God has always expected His people to worship. What is worship, and how do we find a proper way to express the devotion of our hearts to God?
The word worship itself is an Old English word which literally means to ascribe worth or value to something or someone.” When we worship God, we acknowledge His worth or value. We say, with the Psalmist, “Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy hill; for holy is the Lord our God” (Psalm 99:9 NASB)
Worship is man’s attempt to approach God. It must acknowledge God and is not a series of rituals through which we pass, never giving thought to the God who is the object of our worship. It is not a mechanical process, a mere counting of beads, a motion of the hands, a particular posture of reverence. Rather it must necessarily come from the heart, for each act of worship must be accompanied by thought and concern.
There is no “holy” position for prayer. David “sat” before God when he prayed (II Samuel 7:18). Solomon “stood” before the altar and spread his hands toward heaven (I Kings 8:22). Elijah “sat down” under a juniper tree (I Kings 19:4). The Psalmist called upon people to “bow down” and “kneel” (Psalm 95:6). Abraham “fell on his face” (Genesis 17:3, 17).
The real essence of worship has to do with attitude. Man does not approach God as though he deserved to worship God. We stand in awe before the Maker of this universe, and our praise to Him, our thanksgiving, our petitions, must necessarily express adoration and reverence.
Man often finds security in things which are objective and tangible. There are those who develop the attitude that the only important element of worship is the Lord’s Supper. They feel that if they can manage to “get this in,” they can skip the rest of the worship. Such an attitude is born from a feeling that this is the one tangible element of worship. The one part of the service when I can put my finger on something. Such an attitude ignores the fact that the day of partaking of the Lord’s Supper is truly the Lord’s Day, and we have the great privilege of praising God in song, in prayer, in praise.
Exhibitionism can be another substitute for worship. There is always the temptation to do things to be seen of men. Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1 NASB). The wild ranting and ravings of a preacher, which he turns off the moment he steps out of the pulpit, have no parallel in New Testament teachings. The development of a soulful look, or an artificial atmosphere of spirituality, cannot substitute for the humility with which God expects His people to worship Him.
The only source of authority for our worship to God is that which is found in the New Testament. The worship of Christians in the first century serves as a model for our worship. We are determined to worship as they worshipped, to add nothing to the worship which was not a part of their worship.
In the first century Christians sang as a part of their worship to God. Paul said: “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” (Colossians 3:16 NASB). Again, he said: “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19 NASB). The Hebrew writer said it this way: “In the midst of the congregation I will sing Thy praise” (Hebrews 2:12).
The singing of the first century church was always a cappella, that is, without instrumental accompaniment. The expression a cappella literally means “as in the chapel,” or “as in the church.” The expression simply refers to the kind of singing (without instrumental accompaniment) that would be found in the church. We, as the Church of Christ in this century, still worship in the same manner.
The Lord’s Supper (the serving of unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine) was practiced in the first century church each Sunday. Luke tells us in Acts 20:7, “And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”
Jesus, during the course of His last supper with His disciples, took bread and blessed it, gave it to His disciples, and told them to eat of it. He did the same with the cup, and instructed His followers to eat this bread and drink this cup “in remembrance of Me” (I Corinthians 11:25). This beautiful memorial will forever remind Christians of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord. In the Church of Christ we observe this memorial every Sunday.
In the reading and teaching of God’s word we are allowing God to speak to us. We need to realize that it is not merely the fact that God “has spoken to us” (Hebrews 1:1), but that God “is speaking to us” through His word today. In the Church of Christ we preach His word as we gather each Sunday for worship. We must forever be certain that we follow the admonition of Peter and “speak, as it were, the utterances of God” (I Peter 4:11).
Prayer is man’s way of talking with God. In prayer we pour out our praise of God, our thanks to God, our requests of God. Paul said, “I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also” (I Corinthians 14:15)
The church of the first century was a “giving” community of people (I Corinthians 16:1, 2). This calls for sacrifice on the part of those who would be followers of Him.
The worship of the first century church was very simple, yet refined. No act of worship was purely mechanical. May God help us always to “let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner” (I Corinthians 14:40).
(c) 1997 The Fishinger & Kenny Roads Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.