Principles of Biblical Worship Rev. 4:9-11
We are engaged in the study of worship because what is embedded in this whole chapter is a view of heavenly worship that should give us the framework for understanding what the creaturely worship should involve or demonstrate in history.
Worship is the submission and subordination of the creature to the creator to honor and glorify the creator. That is the core idea. We ascribe to Him glory and honor, we are thankful to Him. This can involve gratitude, giving offerings, Christian service, reading the Scriptures, learning how God thinks; all of these are part of that concept. It is a word that is used in a variety of contexts in the Scripture.
The long definition: Worship means to submit or to subordinate my opinions, preferences, thoughts, philosophy of life, finances, politics, emotions, relationships, attitudes, actions, time, priorities to the authority of God's Word. It addresses every area of life. We have to subordinate ourselves to God's Word, which means that we have to exchange whatever our personal views are for God's—that is Romans 12:2. The Christian life is grounded in thought. That means we have to take time to evaluate what is going on inside of our own head, between our own ears. Thus worship is a complex idea that involves a number of aspects from private prayer to public expression of thanks, the singing of hymns and praise to God which reinforce the teaching of Scripture and reflect upon God, who he is and what he has done—His person and His work. It also includes bringing sacrifices and gifts for personal Christian worship. Worship can be both individual and corporate. We may sometimes be emotionally stimulated by worship but that is not the criterion of worship, only a by-product.
Breaking that definition down, worship means to submit or to subordinate my opinions, preferences, thoughts, philosophy of life, finances, politics, emotions, relationships, attitudes, actions, time, priorities to the authority of God's Word. That means everything. That is Romans 21:1, to present your bodies is a circumlocution for saying to present everything in your life in service to God. That doesn't happen in a one-shot decision, it happens over time. We all grow at different stages and in different ways but it takes a long time to take all that human viewpoint stuff that is going on in your head and to take it out, identify it, and replace it with biblical truth. It also takes a lot of courage and humility to do that, because as we grow up we adopt a lot of things that make us feel comfortable—they work for us, we are fundamentally pragmatic in our sin nature. But as we go through this growth process in the Christian life the Word of God is again and again and again going to challenge us in the comfort zone of our sin nature. Just because you like it and are comfortable with it and it is your favourite thing to do doesn't mean that is the best thing to do that hon0ors and glorifies God. Do you have the spiritual courage and objectivity and humility to face the truth of Scripture? We all go through that change.
We know that worship is a complex idea that involves a number of aspects. That is why it is difficult to talk about this; it is complex. The word "worship" is used to describe a lot of different activities in Scripture, from brining sacrifices to just simply giving thanks in private prayer. It involves giving, offerings, a study of the Word; but fundamentally it is all related to the subordination of our thinking to the thinking of God with a view to change, to being conformed to the image of Christ.
Then we get into the idea that worship can be both individual and corporate. Then, it is not wrong to be emotionally moved in worship. Isaiah certainly was when he was brought before the throne of God. There is nothing wrong with that but it is not the criterion, it doesn't tell you whether you worshipped or not, it doesn't tell you whether it was better than other times when you weren't emotionally affected. When people have emotion stimulation even as a subtle criterion what happens is that the next time, later on when they no longer become emotionally stimulated by that, they try to find something else because there is a subtle shift that takes place, like "I don't feel I worshipped this morning." Emotion is valid, but only as a by-product.
There are two broad categories of worship, corporate and individual. In the Old Testament there was private worship. Abraham worshipped God when he brought Isaac for a sacrifice. There was the servant of Abraham worshipping God when he prayed to God that God would guide and direct him to the right woman for Isaac, then when he arrives and God answers his prayer he bows his head and worships God. Personal worship is private and is related to the individual and his own spiritual life. Ultimately, corporate worship is always built upon the individual worship and begins with individual worship.
John 4:24, "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him by means of the Spirit and by means of truth." By means of truth: that is, it is exclusive. There is right worship and wrong worship, and when people come along and say, 'Well I think we can do this form of worship,' we have to have some criterion to evaluate that. That is what we do with the Scripture. There is wrong worship. Cain brought the produce of the field in Genesis chapter four as an offering to God; Abel brought a sacrifice, a lamb. Cain's worship was rejected. Right worship has to do with the fact that it is truly biblical. In Leviticus chapter 10 is the story of two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, who were to serve in the tabernacle, but they bring in an incense burner of the wrong kind of incense. They were defining what worship was to them but when they brought it into the tabernacle God took their life instantly because it violated His instructions. Worship in the Scripture is exclusive, there is right worship and there is wrong worship.
Our conclusion is that like everything else within the framework of Scripture we must understand that worship is exclusive. So how do we come up with a criterion to define what is right and what is wrong? That is where the disagreement is. So we have to delve into the Scriptures a little more to understand those particular things.