Purity In Worship

Bob Ward

Man has an inherent need to worship. This need is as strong as his need for sleeping, for eating, for companionship, etc. If we go to the most remote corners of the world we will find this need being fulfilled by all societies. People may not always worship the right thing, but they worship something. They may not always worship in the right way, but they worship some way. They may not even believe in the God of heaven, but they believe in some supreme power.

Some in our society teach that it does not matter how you worship if you are sincere. In An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. IV, page 236, W.E. Vine says, "The worship of God is nowhere defined in Scripture." He is saying that God has made us and allows us to serve Him if we choose, in any manner we choose. It means that God does not care how we worship Him and that any worship is acceptable to Him. If this is the case then how can there be true or pure worship?

If we can find in scripture where God has defined the terms of worship to Him, we prove Mr. Vine and the others wrong. We will call this worship true or "pure" worship. To worship God in such a way is to have purity in worship. Anything else will be a perverted worship and unacceptable by God.

So that we are thinking the same thing, let us define the terms that we will be using. Pure means unmixed with any other matter, spotless, stainless, free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes, containing nothing that does not properly belong. Purity is the state or quality of being pure. Worship is reverence offered a divine being and the act of expressing such reverence. In the Bible we find it directed to God, Christ, man, the Dragon, the Beast, the image of the beast, to demons and to idols. Our emphasis will be upon worship to God. As Jesus said . . . "You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve" (Matt. 4:10).

I believe the scriptures teach that in each dispensation God tells man what is acceptable worship and what is unacceptable. God gave man a pure doctrine to follow but allowed man to decide if he would follow it or not. If this premise is true, we can find examples to verify it.

Worship of the Patriarchs

We will begin by looking at the patriarchal age. This is the period of history when God spoke through the heads of families. The scriptures do not tell us what God told the patriarchs to do, but He did give them law to observe. Consider the worship of Cain and Abel.

Notice what this passage teaches us. First, Cain worshiped God by offering fruit of the ground. God did not respect this offering. Was fruit from the ground an improper sacrifice? I do not think so because under the law of Moses, God accepted some grain offerings. Secondly, Abel also worshiped God by offering the firstborn of his flock and their fat. God respected Abel's offering.

What was the difference in the two sacrifices? Notice especially verse seven. God tells Cain that "sin" lies at the door if he does not do well. Sin means missing the mark. Cain in some way missed the mark. Before one can miss a mark, a mark must exist. Therefore God must have told the brothers what to offer in their worship. Not only did God provide instructions for worship but they were pure because they came from Him. Cain perverted his worship to God by offering something different from what God had commanded. In Heb 11:4 we read that "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. . . ." From Rom. 10:17, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." God provided the word. Abel worshiped accordingly but Cain did not. Abel's worship was pure and accepted. Cain perverted his worship and God rejected it.

Worship Under the Law

Let us look at an example under the Mosaic dispensation. Consider the story of Nadab and Abihu.

"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" (Lev. 10:1-2).

God gave specific instructions to the priest in how to conduct the various elements of worship. In Ex. 30:9 God told them not to offer strange incense on the altar of incense, nor were they to offer burnt offerings, meal offerings or drink offerings on it. In Lev. 16:12, we read, "Then he (Aaron) shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil."

Nadab and Abihu did not follow the instructions of God. Had they done so, their worship would have been pure and acceptable to the Lord. Because they missed the mark and took fire from another source, they sinned. When they sinned, they died before the Lord.

Worship Today

Now let us look at the present age. The best description for pure worship today can be found in John 4. We find Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. Through the things said by Jesus, the woman recognizes Him as a prophet. Then in verse 20 she says, "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship." In the following verses we read:

"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'" (John 4:21-24).

God, the Object of Worship

Earlier we noted that worship in the bible is directed to God, Christ, man, the Dragon, etc. From this passage we learn that God is to be the object of our worship. Why do we worship God?

We worship God as our Creator. John tells us that God is worthy of glory and honor and power because He created all things (Rev. 4:11). He deserves our allegiance because He is also our sovereign (1 Tim 6:15). We worship Him as our Redeemer (Rev. 5:9-14). And we worship Him because we love Him. John said, "We love Him because He first loved us."

Oh, that all men were like the psalmist and loved God as he did. David recognized that God deserved the glory due to His name (Psa. 29:2). He spoke of the fear and reverence that was due God (Psa. 89:7). He always had an attitude of thanksgiving to the Lord on his lips (Psa. 42:4; 95:2-3). David lived his worship to God, if we would only do the same.

Our worship to God should be such that we want to be in His presence. Jesus said, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Mat. 18:20). Many today are more like the hypocrites that Jesus spoke of in Mat. 15:8-9 "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."

Unfortunately, many attend worship services for the wrong reasons. Some attend because they want to be seen by men. Jesus rebuked the hypocrites for this in Mat 6:5, "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward." He also condemned the scribes and Pharisees by saying, "But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments" (Mat. 23).

Must Worship in Spirit

In verse 21 of our text, Jesus says that the time is coming when worship will not be in "this mountain, nor in Jerusalem." Jesus is describing physical places of worship. The Samaritans had worshiped in Mount Gerizim since the days of Nehemiah. The Jews had the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is telling the woman that in a short while, neither of these places will be the place of worship. Because God is spirit, He is not limited to physical places as the mountain or temple. He tells her that "true worshipers" will worship God from the heart by submitting intelligently and willingly to the will of God. They will not worship mechanically or ritualistically as the Samaritans or Jews were doing.

Many today try to worship God in wrong places. They, like the Jews, do things in worship that they have no authority for, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men (Mat. 15:9; Mk. 7:7). Paul told Titus to rebuke such a person sharply (Titus 1:13-14). They serve other Gods through their creeds, and not the true God (Jn 17:3; 1 Thes. 1:9; 1 Jn. 5:20).

It is just as easy for us in the Lord's church not to worship in spirit. Do we allow ourselves to attend worship services and mechanically go through the elements of worship? If we do, we are like the Jews and the Samaritans. We can do this by singing and not meaning what we are singing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). We must rightfully discern the Lord's body and blood when we partake of the Lord's supper (1 Cor. 11:27-28). When we give of our means, do we do it cheerfully and willingly (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor 9:7)? We must develop and strengthen our faith by being hearers of the word (Rom. 10:17; Heb. 5:12). And we must tell God of our needs although He knows them before we ask (Mat. 6:8; 7:7-11) and by praying continuously.

Must Worship in Truth

Finally Jesus tells the woman that worship would be in truth. For a definition of truth we turn to John 17:17 where Jesus says, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth." With the word being the source of truth, we can say that God has defined the limits of worship. This is what He expects of us in our worship. He has told us to give, to sing, to teach/preach the word, to observe the Lord's supper, and to pray. Brethren, these are mere rituals which help us to express from the heart that form of worship that God requires.


Through simple obedience to the will of God, we can worship Him as He has directed. When we worship Him in this fashion, our worship is pure. If we add to or take from what has been given, then the purity no longer exists and we are no longer abiding by the will of God but the will of man. If we serve the impurity rather than the pure, we fall into condemnation by God (Rev. 22:18-19).

e-mail this author at rsward@flash.net

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