, yet most people prefer false gods and choose to ignore the truth. Ignoring truth carries a great price—eternal death. God hates false worship. Why reward faithless people who deliberately turn from the truth and believe in lies? See Chapter 2. Reasons to believe the Bible.

So what is true worship? Jesus beautifully summarised true worship by saying,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37–40)

Jesus was quoting these commandments from the Old Testament—from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Whether under the old or new covenant relationship, the way to please God remains the same:

. . . true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. (John 4:23)

True worship is honouring God. Whether we honour God through prayer, singing, praise, fasting or feasting, taking bread and wine, generosity, brotherly love, rebuking, tithing, teaching or leading, we are pleasing him. If we please him, we are worshipping him the right way and the only way.

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. (Psalm 95:6)

Worshipping under the old covenant
God’s command to Israel was straight-forward: love and obey me and I will bless you. Disobey and I will punish you.

So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul—then I will send rain on your land in its season. . . Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain. (Deuteronomy 11:13–17)

In Old Testament times, Israel had to follow a complicated form of worship—the Law of Moses. Rules for sacrifices, health laws and holy days were set out in very specific detail. By willingly obeying these laws of worship, Israel would be blessed.

To the casual observer, the Law of Moses seems unnecessarily complicated and impossible to keep. But these laws were given for a very good reason—they taught the Israelites that they were totally dependent on their Creator. In other words, it kept them humble and focused their attention on worshipping the true God. What was important was the motive: if you love God with all your heart, you want to please him, so you obey. If you obey unwillingly, it is false worship.

Jesus pointed out one of the most graphic examples of false worship in his outcries against the Pharisees. One section reads

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides!. . . You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. (Matthew 23:23–27)

These verses give a clear message: worship should be a loving response to God, not merely following rules and rituals.

Worshipping under the new covenant
How we worship God is the same in both the new and old covenants—in truth and spirit. But the way we go about it is different.

Under the new covenant there are fewer laws, mostly principles—principles that the Israelites often ignored. Consider again Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees: “you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness”. We must follow these principles (and others) in order to please God. Paul stated the heart of the matter by saying:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1)

Praising God
An important aspect of worship is when we praise God through prayer and singing. When we praise God, we are telling him how we feel about him. There are many wonderful examples of praise in the Psalms. Often they describe God’s character or recall how he has dealt with people in the past.
Suggestion: try reading a Psalm as your own prayer of praise to God.

Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD. (Psalm 117)

Worship is our response to God through which we show our reverence, honour and adoration for him. To worship God is to love God, honour God, and obey God. We can worship God in many different ways including praying, singing, praising and meditating, and through willingly giving ourselves in doing his work.

1. Read and consider the following cases carefully.

Cain and Abel each made offerings Genesis 4:1–16
Nadab and Abihu offered unauthorised fire Leviticus 10:1–2
David ate consecrated bread Matthew 12:3–4
Ananias and Sapphira lied about a donation Acts 5:1–10
Jesus was baptised Matthew 3:16–17

Why was God’s response different in each case? What does this teach about worship?

2. Consider how, when and where you worship. Do you think the way you honour God pleases him? How could you improve?

3. Music plays an important part in worship. Read the following passages: 1 Chronicles 15:27–29; 16:39–43; Psalm 150; Ephesians 5:19–20; Colossians 3:16.

(a) How do you use music to help your worship?
(b) Why does music help our worship?
(c) What are the important elements in using music to worship?

1. Select examples from the Old Testament and New Testament of people worshipping God in different ways. What can you learn from these examples?
2. Summarise the differences between worshipping under the old covenant and worshipping under the new covenant.

The genius of discipleship by Dennis Gillett (published by The Christadelphian, 1984). Chapters 21 and 22, 10 pages.

6. What is God like?
9. Prayer
14. Holiness and obedience
13. Idolatry
36. The Lord’s Supper
53. Fellowship
57. Keeping the Sabbath