Worship is shown to us by God made flesh. There is nothing Jesus did that does not qualify as worship–the pinnacle being the cross. The cross was the pinnacle place of worship as the chief revelation of who God is. The pinnacle act of worship does not negate nor invalidate the Sunday gatherings of Christians, it epitomizes and defines them. And the weekly worship of a church does not define all of worship, but is a part of the larger life of Christian worship. Sunday morning is the part where Christians gather together. It is a part of the greater whole.
Our weekly worship is special, for sure (maybe even pinnacle relative to a week), but for each of us, it is a part of the larger picture. Indeed, coming together on Sunday is integral to who we are just as lungs are integral to a person’s body. As a church, we are not simply a bunch of individuals having the same experience, but we are individually all living the same corporate cross-life together. In this way, Sunday is a pinnacle moment. But it is a moment in a week of moments; it is a part of a larger event, and that event is a funeral march.
Worship in this age is a funeral march where we make our way to the grave as we sing praises to our King, Jesus, who went there before us. Defining worship as one hour in a week is to miss the larger event. Likewise, rooting worship in any one particular attribute of God would be at the cost of all the other attributes–all of which are embodied in Christ who is fully God. If we are to define worship, we may grope about, but once we lay hold of Jesus, we see that worship is an entire life–the entire life of the God-Man–and it thus encompasses all the attributes of God. Jesus was not simply one individual of the Trinity having a worship experience, but the whole Trinity was bound together in the life of Christ, and this is the Gospels. The Gospels reveal the Trinity and they thus (in that revelation) reveal the life of worship, as it is worship to make God known.
The Gospels (the Biographies of Jesus)
The Life of Jesus defines worship. His whole life is worship; so while the actual word “worship” occurs rarely in the Gospels, worship is present where Jesus is.
Even though the word “worship” is used sparingly in the Gospels, it is used, and it is instructive to review some of those. For example, Jesus tells Satan that he will worship God (Matthew 4:10). A leaper worshiped Jesus in the street (Matthew 8:2). A ruler worshiped him while he spoke (Matthew 9:18). His followers worship him in a boat (Matthew 14:33). The woman at the well spoke of two mountains as the place of worship, but Jesus said our worship is not defined by the place but by the person, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life,
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and Truth.” John 4:21-24
The Christian life is a whole life of Triune worship. It is the worship of the Father by the Spirit of Christ who dwells in us always. When Christians gather together, they do together what they do always — they worship.
In this way, worship has its kinds. When we eat and when we drink, or when we lie down, we do so for the glory of God. But worship also has its pinnacle moments relative to the others, and each one is regulated according to its kind. But all of worship is of a piece. There are distinctions in a life of worship, but the life is one.
The Rest of the New Testament
Notice in the New Testament there is no manual for what Christians did when they came together. As we expand out beyond the Gospels, we find accounts of Christians coming together for worship, but there are few prescriptions. The New Testament is mostly descriptive of what happened when Christians came together — they ate, they baptized, they sang, they fasted, they ordained, they prayed, they preached, etc. These are the elements of what churches did together (their corporate worship). The content of this time together was Christ. Even the form of what they did was of importance to them, so that preaching Christ could be made void by an invalid form (1 Cor 1:17).
What is of interest to us is True worship. Interestingly, however, we may learn about True worship as we are taught about the false worship that the world offers to Satan (Revelation 9:20). First observe that the world does indeed worship Satan (though they would not admit it). We know this because it is revealed to us as the facts of the matter (see also Revelation 13:4,8). The world may be blind to the fact that their lives are consecrated as memorials unto Satan. They are unaware. Alas, they worship Satan not at an appointed time, but as a matter of affections, life, practice, worldview, ethos, passion and instinct. All of them.
The ungodly worship. Theirs is a life of worship. The Christian life is a whole life of worship, so is every life. Everyone worships. It is not a matter of an hour on Sunday, but a matter of a whole life. Scripture so uses the word “worship” as to leave no room for a restrictive or narrow definition. If it did, the unbelievers could cry fowl, and say, “We did not worship Satan.” If they are given the right to define worship in any limited sense, then they can deny the charge of a life that has been handed over to anti-Christ worship. As it is, they stand condemned for living Satanic lives.
What is true worship?
What does it mean to worship in Spirit and in Truth. Again, I take you back to what I said in the opening paragraph: Jesus is the life of Worship. There is no part of his life that was not caught up in being consecrated as a life of worship. Likewise, whether we eat or we drink (or whatever we do), we do all for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).
Christian worship is a life of worship, and it means obeying the commands of the one we worship. And it is the Trinity whom we worship, and it is the one true God who calls us to worship regularly together. That is, we offer up to God what he has asked of us. And he has asked of us our whole lives (Romans 12), and he has asked of us to participate in the regular gatherings of the church (Hebrews 10), and he asked us to bless those who curse us. He has asked for everything, and he wants our whole lives.
Our obedience becomes our offering of worship, and it means bearing the cross daily. Daily cross bearing is worship, and Sunday worship is a gathering of cross bearing people.
Worship has its different moments. And each is according to its place and kind, and each kind has been commanded. That means that we cannot claim success in worship if we are withholding worship in some way. We are not worshiping with success on Sundays if we refuse God his due on Saturdays and Mondays, or if we exempt worship from how we treat our families or what we do secretly in our homes or in our jobs. Worship is costly. The way is narrow. Few are they who find it.
Because it is costly, the world wants to redefine worship to something easier. They want worship to be within their reach. They want to make the Bible a liturgical manual, a choir practice, a style of praise music, a church calendar. They want to make the narrow way broad, and they want the kingdom without a cross.
That which is costly is foolish to those who cannot see the dividends
Worship is foolishness to those who are perishing, because cross bearing is costly worship, and real worship is cross bearing. Worship means that we obey Jesus when he commands us to hate our lives in this world (John 12:25). The world cannot do this. To worship God is to obey Jesus and to bear our cross daily (Luke 14:27).
It is interesting, don’t you think, that in the New Testament the word “worship” is never reduced to the gathering of Christians in a building where they following a liturgy. It does not mean that churches do not gather, but the weekly gathering is a subset of Christian worship.
Worship Consumes the Whole Life
When we read the New Testament, worship turns out to consume the whole life of the Christian. Together, as a church, Christians become like a whole burnt offering offered up on the altar (Romans 12:1). It costs us our lives. It is the march to the cross. It is the march to the grave. Those who are perishing would call a life of worship foolishness, for it is costly. And it will cost us our friends and our significance. They hated Jesus, they also will hate us. The theologian of the Cross (the person himself) becomes the song or the hymn, and that song is a dirge, and the destination is the grave.
But there is a happy refrain, for if we will thus worship God, we will also be raised with him. But we do not reach the refrain till we first find the grave.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. John 14:18-19.
This is worship. To be counted with Christ and numbered with those thus hated by the world, is to worship Christ. To live this way is the way of the Cross. It is worship because no part of the life of Jesus was not worship; we have the pattern set before us, and the pattern is Jesus. Jesus is the trailblazer of the faith (Hebrews 12:1-2)–which does not make him a part of our lives, but the whole, and so he is the trailblazer of our worship and of our lives.