Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What is Worship? Part 2 – The value of a word study.

We saw in Part 1 that worship in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 2 involved the wise men prostrating themselves before Jesus but is that all we learn about worship from Matthew 2?

We can get some help about worship from doing a word study of the biblical terms used for worship.
Here we find that there are different words used in the Bible for worship and these need to be taken into consideration. Bowing down, prokunien in the Greek is one of them, used for the act of bowing down so that homage or reverence is done to a person. This is what we see for example in John 9 with the blind man prostrating himself before Jesus, showing honor and respect to the Lord Jesus. Earlier in John in chapter 4 is a very interesting passage in that the Samaritan woman asks where is the right place God should be worshipped[1] and Jesus tells her that worship must be in spirit and truth. It would of course be fruitful to consider the whole background issue to what is happening here in John 4. That the Glory of God, His actual Presence had actually departed the Temple back in Ezekiel 10 and left Jerusalem, and that God had been quiet towards Israel for 400 odd years, that there had been no spokesmen for God, no prophets, and How now in Jesus the Glory comes back to the Temple only to have the Nation as a whole tragically reject Him. But I want us to consider that sometimes the thing missed here is that true worship Jesus says, arises out of true knowledge, as John tells us in verse 22 “we worship what we know.” True worship then requires a proper knowledge of God[2], we are not to merely imagine within ourselves how we think[3] God ought to be worshipped, we are not left to our own devices about how we think the Lord God would be pleased to be worshipped, but we are to listen to what He says in the Bible about Worshipping Him. Here for example, Jesus told the Samaritan woman in verse 21, 23 & 24 that God is Father and God is Spirit, and we are to worship Him. As MacArthur points out, God as Father tells us His essential relationship is that He is Father, and God as spirit tells us that His essential nature is Spirit[4]. Any such worship we bring to Him must involve both. As to God is spirit we must go back to Isaiah 40:18f to fill that out, but the basic point is that God is not flesh and bones like us, He is not created, but Spirit. The point being made with the Samaritan woman is that the place isn’t the issue, because God is not “there only” or “here only” see Jer 23:23, and further, His essential nature means he’s not some object that can be replicated as in some icon or image or statue. If one chooses to set those as things representing Him, one has opted to commit idolatry. As to his essential relationship being that of Father, at minimum we understand Him as personally involved. He is Caring, loving, Merciful and Just and so on.
From John’s Gospel to worship the Lord, to bow before him and give him the honor that is due to Him is to worship the way he declares, in spirit and truth, to worship Him as Spirit and Father.Importantly just a few verses later in verse 23 of John 4 Jesus tells us that the Father seeks people who will worship in spirit and truth. In other words, this is what kind of worship the Father wants. This verse is one of the central passages to consider what worship is because here the Lord God tells us that these are the kinds of worshippers He seeks, those who worship in Spirit and Truth.
This is not the end of our investigation into what worship is. It is merely the start, but it is an important start. We would do well to consider how later in John’s Gospel the blind man bows before Jesus John 9:38 recognizing that Jesus was both from God, Jn 9:33 and Son of Man, Jn 9:35. There we see, belief and action go hand in hand.

When translating the Old Testament the translators also used another Greek word for worship, namely latreuein, commonly translated as “to serve”
When looking at Deut 10:12-13 we see that such service involved fearing God, obeying and loving Him. Verses 10-11 in Deut make it clear that such worship or service arises out of recognizing the very character of God as one who makes promises, keeps them and acts with compassion and Mercy. The passage in Deut 10 of course speaks of ceremonial actions of sacrifice and so on, and we of course recognize that we do not have to carry our those same sacrifices, but the principle we pick up on there is that such worship involves all the life of the believer, such that the worshipper is able to acknowledge with Joy everything you do in life because the Lord has blessed you. Vs 7. Are we not in the same position of having been blessed abundantly more through the forgiveness of sin wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ? It is this very same sort of worship that is seen mentioned by Paul in Roman’s 12. The giving of our very lives as a living sacrifice is our reasonable or logical “worship” or “service”. ( latreuein ). As with Deut 10 this worship is in response to the great mercies of God, not done in order to make ourselves acceptable to Him but rather its done out of gratitude! Such reasonable worship offers to God our minds to be transformed by him, our thinking needs regeneration, which then will flow out into our actions to our Lord and other Christians.

Lastly there is the Greek word leitourgia. What does leitourgia involve? Interestingly it’s from this Greek word that we get our English word liturgy. And it’s derivative “ministry”. Liturgy is the specific acts of a public nature that a congregation involves itself in. The Old Testament background is alluded to in Hebrews when he says the Priest is said to have ministered day by day ( performed liturgy ) and to have offered the same sacrifices which can never take away sins. Hebrews 10:11.
From its use elsewhere in the New Testament we can gain further valuable insight into its meaning. In Acts 13:2 the prophets and teachers at Antioch ministered to the Lord by engaging in intercessory prayer. In Phil 2:17 Paul links ministry with sacrifice, a ministry which is not external or ritualistic but a commitment of faith.
And lastly in Phil 3:20 we read of the gift of money that the Philippian Church made to Paul. It speaks of Epaphroditus supplying that which was lacking in their service “liturgy”. This service this “liturgy” was one of the sacrificial giving of money. That also is understood in the bible as being a means or form of worship.

And this insight bring us back to the wise men of Matt2. They came and worshipped, bowing down before Jesus and then they offered their gifts of gold and frankincense and Myrrh. Instead of separating the two actions, one of worship and one of giving gifts, I wonder if both are not true worship of the Lord Jesus? It certainly seems that the giving of gifts is also a means of worship?

Given just these few insights I am paused to ponder just how my worship of the Lord is faring?

[1] the Greek the word is proskuneo; the Hebrew equivalent is shacah.
[2] we know from the Old Testament that Samaritans did not know how to worship. They were syncretistic, as we read in 2 Kings 17:33, “They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.” All their worship was false. In fact, Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know.” In other words a syncretistic “faith” is not believing faith. “This is eternal life,” Jesus said, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). The only way to know God the Father is through Jesus Christ who was sent to reveal the Father to us.
[3] our own subjectivity and imagination, nor is it based on our own opinions and feelings.
[4] From John MacArthur Sermon on worship.

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