In the previous post (God’s Blueprint for Worship) I stated that God has not left us free to do as we please in the worship service. If God had left us to do as we please during the Lord’s Day gathering we might ask ourselves this guiding question: “What will please the congregation?” Unfortunately, too many churches ask themselves this question and their answer, which means their practice, is usually unbiblical. The right question to ask ourselves about how we are to worship is, “What does the King command?”
Will a subject enter into the presence of the king’s court in any old manner, or will he seek to follow that form which is court custom? Will a citizen enter into the Oval Office in any old manner, or will he seek to follow that protocol which the dignity of the office requires? In a similar way, though we have all the privileges of citizenship and an adopted status—and thus we can come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16)—we too must do as the King commands when we come into His holy throne room.
The King’s Command for Gathered Worship
And what does the King command for gathered worship? He commands His covenant community to join together in unity on the Lord’s Day to offer up praise and thanksgiving and to glorify Him by worshiping Him as He prescribes, as He commands!
On one hand, gathered worship is a spiritual falling on our knees (cf. Matthew 8:2, 18:26; Acts 10:25; Revelation 22:8-9) that has an upward focus on God – it is adoration. On the other hand, gathered worship doesn’t neglect the collective unity and our outward focus on others – it is edification. So it is both upward (as all worship is) and outward (1 Corinthians 14:26 – Let all things be done for building up).
Biblical, corporate worship is more pure as it accords with the items in the column on the left and is less pure—and sometimes altogether ungodly and false—as it harmonizes with the items in the column on the right:
|More Pure||Less Pure|
|Asks: What does the King command?||Asks: What does the congregation want?|
|Koinonia with Christ and each other||Focus on self and the performance of others|
|Uses God’s method (the Bible)||Uses Man’s method (pragmatism)|
|For the believer||For the unbeliever|
A Biblical Worship Service
Worship starts and ends with putting the Word of God at the center of the worship service for this puts Christ at the center of the worship service. We only do what the King tells us to do in corporate worship and we don’t do what God tells us not to do or what we imagine he has left us free to do.
To put it another way, we worship God the way He wants us to, and we don’t try to worship God in any way that He hasn’t expressly commanded. What I’m getting at here, in a round about way, is that we ought to follow the Regulative rather than the Normative Principle of worship. More on this in upcoming posts.
For now, we start with recognizing that the worship service should a) be modeled after the biblical pattern or evidence found in scripture; b) adhere to what the King explicitly commands; and c) have an order or liturgy that manifests these explicit commands.
God’s Blueprint for Corporate Worship
Of all the biblical evidence for how we are to gather together and worship, and there is an abundance both from the Old and New Testaments, there are three passages that unlock God’s design—what I’m calling God’s blueprint—for gathered or corporate worship. These three texts provide the primary guidance for every worship service, protection against false worship, a guard against displeasing worship, and are the grid or blueprint by which we establish our biblical liturgy and practice. They are:
|John 4:24||Spirit and Truth|
|1 Corinthians 14:40||Decently and In Order|
|Hebrews 12:28-29||Reverence and Awe|
Over the next several weeks I’ll provide a brief exposition of each passage. Today we examine John 4:1-24.
John 4 – The Woman at the Well
This passage tells the familiar story of the woman at the well. In verse 4 and following, Jesus purposely travels to Samaria to a town called Sychar. A wearied Jesus took a seat beside the well that Jacob gave to Joseph more than a thousand years earlier. Soon a Samaritan woman arrives and it becomes clear why Jesus had to pass through Samaria and come to Jacob’s well.
A conversation ensues after Jesus bluntly asks the woman for a drink of water. It’s hard not to imagine a terse tone in the back and forth as we read John’s record of the interaction. The Samaritan woman responds to Jesus’ request for water by asking in verse 9, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”
Jesus Offers Living Water
Jesus quickly turns gospel-centric, as is His usual practice, and replies with an evangelistic answer:
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”John 4:10
- God has a gift and the woman doesn’t know what it is;
- The woman does not know the majesty and power of the one she is speaking to;
- Jesus is the giver of this gift (cf. v.14); and
- The gift is living water
The Woman’s Misunderstanding
The woman gathers that Jesus is making an unusual and bold claim because she asks if Jesus is greater than “our father Jacob,” but she also seems oblivious to the depth and magnificence of Jesus’ 4-fold response. Hers is also a 4-fold response:
“Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”John 4:11-12
- She, like Nicodemus before her, does not understand Jesus’s figurative language;
- Her misunderstanding leads her to think Jesus can provide ‘living water’ from inside the well;
- In a mid-sentence turnabout, she recognizes it is not a bucket and longer rope that is the issue, but where living water comes from;
- She questions whether Jesus’ declaration of giving living water could mean that Jesus is claiming he is greater than the patriarch Jacob.
Jesus Offers Eternal Life
Jesus pinpoints one question about where to get the living water and doesn’t address the more Earth-bound comments. Here Jesus brings no uncertain clarity. The physical water in the well doesn’t spiritually satisfy; the living water given by the giver of living water satisfies eternally.
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”John 4:13-15
In verses 10 and 14 Jesus says He himself is the giver of “living water” and that this living water will well up to eternal life. “I will give,” cannot be clearer; salvation is a gift from God in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9, John 6:65)!
Just two chapters later in Capernaum Jesus states, “…whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). The Samaritan woman responds with a measure of certainty – a measure of faith – but also with a measure of misunderstanding. In verse 15 she pleads for this living water but in her next breath connects the living water to the quenching of physical thirst: “so that I will not be thirsty”.
Jesus Reveals Her Sin
Jesus responds to her confused question by bringing the proverbial heat in verses 16-18. Jesus uses the law to reveal her sin and thus her true spiritual thirst. The law exposes and reveals her sordid past and her sordid present.
Jesus’ prophetic diagnosis and matter-of-fact reproof are received in a sort of half-hearted way. She calls Him a prophet in verse 19 – for who else could know the intimacy of her past – but neglects to call him priest and king. She may at this point in the conversation accede to Jesus being a voice for God (prophet) but she does not yet believe Jesus is the intercessor (priest) or her sovereign (king).
A Question of True Worship
The Samaritan woman then seeks clarification about where to worship. It seems an odd transition at first blush to call a man a prophet – no small significance to a highly religious and Messiah-awaiting Samaritan – and then to ask about which mountain locale they should worship on. But this is not a superficial concern.
She and her Samaritan contemporaries were being faithful to their ancestors and their belief that the temple on Mount Gerazim (destroyed c. 130 BC) was the true place to worship. Worship! The fact that she brings the conversation to the topic of worship makes it clear that she wants to do what God wants, where God wants, and how God wants. For both her confusion and her true desire to be faithful, Jesus draws the conversation to its evangelistic climax.
Here is Jesus’ full response from verses 21-26:
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 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. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”John 4:21-26
In a very brief outline we can summarize Jesus’ response in this way:
|Verse 21||“Believe me” – not an intonation with a wink, but a command “The hour is coming” – God’s progressive revelation is soon coming to its culmination (cf. Acts 1:8)|
|Verse 22||The Messiah comes through the lineage of the tribe of Judah. Although the Jews encountered during Jesus’ public ministry were often wrong, and wrong like whitewashed tombs, nevertheless the snake crusher would come from the Jews and not the Samaritans. Jesus acknowledged that the Samaritans worshipped, but it was false worship and in the wrong location|
|Verse 23||“The hour is coming” – the temple curtain will be torn down and the Spirit of God will indwell the new temple: the believer “Is now here” – Jesus, the giver of living water whose work will soon tear the temple curtain down, is present in the flesh. The kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 4:17) “True worshipers will worship in spirit and truth” – Jesus explains that unlike false worshipers, true worshipers will worship rightly. Spirit and truth are essential and necessary aspects of worship|
|Verse 24||“Must worship” – there is no other way to worship|
|Verse 26||“I who speak to you am He” – Jesus brings this conversation to its climax. The giver of eternal life, the anointed and chosen one of God, the one worthy of worship, states unequivocally that he is the Messiah|
So now that we know the context of John 4, we see that when we are speaking of worshiping in spirit there is an emphasis on the heart: it is worship that is affectionate to be sure, but more broadly it is worship that is inwardly true.
When we are speaking of worshiping in truth there is an emphasis on the head: it is worship that is accurate and doctrinally sound. Worshiping in spirit and truth is worshiping with a heart changed by Christ that adores and loves Christ (spirit), and with a mind transformed (or better, it is being renewed) by God’s holy word (truth).
Worship in Spirit and Truth
“In addressing the Samaritan woman, Christ also spoke of spiritual worship. He said that those who worship God must ‘worship in spirit and truth.’ What does this mean? First, note how worship in spirit is combined with worship in truth. This tells us that we cannot have one without the other. Whatever else it may be, worship that is not conducted according to the truth of God’s Word is not worship in spirit.”R.C. Sproul Worshiping in Spirit and Truth
In John 4, Jesus teaches us that the Father is seeking true worshipers. And though Hebrews 12:28-29 and 1 Corinthians 14:40 add significantly to our understanding and definition of true worship, we are left in John 4 with worship that can be described as at least this:
|with a vital relationship||with a true knowledge of God|
|not external, not Pharisaical||not emotionalism; not with an insufficient view of God|
|spiritually, genuinely||with Scripture as the authority|
|with affection||with accuracy|