The True Worship of God

February 19, 2017 / No. 3868

Dear Radio Friends,
In our previous message, we began to look at the Ten Commandments of the law of God as they are given to us in Exodus 20. Today I want to look with you at the second of those commandments. We read that from Exodus 20:4-6. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”
At the outset, I want to notice two things with you about this commandment. The first is that it has special application to the church. The first commandment says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” It speaks to all of humanity—also those who worship strange gods—and addresses their sin. In the second commandment, God speaks to the church; He speaks to those who worship Him, and He tells them how they are to worship Him—without graven images.
The other thing that we notice in this commandment at the outset is the seriousness with which God takes the breaking of this commandment. He says, “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” He is jealous of how He is worshiped, not only that He is worshiped. And He speaks of judgment on those who do not worship Him in the proper way, and a blessing on those who do. We will return to this at the end of our message.
As we look at this commandment, we see three principles about worship that we want to examine.
The first is this: that God demands that we worship Him corporately. That is, God demands that we worship Him with other believers. The demand for worship really comes already in the first commandment when God says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Last week already we saw a number of different ways that we worship God: we trusted Him, we believe on Him, we confess Him, we know Him, and so on. The second commandment is addressed to the church of God. Worship is not only an individual thing. Too often today someone will say, “I don’t really need to worship with the church,” or “I don’t really need to worship God on a Sunday,” or “I don’t really need to hear the Word of God in the preaching. If I go out on the weekends and enjoy myself in nature, I see the wonder of God around me and I worship Him there.”
But God has revealed Himself in a special way in His Word, and in the Word we find the saving revelation of God which is Jesus Christ, and God has given the church the commission to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is there especially that we find the revelation of God and the way to worship Him. We must worship Him according to His Word. And we are to do this with fellow believers. This commandment is addressed to the nation of Israel. It concerns not just individuals, but this is a commandment that tells Israel how they are to worship Him. You remember that it was Israel who worshiped God in the golden calves. And God is addressing exactly that kind of sin that the nation may be involved in.
So, this is a special word for the church today. We need the church. One of the things that God reveals about Himself is that He gathers a church. The church is called the “body” of Jesus Christ. In that church God distributes gifts to the different members of the church, and the blessing for God’s people comes through their place in the body of Jesus Christ. How impossible to say, “I’m a member of Christ,” but to not be a part of His body as it comes to expression here on earth in the church.
The New Testament teaches us that God has set up an order for the church, that He has established officers in the church and elders in the church. The pattern in the New Testament church was that she gathered corporately. We see this in Acts when we read about different congregations that were established as the church expanded through the preaching of the gospel. There is even this, that the church is called in the New Testament the temple of God. Paul says to the church at Corinth: “You are the temple of God.” So, when believers gather together and the Spirit of Christ is with them, then the church becomes, and is in a special way, the dwelling place of God. Hebrews 10:25 says to us that we should not forsake the gathering of our souls together as the manner of some is. We ought not come up with excuses for not gathering with the church of God for worship.
The second principle that we want to set forth regarding worship here is that worship is spiritual. It is a spiritual activity. Behind each of the Ten Commandments in the law of God, there is a principle or a truth regarding God. The Law is not only a revelation of what we should be or what God requires of us, but it is a revelation also of the character of God. In the first commandment, we see that God is unique, that there is no other god. In the fifth commandment, we will see that God is a God who possesses all authority and that He demands, in relationships, that we honor His authority by honoring those whom He places over us. In the ninth commandment, when God demands that we tell the truth, we will see that God is a God of truth, that God is the standard for what is true.
In this second commandment, we see that God is a Spirit. The reason that we may not worship God or represent God by images and that God forbids such worship is that God is a Spirit. Jesus expresses this in the Gospel According to John 4:24 and 25 when He says to the woman at the well: “God is Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” When we say that God is Spirit, we mean, in the first place, that God is invisible, that He is an invisible Being. He does not have a physical form. We mean, in the second place, that God is a Spirit, distinct from all other spirits. Angels also are spiritual beings, but God is infinite and so the omnipresent Spirit. The Scriptures teach us that, as the infinite One, God is One who dwells in a light to which no man can approach. They tell us also that as a Spirit God cannot be represented. We see this, for example, in Deuteronomy 4:15, where Moses says to the people: “Take ye, therefore, good heed unto yourselves, for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spoke unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest ye corrupt yourselves and make you a graven image.” Moses’ point is, you saw nothing when God delivered the Law from the mountain except for smoke and fire, and that was not just to cover up and to hide the being of God, but it represented that God is majestic and glorious, more glorious than man could ever see or comprehend.
What we learn in the second commandment, then, as we think about God as a spirit is that God demands a deeply spiritual expression in worship—that worship is not something external, it is not simply a going through the motions of external worship, but that worship is deeply spiritual—it is a matter of faith. God demands not just practicing worship, but He demands a heart. This brings us back to the basic requirement of the Law and that is that we love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This is important for us because, as we think about worship, we must realize that sometimes in our worship of God, even as we gather with the church in worship or as we think about God in our own minds, we do create images of God or we do not worship God as we should in a spiritual way. When I say that we create images of God, I mean that sometimes our ideas of God are not correct. For example, in Isaiah 40, Judah was saying that God did not see her affliction. Or she said, later in the prophecy of Isaiah, that God’s arm was too short to reach them in order to save them. Sometimes we think the same thing: God does not see our problems; God does not have the strength to deliver me from my sins or my troubles; and we form an image, in our mind, of God. Or, we might go simply through the outward practices of worship without truly engaging, in our hearts and in our minds, with the Word of God, so that in faith we believe in God and worship Him. That is the second principle: God is Spirit, and He must be worshiped in spirit.
But in John 4 Jesus also says that God must be worshiped in truth. This also fits with the second commandment. The reason that we may not worship God with images is that images are not true representations of God. The only way we should worship God, then, is the way that He has commanded us. That is what Jesus means when He says that we must worship Him in truth. Here it is important to see that God not only demands the fact of worship, that we worship Him, but God also places demands on the form of worship, how we worship Him. Our worship must reflect the character and the glory and the majesty of God. The alternative is that man worships God according to his own will, not according to God’s will. Then man comes to God with this kind of an attitude: “I’ll bring to God whatever I think or whatever I want.” You have an example of this very early in Scripture when Cain and Abel brought their sacrifices to God. Abel brought what God had demanded—a sheep—for a sacrifice. But Cain brought of the fruit of his own hands and the work of his own hands. This kind of worship, will-worship it is called, has a history in the church. Rome worships God with images, and it argues that the images are a way to represent God that reaches down to the level of the people because worship is a difficult thing. Today you hear something like this: We are a seeker-sensitive church, that is, we worship God according to the will or the desire of the seeker, those who come in worship. But this is backward. Worship is fellowship with God, yes. But it is not us bringing God down to our level but it is God bringing us up to His level as God. He meets with us in worship, yes. But we stand in the presence of a holy God, and He seeks us in worship, we do not seek Him. It is by a miracle and a wonder, through the blood of Jesus Christ, that we are able to come into the presence of God, and He seeks such to worship Him who worship Him in spirit and in truth.
So the principle that the Protestant churches and the Reformed churches have set on worship is this from Scripture, that whatsoever is not commanded by God in worship is forbidden. So Reformed churches, throughout history, have had a careful liturgy for their worship—an order in their worship—and they have examined each of the elements of worship and asked this question: Has God commanded this in Scripture? There is no need for us to become creative as we come before God in worship. God has expressly set down in Scripture how we are to worship Him, and we follow that pattern as a church as we come before Him in worship.
So, the question is: What are the biblically prescribed elements for worship? Basically, there are three.
The first is prayer, corporate prayer. Prayer is not only intended by God for the individual, but prayer is intended by God for the church corporately. So Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven.” That is the prayer of the church, that is the expression of believers together. So the early church gathered together for prayer (Acts 2:42) and prayed for the Spirit, or prayed for the needs of God’s people as Peter was in prison. When we gather for worship, the minister prays. But that is not a personal prayer. It is a representative prayer. It is the minister bringing the people of God into the presence of God through congregational prayer. So, in prayer, the minister brings the needs of the congregation as a whole into the presence of God.
Another aspect of our prayer is song. Perhaps we do not think of our singing in worship this way, but singing is an aspect of prayer. Our songs are prayers to God. The book of Psalms is a book of prayers to God. These we do together, we do this corporately. Colossians 3 speaks of singing and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. These belong to the worship of God corporately. So the church together should sing. The singing of the church should not be a performance, but the corporate lifting of prayer and praise to God in the songs that God has given. This is the first element of worship that we find prescribed in Scripture: prayer and song.
The second element that we find prescribed in Scripture is giving. Paul says in I Corinthians 16:2, “On the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” Paul is talking here about the church gathering together publicly for worship. He says that when they gather together for worship, they should take collections or gatherings of money. This also is a part, then, of the churches corporate worship. There are two causes, really, basic causes, that we support through giving in the church. One is the work of the church itself, that is, kingdom work, the work of the church in the preaching of the gospel locally and the work of the church more broadly in bringing the gospel through missions and in other ways to the ends of the earth. But then, the other cause, the one that Paul identifies here, is the care of the needy and poor through collections. Is this a part of your worship in the church? This is a part of worship that we do not often think of as worship, but it is worship, because worship is a response of praise to God, in which we give to Him from what He has given to us.
The third main element of worship prescribed in Scripture for the church is the administration of the means of grace, that is, the preaching of the Word and the sacraments. We find that the early church, in the book of Acts, chapter 20, gathered together to do exactly this. “Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them” (Acts 20:7). Notice the two things there. They came to “break bread,” that is, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Then “Paul preached unto them.” They gathered corporately to receive the sacraments and to hear the preaching of the gospel.
Now the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments are primary in what God demands the church to do in worship. These are not our responses in worship, but these are primary because these are the ways that God comes and speaks to us. He speaks to us in the preaching; He administers His grace to us through the sacraments. Our prayer, our praise, and our giving are responses in worship to what God has given to us.
As you look for a church that faithfully worships God, the preaching of the gospel should be the primary thing for which you search. Romans 10 says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. We must be impressed with God. We do not come together in worship to impress others but to be impressed with God Himself. In the Great Commission, Christ tells the church: This is what you must do as a church, you must go and teach all nations, baptizing them. Sadly today, in many churches, in modern worship, the preaching of the gospel has fallen away and the church has slipped into ignorance and has departed from the Word of God. That is because the preaching has been lost. Preaching is the tried and true way for the preservation of the church. It may seem foolish in the eyes of man but it is effective to salvation—the power of God unto salvation.
Above all, this is what we must find in a church, and this is what a church must keep to as she seeks to be faithful to this commandment that demands that we worship God as He commands. What you look for in a church is not friendliness or programs that it might offer or ways for you to be involved but this, centrally: Is the gospel preached in this church? The church that faithfully preaches the Word of God is a church that faithfully worships God according to this commandment.
So, we have seen in this commandment three important principles for worship. God demands that we worship Him corporately; God is a Spirit, so worship is a spiritual activity; and God places demands not only on the fact of worship but also the form of worship—how we worship Him. Then we have seen three main elements of worship, that the church gathers for prayer, that the church gathers to give for the causes of the kingdom and the poor, and then that the church gathers to receive from God the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments—His grace through these means that He has given to the church.
The second commandment places before us a motivation for worshiping God as He demands. That motivation is expressed in the commandment both negatively and positively. We sometimes use negative motivators with our children. We discipline them when they do not obey or listen. We have that here in the commandment. It is expressed in a threat that God, who is a jealous God, visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him. The punishment that God speaks of here is this. In generations, a church will be judged that does not worship Him as He commands. And a church that does not worship Him as He commands, it says here, hates Him. It is out of love for God that we worship Him as He commands. God is jealous of His name. God is jealous of the love of His people. This is God’s prerogative because He is God alone who has not only created but also redeemed His people.
But in this commandment, the motivation is also expressed positively. The motivation is this: That God shows mercy in generations to thousands of them that love Him and keep His commandments. In the book of III John, verse 4, we see that there is no greater joy than to hear that children, that is, the church in her generations, walks in truth. But the way for that to be preserved in the church is through worshiping God as He commands. Where the worship of God as He has commanded it is lost, and especially where the preaching of the gospel is lost, there the church in her generations will depart.
So, this is the second commandment for the church: Worship God as He commands and He will bless you in your generations. May God grant that we, His church left in the earth today, will obey this commandment.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee that Thou hast given us the privilege to worship Thee and that Thou hast also given us Thy Word that we follow and worship Thee according to that Word and in this way receive blessing in the church and also in our generations. Amen.