2020 Vision: Worship in Spirit and In Truth (John 4:21-24)
“Worship in Spirit and in Truth”
In the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life, there is a minor but important scene in which the two lead characters, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) and Mary Hatch (played by Donna Reed) throw rocks into the windows of the old Waldorf Hotel. If they actually hit and break a window, and make a wish, their wish is supposed to come true.
Back in 1982, a criminologist from Rutgers and a political scientist from Harvard wrote an essay for The Atlantic Monthly magazine titled “Broken Windows.” Their essay was based on an experiment by a psychologist from Stanford back in 1969.
Here is the experiment: The psychologist took a car and left it in the Bronx with the hood up and without license plates. Within ten minutes, the car had been picked clean of anything that was valuable: the battery, radiator, tires. By the next day, the car was the object of destruction - the upholstery was ripped apart; the windows were broken.
Next, the psychologist took another car and put it in an upscale community near Stanford’s campus, Palo Alto. That car was also left with the hood up and without license plates. But the car just sat there for days, without anyone touching it. So, the psychologist took a sledge hammer and smashed one of the windows. Soon, many people standing around joined in and after a few hours, the car was completely destroyed and turned upside down.
The conclusion? The criminologist and the political scientist conclude in the article in The Atlantic Monthly that disorder tends to contribute to crime. One unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares and people draw the conclusion that there is no cost to breaking more windows. Of course, it is also fun.
The mere appearance of disorder encourages a deeper form of disorder. For the criminologist, what this shows is that if we have more police offers patrolling and enforcing laws even against the smallest crimes like graffiti spraying and panhandling, then it strongly discourages further crimes, even more violent crimes.
Worship to God acts like the police officers, but in our spiritual lives. Worship keeps our lives in order.
Worship is important to God. The 4th chapter of the book of Genesis begins with worship. The word “worship” is used 113 times in the OT. Once God gets Israel out of Egypt and assembles them around Mount Sinai to give them the Law of Moses, in Exodus 25, God begins describing worship which He expected out of Israel: the who, when, what, where, and how. Think about this, please. From Exodus 25 until the very last chapter, chapter 40, it is all about worship. Sixteen chapters, just in Exodus, that revolve around worship. There are three chapters in the middle of those sixteen chapters, chapters 32-34, which deal with the creation and worship of the golden calf, which of course, is false worship. But the book of Exodus deals extensively with worship.
When you open the book of Leviticus, you are introduced to the five primary sacrifices God expected out of the Israelites. The book begins with burnt offerings which were for the forgiveness of sins. Grain offerings were offered out of thanksgiving. Peace offerings showed appreciation for having peace with God. Sin offerings were to take away the punishment of sins. Guilt offerings were to find forgiveness for sins. The first 10 chapters out of the book of Leviticus are also about worship, sacrifices in worship. Chapters 16-17 are about the Day of Atonement. Chapters 21-25 all have to do with worship in one way or the other.
Do you get my point? Worship is important to God. But, worship is not for God. That is, worship does not make God any better, any smarter, any more loving, any more intelligent. Worship is not for God. Worship is for us! “Worship” is found in the book of Psalms more than any other single book: “Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). One of my favorites is Psalm 95:6: “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
God’s people, from Abel, son of Adam and Eve, to Jesus Christ Himself, God’s people have been worshiping people. In the text we read for this lesson, John 4:21-24, beginning with verse 20, we have the densest concentration of the word “worship” in the NT. The word is used ten times in five verses! The woman was living in fornication but Jesus wants to talk to her about worship. Why? Because worship is important to God! But not for His benefit.
God requires worship for our benefit and that’s why we need to focus on worship, why worship in spirit and in truth as Jesus talks about here to the woman at Jacob’s well (John 4) should be important to us.
This is the first Sunday in May and the first Sunday of each month this year, I am focusing on what we ought to focus on as God’s children, Christ’s church. I have given you a definition of the Swartz Creek church of Christ based on what Scriptures teach. “The Swartz Creek church of Christ exists, by the blood of Jesus, to share the gospel with the lost, strengthen the weak, encourage the members, and worship God, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
For the first three months of this year, I took a theological look at “Vision 2020.” Last month, I turned our attention to practical matters. We have seen that we need to focus on:
We should honor God.
We should glorify Jesus Christ.
We should follow the Holy Spirit.
We should build up each other.
As you know by now, our attention this morning is focused on the fact that we need to worship God in spirit and in truth.
A young mom with a toddler in worship sees her little girl toss a baby doll two rows back in the middle of worship, and mom sits staring straight ahead, wishing she were invisible. Or you are singing “Rock of Ages” and in the middle of a pause, your young son belts out “Jesus Loves Me” at the top of his lungs. Or the preacher asks a rhetorical question: “Do you love your preacher?” and your little girl answers, loud enough for everyone around to hear, “No!”
Incidents like these make young parents wonder, “Why am I here?” No sooner do you get sat down than you have to get up. You reach out, pick up, take out, and on and on and on it goes. You wish your child would stay quiet and not disturb others. Practically at every worship service, young parents are picking up toys, drying eyes, wiping noses, and bowing heads. You swat, you spank, you scold and you wonder, “Why am I here?”
But you still come and we of the older generation are glad, thankful, and encouraged that you go through all that. Because we, from experience, know that it is worth it. When your son or daughter, in their early twenties - old enough to be on their own - are making spiritually-minded decisions like coming to worship on their own, even teaching Bible class, then you know you made the right choices when they were little.
A pattern is being set and priorities are being instilled in the hearts of your children. That hand that threw the doll may one day sow the seed of salvation with an open Bible in her hand. Many times our little toddlers have minds that wander, even sit embarrassed because they have been disciplined but they are there. There are moments of discouragement, hushing and corralling. I encourage our older members to pray for our young parents as they do their best to set the pattern of worship in the hearts of their little children. We have all been there and done that.
What does worship do for us? What are the benefits to us of being in worship together as a church family? To go back to the “Broken Window” theory - what influences does worship have over us, perhaps in ways we might not even recognize? In a world that is plagued by a virus, why should worship be important to us? To make that into a metaphor, in a world that is plagued by sin, why should worship be important to us?
Let me share some reasons…
WORSHIP HELPS US PUT GOD’S KINGDOM FIRST:
When you take time out of your schedule to sit in worship Jehovah God, you are literally, physically, telling your body that there are things more important than what is going on in life around you. When you open the Bible or you take the Communion with your hands, you are telling your body that your hands have something important to do, more important than what you could be doing otherwise. When you listen to God’s word preached or you listen to a prayer being prayed, you are telling your ears that there is something important for your ears to be doing. Worship involves our whole bodies - not just our hearts, our minds, the things that are not visible - but even our whole bodies.
We sing with our voices and with our hearts. Our teenagers hold hands in every single prayer that is prayed in worship. When they do that, they are involving their hands in prayer as well as their hearts.
Worship physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually helps us to put God’s kingdom first. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” Jesus commanded in Matt. 6:33. Worship helps us to put God’s Kingdom first. We show God that what is important to Him is also important to us. Jesus shed His blood for His church (Acts 20:28). When we set aside time to worship with the church of Christ, we are also showing that the church is important to us.
WORSHIP HELPS US GAIN KNOWLEDGE ABOUT GOD:
We can’t live better if we don’t know better. How many times have we damaged something or even destroyed something because we just didn’t know; we were ignorant? When Rachel and I moved back to America from Romania, we bought our first house and we replaced the carpet. I asked the carpet business owner what we could do to make the carpet last as long as possible. Do you know what she said? She said don’t walk around on the carpet bare-footed. I was shocked. “Really?” She said that walking barefooted puts dirt and oil from your feet into your carpet which, over time, will wear out the carpet. If you don’t know better, you can’t behave better.
So worship helps us gain knowledge about God. And we need to be constantly reminded of every aspect of the nature and works of God. In this physical world, with all of its distractions, it is easy for us to get our eyes and our hearts off of God. It is so easy for us to forget that God is all-loving and never does an unloving thing. God is all-wise and never does anything that is not wise. God is all-powerful and He is never challenged by the problems that we face.
We need to grow regularly in our knowledge of God and His nature and His works. Not only does Bible study in worship do that for us, but the Lord’s Supper weekly reminds us what God did for us through the sacrifice of Christ. Our songs that we sing remind us of the nature of God and His works: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).
Worship helps us gain knowledge about God.
WORSHIP HELPS US POSSESS THE MIND OF CHRIST:
We talked about the mind of Christ last week. Paul told the Christians in Philippi in 2:5 that they needed to have the mind of Christ which, in one word, is humility. In Jesus’ humility, He was focused on pleasing the Father above all else. That was the central focus of His life on earth and His mission. You and I know that, but it is hard on a daily basis, to live that way. That’s why we need to worship, to be reminded how important it is to have the mind of Christ.
Our society appreciates humility but our society attacks us from every side, challenging our Christian desire to live humbly. If humility was as easy as flipping a switch, being humble would be quite easy. But it is not. Humility is a daily, even an hourly decision, to live like Christ. The longer we go between worship, the longer we go without listening to Jesus say, “whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:44).
Worship constantly reminds us that we need to live like Jesus and how we live like Jesus.
WORSHIP STRENGTHENS OUR FAITH IN JESUS AS LORD:
I want to specifically talk about prayer in worship… When we are reminded that Jesus is Lord, then we are reminded that He is in control of everything. That does not mean that Jesus controls everything but everything happens under His watchful and caring eye. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:6, “there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him, one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”
When we are scared and alone, we have faith that Jesus is present in our lives, to work all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28). When we are facing temptations, we know that Jesus will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to endure (1 Cor. 10:13). When things are going well for us and all we feel is blessed, we know that every good gift and every perfect gift comes from the Father above (James 1:17).
So worship strengthens our faith in Jesus as Lord, especially in our prayers. When we come together to worship in prayer, we join our hearts together to ask from God and we join our hearts together in prayer to say thanks to God. You might not have your name mentioned in prayer very frequently, but you know that because we mention other people and their needs in prayer, then when you have needs, they will surely be mentioned in prayer.
Worship strengthens our faith in Jesus as Lord.
worship helps us prepare for the final judgment:
In Luke 18:8, Jesus asks a question that continues to ring in our ears: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Will Jesus find faith on the earth when He returns? Without faith in God, we cannot be saved (Heb. 11:6).
Worship helps us maintain an active, living, obedient faith in Jesus Christ. Jared, Michelle, Rachel, and I are collaborating on a year-long Bible study for our church family on the book of Hebrews. This Bible study guide only covers about 6 verses each week. If you would like to catch up with us, the studies are on the church’s website. The theme of Hebrews is to encourage Christians to “Hold Firm!” to Jesus Christ!
Those Christians were in danger of their faith slipping away from them so the writer presents argument after argument after argument that Jesus Christ is better than any one or any thing they have ever been exposed to before! In the middle of that encouragement, in Hebrews 10:25, the Hebrew writer says to the Christians: “Don’t turn your back on the worship assembly. But, as the day gets closer and closer, encourage each other even more!” Why? Because worship helps us keep our faith in Jesus Christ, which helps us prepare for the final judgment.
We will stand before God for a final judgment on our lives spent on earth. And the standard we’ll be judged by is Jesus Christ. How well did we live like He lived? How well did we try to live like He lived? Jesus talked about God’s word on a regular basis. Jesus prayed on a regular basis. Jesus helped the poor on a regular basis. Jesus took the Passover feast on an annual basis. He sang on at least one occasion. So all the acts of worship which He calls on us to do, He did. Worship helped Jesus stay focused on the Father and worship will help us to stay focused on Jesus Christ.
Take home message: Worship is important to God, for our benefit: It helps us seek the kingdom first. It helps us gain knowledge of God. It helps us have the mind of Christ. Worship strengthens our faith in Jesus as Lord. Worship helps us prepare for the final judgment.