Christ’s Blueprint for His Church: Worship in Spirit and in Truth
Christ's Blueprint for His Church
Studies in the Book of Acts
"Worship in Spirit and Truth”
We are here this morning to worship. We have worshiped God this morning, so far, in prayer, and singing, taking the Lord's Supper, and our contribution. Now, we are worshiping by studying God's word. What do we mean by “worship”?
We have performed these acts of worship, these rituals of worship. Why? Ultimately, why worship? What is worship? Humanity as a whole engages in worship, in specific acts or rituals which humanity has long recognized and called worship. In fact, the vast, vast majority of humans around the world and for our entire history has worshiped something.
Some people argue that the very deep desire within the human heart to worship something argues for the fact that there must exist Someone or at least something to be worshiped. In other words, our eye is designed to see, which argues that there must exist something to be seen. Our ear is designed to hear, which agues that there must be something to be heard. So the emotional heart is designed to worship, which argues that there must be something or Someone to be worshiped.
The fact that humanity recognizes that there are acts or rituals of worship shows that humanity recognizes that all of life is not worship. Rather, worship is something that you intend to do, directed at some higher Being, for a specific purpose, for a set period of time. The first time “worship” is found in the Bible (NASV) is in Genesis 22:5 where Abraham has been commanded by God to offer Isaac, his son, as a sacrifice to God. The text says that Abraham tells his servants, on the way to Mount Moriah where Abraham will sacrifice Isaac: “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.”
That tells us that worship involves: 1.) One or more specific acts; 2.) for a specific purpose; 3.) for a set period of time; 4.) directed to God; 5.) at His commands.
The English word “worship” is found 113 times in the OT; the Hebrew word that is translated here as “worship” is found 170 times. The Hebrew word that is translated “worship” here is found twice before Genesis 22:5. In Genesis 18:2, when Abraham receives the three visitors, one of whom turned out to be Deity and two were angels, and when Abraham saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth. The other time, before Genesis 22:5, where the Hebrew word is used is in Genesis 19:1 when the two angels went to Sodom and Lot, Abraham’s nephew, saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground.
“Bow down” is the literal meaning of this word. So when it is in the context of worship, it means to bow the heart down to Jehovah God, to bow the will down to Jehovah God. That is the essence of worship - to bow the heart to God. The reasons for bowing our hearts to God are numerous, beginning with thankfulness for who God is and for what He has done for us. A very deep trust in God is also a strong and primary motivation for worshiping God.
Some people have misunderstood a particular verse in the Bible and come to the conclusion that all of life is worship. Let’s take a brief look at that particular verse: Romans 12:1. In the NASV, the verse reads: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).
This noun translated "service of worship” is found five times in the NT: John 16:2; Romans 9:4; 12:1; Hebrews 9:1, 6. It is translated (in NASV) sometimes “service” and sometimes “worship.” The word is defined “to perform religious rites as a part of worship.”
The verb is found twenty-one times. Again, the verb is translated sometimes as “serve” and sometimes as “worship.” Even though the word can be translated “serve,” it never is used to refer to man serving man. It always is used to refer to man serving God.
The focus of this word as it relates to worship is that it pictures worship as service to God. All of life is, or ought to be, service to God. Worship is simply one aspect of our service to God. When I act as a husband to Rachel as God tells me to do, I am serving God as a husband. When I act as a father to Jewell and Ana as God tells me to do, I am serving God as a father. When I come to worship and I express my thanksgiving and trust in God, I am serving God through acts of worship. In fact, don’t we sometimes call worship “worship services”? That’s this word found here in Romans 12:1.
Paul has just told Christians to offer your body as a “living and holy sacrifice.” To refer to our lives as a “sacrifice” is a metaphor. Paul is taking the concept of animal sacrifices from the OT and he applies that concept to our own lives. Just as the Jews offered animal sacrifices in their worship services, so you and I are to offer our very lives as a sacrifice to God. That is an act of service that shows God we are thankful to Him and we trust Him.
Paul has the same idea over in 15:16 as he talks about his preaching ministry. He says he is a “minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Paul is using that same metaphor to picture the Gentiles as Paul’s sacrifice to God. Evangelism was Paul’s act of service to God, the sacrifice of himself to God. Write down these verses and take a look at them as they portray the exact same idea: Philippians 2:17 and 2 Timothy 4:6.
So, let me summarize before we get into the book of Acts… In our worship services, that specific time that is set aside for specific acts, offered to God as an expression of our thanksgiving and our trust, we engage in five rituals: praying, singing, the Lord’s Supper, giving, and listening to God’s word. But, outside of our worship services, our very lives are to be offered to God as a sacrifice which daily shows our thanksgiving and our trust in God.
We are studying in the book of Acts, the first church history book, on the first Sunday of every month. We are studying Acts because we want to know: “What does God expect His church, the church of Christ, to look like and to do?” What is God’s pattern for His church? We hear all the time: Attend the church of your choice. But we all believe a far better question is to ask, What does God want in His church? What are those behaviors that God expects from all Christians, for all time, everywhere?
The first Sunday of every month this year, we have examined eleven different behaviors or attitudes that we have seen to be God’s expectations for His church:
Get our message from His apostles (Acts 1). Preach the gospel (Acts 2). Share with others (Acts 4). Live faithfully to His expectations (Acts 5). Fellowship with one another (Acts 6). Know history (Acts 7). “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 8) Be a universal body (Acts 10). Both genders equal (Acts 21). Take the Gospel message into the hearts and lives of others (Acts 13). Distinguish between the Law and the Gospel (Acts 15).
One of the most important patterns that we see coming from God, through the apostles of Christ, is the pattern for worship. In worship, we approach God; we come into the presence of God through specific acts or rituals, with a specific purpose, for a specific time. But when you think about that very act, it is the most awesome, awe-inspiring thing we can do. Let it sink in that God allows us, sinful humanity, to come into His presence! But, that also argues that we need to do so just as God directs. If we are going to step into the presence of God, we have to do it the way God directs. God has actually killed people in the OT because they did not worship God the way He prescribes, so it is an awesome thing to attempt to worship God.
Before we get further into the biblical text, I want to simply point out that every single act of worship which Christ authorizes for Christians in the New Testament has its origins and a long history in the OT. In other words, Jesus does not call on Christians to do something new, different from what the Jews did in the OT. Jesus spiritualizes the acts; they are offered through Him, but they all have a long history among the people of God, most of them going back to the book of Genesis. Worship is as important to Jesus under the New Covenant as it was to the Father under the old covenant.
When Jesus had His conversation with the woman at Jacob’s well in John 4, Jesus told her that God is looking for “true worshipers,” those who desire to worship God in “spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). It is no surprise, then, when we open the book of Acts, we find five specific acts of worship that have been commanded by the apostles of Christ for Christians to do, to show their thankfulness and trust in God.
PRAYER IS AN ACT OF WORSHIP WHEN WE EXPRESS OUR THANKS, PRAISE, AND TRUST:
“Pray” or some form of the word is used twenty-nine times in the book of Acts. God’s people are a praying people.
The first time “prayer” is mentioned in Acts is in 1:14 when the disciples met in the upper room to wait for the Holy Spirit. There, they spent their time praying. As we read through Acts, naturally, we find some of the prayers were done together, in worship, in the assembly of the church. Some of the prayers are by individuals as a part of their own, private spiritual life.
When prayer is with the church as a whole, then it is set at a specific time. In fact, years ago, I remember Wednesday night Bible study use to be called “prayer meeting,” even though we also sang and studied the Bible.
Prayer is an act in which we bow our hearts to God, symbolized by bowing our heads. We humbly thank God for His blessings and we ask God for more blessings because we trust God will provide what we need.
The unique characteristic of Christian prayer which distinguishes it from Jewish prayers in the OT is that it is now offered “in the name of Jesus Christ,” that is, through our relationship with Him. Half a dozen times in the Gospel of John (14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26), Jesus tells us that if we ask anything “in His name,” He will hear us and answer our prayers. So, prayer is authorized in the name of Jesus but not in the name of anyone else. There is no authority for praying to anyone else, dead or alive, or through any one else, dead or alive, including the Virgin Mary.
Prayer is an act of worship when we express our thanks and trust in Jesus Christ.
SINGING IS AN ACT OF WORSHIP WHEN WE EXPRESS OUR THANKS, PRAISE, AND TRUST:
“Singing” is also an act of worship that has a long history among God’s people, going back at least to the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 15. The book of psalms is largely a song book that was used by the Jews up to and through the Christian age.
While “singing" is only found once in Acts, Acts 16:25 when Paul and Silas are singing praises to God in prison in Philippi, Paul will write to the Christians in Ephesus that they need to allow the Holy Spirit to fill their hearts, as they “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). While Paul and Silas’ singing was a small group, the reference here in Ephesians 5:19 and its sister verse, Colossians 3:16, is to worship in the church, in the assembly. We see that when Paul says we are to “speak to one another.”
While our singing expresses our thanks and trust in Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, it serves a secondary purpose of teaching and encouraging one another. One reason why we, in the churches of Christ, do not use mechanical instruments of music in worship, is because of this didactic (teaching) purpose of singing. We must be able to understand each other in our singing because we are teaching each other in our singing. Our song service is a method of indoctrination, as it were, rooting theological truths deep into our hearts.
Jesus sang with His apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested (Matt. 26:30). That was a small group. What type of voice do you think Jesus had? Do you imagine Jesus singing in a bass, or baritone, or maybe tenor? I personally think Jesus sang off-key. In passages like Romans 15:9, 1 Corinthians 14:15, and Hebrews 2:12, we see that Christians sang together in the assembly of worship.
Yet, James 5:13 shows us that Christians also sang privately, on their own, or in their own home.
Singing is an act of worship when we express our thanks and trust in Jesus Christ.
COMMUNION IS AN ACT OF WORSHIP WHEN WE EXPRESS OUR THANKS, PRAISE, AND TRUST:
The Lord’s Supper, sometimes also called Communion, is a specific act of thanks and trust. It is specifically designed to allow us give thanks to God for offering Jesus as the sacrifice for our sins and to trust Jesus enough for that act of giving that we will obey Jesus Christ from our new birth until our physical death.
The expression “breaking bread” was a common expression that referred to a common meal. We saw that in Matthew 14 when Jesus fed the 5,000. But, sometimes, in the context of worship, “breaking bread” refers to the Lord’s Supper. That’s how it is used in Acts 2:42: “They [Christians] were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
The Lord’s Supper, as we are all aware, had its origins in the Passover Feast, which the Jews celebrated annually. But, the biblical evidence shows that Christ wants His followers to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. Early church history shows that the Christians look the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. Let me show you how the NT substantiates that practice.
In Hebrews 10:25, the author tells Christians not to forsake the assembly as some were habitually doing. That verse shows that Christians were assembling on a regular basis.
At a minimum, we know from 1 Corinthians 16:1 that the Christians were assembling on the first day of every week. If your Bible translation does not say “every week,” you should write it in the margin because it is in the original Greek. So, the Christians assembled regularly, on the first day of every week. But, 1 Corinthians 16:1 does not tell us why they assembled on the first day of the week. Clearly, it was the day that Jesus rose from the dead, but…
1 Corinthians 11:20 does tell us why they assembled on the first day of every week: “Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper…” Now, Paul words this sentence in a negative because he is criticizing the Christians; they should have been coming together, in unity, to take the Lord’s Supper, but that was not their motivation. It is as if a school teacher, in exasperation, yells at her students: “You are not coming to class to learn!” What she means is that they ought to be coming to class to learn! But they are not. The same thing is true with Paul’s words here in 1 Corinthians 11:20.
I want to share something else with you and I’m going to make reference to the Greek language so you’ll have to trust me on this. The word translated “Lord’s” here in this passage is not a noun as it is in English. It is an adjective and we do not have an adjectival form of this word in English; it would be “lordly” or “lordish” if it were in English. So, it is translated as “Lord’s.” But here’s the kicker - the only other place this adjective is used in the NT is in Revelation 1:10, where John says that he was in the Spirit on the “Lord’s Day.” Bible scholars agree, almost unanimously, that the “Lord’s Day” refers to Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead.
So, these two verses connect closely together the “Lord’s Supper” and the “Lord’s Day.” There is no “Lord’s Day” without the “Lord’s Supper” and if you take the “Lord’s Supper,” it ought to be on the “Lord’s Day.” In fact, from 1 Corinthians 11:20, we see that the primary reason why we even assemble on Sunday is to take the Lord’s Supper. It is the one act of worship service that draws all Christians together in a given area, to worship. We come together on Sunday, to take the Lord’s Supper - a specific act, for a specific purpose, at a set time, dedicated to Jesus Christ.
Communion is an act of worship when we express our thanks and trust in Jesus Christ.
GIVING IS AN ACT OF WORSHIP WHEN WE EXPRESS OUR THANKS, PRAISE, AND TRUST:
Giving as an act of worship is as old as Cain and Abel. There are a host of examples and references to God’s people throughout the OT giving to God, sacrificing animals and drink offerings to Jehovah God. God required Jews to give to Him first because that expresses our thanks and our trust more than anything else.
If we go back to Acts 2:42, you see that the Christians continued to devote themselves to “fellowship.” In other contexts, this word refers to our contribution, which is how it is translated in 2 Corinthians 9:13. We had a study from Acts earlier this year where we saw that God wants us to share with others. That sharing is done privately, as individuals.
But it is also done when we come together as a church, which is what we see in 1 Corinthians 16:1. That is, Paul says, when we come together as a church, to take the Lord’s Supper, when everyone is together, take up a collection. That collection could be used for any number of items. Specifically, we know it was used to help the poor Christians in Judea, it was given to support preachers of the gospel (1 Cor. 9), and in 1 Timothy 5, for Christian widows.
Our contribution is an act of worship when we express our thanks and trust in Jesus Christ.
PREACHING IS AN ACT OF WORSHIP WHEN WE EXPRESS OUR THANKS, PRAISE, AND TRUST:
Finally, studying the Bible and preaching and teaching the Bible as the Word of God is an act of worship as we express our thanks to God for what He does and has done for us and we trust Him to lead us into the future.
Romans 1:9 actually uses the same word that we saw in Romans 12:1 but in this verse, it refers to preaching or, more broadly, study and focus on the word of God.
Out of all the acts of worship, some are mentioned in the book of Acts more frequently than others but preaching and teaching and studying the word of God is found most frequently. “Teach” or “preach” are found 39 times throughout the book of Acts and, in fact, almost half of the book of Acts is simply a sermon or Bible lesson in one form or another, a dozen chapters are dedicated to pure teaching the word of God.
So, when we study the Bible alone or when we assemble together as a congregation to study and focus on the word of God, we are worshiping God because we are showing God our thanks for His message and our trust that His message will lead us correctly.
Bible study is an act of worship when we bow our hearts to express our thanks and trust.
Take home message: We, as the church of Christ, are true worshippers when we worship God as He directs: praying, singing, giving, communing, and studying.