The Centrality of Worship

Steve Viars May 31, 2003

Passionately Pursuing our God in Worship and Music.
- I’d like to begin by offering five reasons why I and the rest of our pastors believed that a series like this was necessary.
1.  To help those of us who have been believers for a long time continue to grow in our pursuit of God.
-  I think that’s been one of the misconceptions about my interest in this topic...that I  wanted to make some adjustments in our music or worship so that we could attract newer persons or younger persons...that has never been the primary motivation of all of this...
- our pastors’ first ministry is to the people who are here...
- but for years now I have been concerned about whether we as a congregation were worshipping well...
- and that’s not meant to be offensive...that’s my job...
- and I’ve not seen the doctrine of progressive sanctification being applied to this area as aggressively as its been rightly applied to everything else we’re trying to do in our ministries here...
- and it is possible for our worship habits to become predictable, and stale, and lifeless, and bland, and routine...
- and if you’ve been a believer for any period of time, you know that those same words can apply not only to a person’s worship habits, but to their relationship with the Lord...and it really doesn’t get much more serious than that.
- and on the other hand, even for folks who have been following Jesus for a long time, it is possible to have a relationship with Him that is fresh, that is real, alive, genuine, developing, deepening...and that’s what we want...
- and as a church, our leadership has the responsibility of cultivating and motivating that through the planning and execution of worship services that are fresh, creative, diverse, passionate, varied, and alive.

2.  To counter some of the excesses in what is commonly referred to as the contemporary Christian music movement, or CCM.
- in the last 30 years, there has been an explosion of new music done in the name of Jesus Christ...and a fair amount of it is outside the buoys of biblical orthodoxy...
- many are saying that music is amoral...in other words, the lyrics are important, but the notes don’t matter...
- one well-known pastor recently wrote, “Worship has nothing to do with the style or volume or speed of a song.  God loves all kinds of music because He invented it all – fast and slow, loud and soft, old and new.  You probably don’t like it all, but God does.” [used as a negative example]
- that is an outrageous statement  -- and it shows how low far the evangelical church has fallen from its historic biblical and theological roots.
- if that quote is true, we’ve entered the Christian musical era known as every man does that which is right in his own eyes...and that is a scary thought indeed.
3.  To challenge some of the conservative responses to the contemporary Christian music movement.
- the fundamental church tends to be reactionary in its approach to issues...
- that’s not always necessarily bad...but many times it leads to swinging the pendulum to the other extreme...
- to making the Bible say more than it says...
- to pressing points in ways that are illogical...
- I’ve been doing a lot of reading and studying on this subject for the last couple of years...and I have to be honest with you this morning and say that some of the worst books I’ve read in the last 20 years have been written by people trying to squelch any music that is new, or is fresh, or is different than what they grew up with.
- often the logic is convuluted, passages of Scripture are taken out of context...
- and even if the poistion is correct, the method of articulating the position discredits whatever the person is trying to prove.
- so one of the words you’re going to hear over and over is the word “balance”
- because I believe there are excesses on both sides of the table that a church like ours would do well to avoid.

4.  To use this topic as an occasion to practice the art of developing biblical theology on specific issues of concern and interest.
- My thesis this summer is that what is often lacking in discussions of worship and music is a carefully crafted biblical theology.
- now, there’s no lack of opinions and preferences...
- there’s plenty of ideas from the supposed experts from all corners of the debate...
- there’s some people who want to draw no lines anywhere...
- there’s some people who want to draw all lines everywhere...
- Milo Thompson, the past president of Baptist Bible College and Seminary, was exactly right when he said,
Music is of God’s creation and an integral part of our lives, yet much of the current experience is one of the most emotionally charged and divisive issues facing the Christian Church, families, and individuals in America today.  Pastors, worship leaders, trained musicians, and believers in general face new and powerful forces of change -- forces that bring renewal to some churches and fear and schism to others.  No one can sidestep the hot debate between such matters as the various styles of music, hymns versus choruses, seeker services versus worship services, choirs versus worship teams, organs versus synthesizers, and flowing praise versus singing one song at a time.
As we ask ourselves why all this controversy, it may very well be that a lack of biblical understanding is a major contributor to this adversarial experience (Eph. 4:13).  It seems that many have not really thought through the biblical theology and principles pertaining to this matter of music.  Many have used a proof texting approach of incorporating the Scriptures, without the benefit of addressing God’s Word exegetically and allowing the text to dictate belief and practice. 
Hence, they are predominately deriving their musical belief and practice predominately from personal man-made preference, taste, traditions, and culture, which in many cases they have elevated to the level of the authoritative God-made Scriptures and make it a test of fellowship.  Hopefully, the church will exercise diligent study of the more than six hundred passages in the Scriptures that will gradually define this issue of musical belief and practice in more biblical terms based on solid exegesis of God’s Word.
- I have two requests of you as we go through this series together...
a.  Be open to what God’s Word says on this subject.
- Friends, I think some of us [maybe all of us], are in for some biblical surprises...
- and as one member of our church recently said to me, “let’s not be afraid to be biblical”...that’s a great statement.
b.  Be willing to communicate [mention informal discussion times...]

5.  To position our church to minister effectively to people who are younger in the Lord, and to those who don’t yet know Christ.
- now, as I said earlier, this is not our primary goal...but on the other hand, if it doesn’t fit in there somewhere...then we’re out of balance...
- our mission is to glorify God by winning people to Jesus Christ and equipping them to be more faithful disciples...and that affects everything we do...
- now, I’m not talking about dumbing down our music...
- I’m not talking about winning the world through worldly methodology...
- nor am I talking about the primary purpose of our worship services being evangelistic...
- but I am saying that people who really care about ministering to others are going to work very hard at being sure they are speaking the right language...
- that they are making God’s truth as accessible as possible to others without erecting any needless barriers...
- that they want to help people in this culture connect with the living and saving God of the Bible.

- now, this morning I would like us to look at one of the most important passages in the NT on this topic where our and Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had a discussion with a person about worship.
- would you please open your Bible to John chapter 4...[page 73 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you].

- I’ve been asking you to send any questions, comments, quotes, and articles to me about music and worship via e-mail, and I appreciate that....
- some have also sent me some jokes...and that has been helpful to...because I can be a bit intense at times...so every so often I’ll sprinkle some of them in to get all of this in balance...here’s the story of how the substitute became the permanent organist.
- The minister was preoccupied with thoughts of how he was going to, after the worship service, ask the congregation to come up with more money than they were expecting for repairs to the church building. Therefore, he was annoyed to find that the regular organist was sick and a substitute had been brought in at the last minute.
The substitute wanted to know what to play. "Here's a copy of the
service," he said impatiently. "But you'll have to think of something to
play after I make the announcement about the finances."
At the end of the service, the minister paused and said, "Brothers and
Sisters, we are in great difficulty; the roof repairs cost twice as much as we expected, and we need $4,000 more. Any of you who can pledge $100 or more, please stand up."
At that moment, the substitute organist played "The Star-Spangled Banner." And that is how the substitute became the regular organist!

- all right, now, back to business --- John 4 is the wonderful story about the woman at the well...
- the fact that Jesus would even speak to this woman was amazing...
- she was a Samaritan, which was a group of people the Jews despised and avoided at all costs...
- she had lived a very sinful life...she had had 5 husbands and was now living with a man who was not her husband...
- even the fact that she was a woman in that culture would have put her in a second-class status in the minds of many...
- but to make a very important point about the universality of the gospel message, Jesus tells this person about Living water...
- the possibility of having a fresh, vibrant relationship with the living God through trusting Him as her Lord and Savior...
- but that only comes through admitting ones sin, which is why Jesus explains to her in verse 18 that he is well aware of her marital status and history...
- let’s pick the story up right there....READ John 4:17-24

- you’ll have to decide whether you think the woman at the well was asking a honest question from her heart, or if she was just trying to sidetrack our Lord...[I tend to think the former], but regardless, the fact is...this woman’s question provided the context through which our Lord gave us some very important truths about The Centrality of Worship.
- in the time we have remaining, I’d like us to think about Six principles that help us understand worship as our ultimate priority and privilege.

I.  Worship is an Action Verb.


- in other words, worship is something you do, not something you watch.
- now that is not to say that the word does not have a noun form, it does...
- but notice how many times in our text it appears as a verb...
- v. 21 – shall you worship the Father – verb
- v. 22 – you worship – verb
- v. 22 – we worship – verb
- v. 23 – true worshippers --- Ah ha – a noun! ---- yes and no...
- I don’t to make this too technical...but the Greek language is very precise...
- and the word “worshippers” in this passage is actually also a verb...used nominatively...in other words, it could be translated “the worshipping ones...”
- one writer has said... The difference between a biblical and pagan understanding of worship lies in the difference between a verb and a noun. – Ben Peterson
- the point is that worship is something that we have the privilege and responsibility to be passionately involved in...it is not something we passively watch in some sort of entertainment mode...worship is an action verb, it is something we do.
- and by the way, that already gives us a point of application...
- when church is over, what question should we be asking...
- not, how did the singer do at singing?...
- how did the pastor do at preaching?...
- but, how did I do at worshipping?

A.  The meaning of the original words for worship in the Bible.
- now, in the Bible, there are two primary word groups translated “worship”
1.  proskynein ...[or proskuneo]
- pros – “towards”.....kynein – “to kiss”
- David Peterson [recommend his book] – “...from earliest times the compound verb in Greek literature expressed the widespread oriental custom of casting oneself on the ground, as a total bodily gesture of respect before a great one, kissing his feet, the hem of his garment or the ground.”
- that’s why we read verses like Psalm 95:6 - Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
- now that does not mean the primary focus of this word is on the physical posture in worship.
- in fact, Peterson concludes a several page study and discussion of this word by saying –It would be wrong to conclude from this analysis that a particular posture or gesture is somehow essential to true worship.  The culturally accepted way of responding to great ones and benefactors in the ancient world became a means of acknowledging the power and grace of God.  But the Old testament makes it clear that faith, gratitude and obedience are the essential requirements for acceptable worship – David Peterson.
2.  Latreuein ...[or latreuo]
- “labor or service”
- John Frame, in his excellent book Worship in Spirit and Truth says – In the context of worship, these terms refer primarily to the service of God carried out by the priests in the tabernacle and the temple...[he goes on to say]...we can see that worship is far different than entertainment.  In worship, we are not to be passive, but to participate.

B.  The meaning of our English word.
- from the Anglo Saxon worthscipe – tied to worthiness
- John MacArthur – The Ultimate Priority – Worship is ascribing to God His worth, or stating and affirming His supreme value.

C.  Definitions
- there are a number of ways to define this great term...
- Frame – The work of acknowledging the greatness of our covenant Lord.
- Peterson – An engagement with God on the terms that He proposes and in a way that He alone makes possible.”
- Wiersbe – The believer’s response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, and body – to what God is and says and does.
- MacArthur – Honor and adoration directed to God.
- Our innermost being responding with praise for all that God is, through our attitudes, actions, thoughts, and words, based on the truth of God as He has revealed Himself.
- now, there are a couple of appropriate responses to what we’ve studied thus far...
1.  What a tremendous privilege it is to worship our God...
- and yes, we’ll have to deal with some challenging and maybe even controversial ideas as we move through this series, but friends, let be sure that we are doing it with the sense of awe, and reverence, and beauty that a topic like this deserves.
2.  I’m convinced, and I hope you are too from a study of these words, that one of the reasons this topic has become such a battleground in some places is our tendency to focus primarily on the wrong things.
- and it is amazing how, in whatever setting or relationship you want to mention, things get out of balance real quickly when we’re not hoeing our own patch first.


II.  Worship is a Lifestyle.


- it is important that we not miss the argument of this text.
- the Samaritans were half-Jews, and they had set up a rival religion that performed corporate worship on Mount Gerizim.
- of course the Jews worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem...
- and the woman at the well is asking...which place is right?...which place is best?....which place is accurate?
- and what is Jesus’ answer?

- neither....because after the death of Christ....the place is no longer the issue.
- why?...
- because when Jesus died on the cross...the veil of the temple was rent in two...
- human beings who trusted Jesus could have immediate and unfettered access to God anytime they wanted because of the imputed righteousness of Christ.
- that’s why the NT proclaims the incredible message that the moment you trust Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence inside of you...you become a temple of the Holy Spirit...
- in other words, you are a self-contained worshipping machine...capable of living in a worshipful way 24/7...constantly finding ways to ascribe worth to your great King throughout each and every day.
- that’s why one of the interesting things about this topic is that the word worship is used far more frequently in the OT than it is in the New.
- and that doesn’t mean that we don’t worship when we come together as a church family---of course we do...but meaningful, passionate worship when we’re together is a by-product of meaningful, passionate worship when we’re apart.

III.  Worship is a Priority.


- verse 23 contains an astounding statement...
- for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers.

- God is looking for people, seeking people, going after people who will respond to His redemptive work by wanting to worship Him...by wanting to glorify Him...by wanting to give others the right opinion of Him.
- John MacArthur said it this way – The objective of redemption is making worshippers.  The primary reason we are redeemed is not so that we may escape hell—that is a blessed benefit, but not the major purpose.  The central objective for which we are redeemed is not even so that we might enjoy the manifold eternal blessings of God.  In fact, the supreme motive in our redemption is not for us to receive anything.  Rather, we have been redeemed so that God may receive worship—so that our lives might glorify Him.  Any personal blessing for us is a divine response to the fulfillment of that supreme purpose. 

- now, that leads to an obvious question, doesn’t it?
- how much of a priority is worship to you?
- and I’m not talking about sitting around reading your Bible and praying all the time, though that is a worshipful thing to do...
- but I’m talking about in the rough and tumble and everyday life...looking for opportunities in your heart, and your mind, and your words, and your deeds...to demonstrate to God and others how worthy you view Him to be.

- and some here might say...that concept explains a lot...
- because you remember before you came to Christ...
- God was after you...He was pursuing you relentlessly...
- everywhere you went, you were reminded of your sin, and your need for forgiveness...
- you were reminded of the emptiness of trying to live life in your own strength...
- and then He kept exposing you to the gospel...everywhere you turned, you were reminded of your need to admit your need and trust Christ as Savior and Lord...
- and finally you came to Him in repentance and faith, and your life has never been the same...
- and then this transformation started...
- where God and His Word were worthy to you...
- and that just started squirting out in practical areas of everyday life...
- and pretty soon you’re like a light in a very dark place...your worshipful lifestyle is glorifying God...
- and then you started meeting some other lights in your neighborhood, or your family, or your workplace...
-  God wants people to be exposed to Him...and often that occurs as His people are living as bright lights in a dark place...

- and this passage is telling us that God is on the lookout for people like this.
- and if that is a priority for Him, that we ought to want that to be a priority for us.

- and by the way, if you’d say..well, I haven’t yet trusted Christ...
- let me ask you a very direct question --- is there evidence that God is on your trail?
- is He pursuing you?....is there evidence that He is trying to work in your life?
- friend, if He is...do you realize the marvelous blessing that is?...
- He is seeking you---He is knocking on your door....
- the question for you this morning is...are you ready to be found?
- are you ready to admit your need and trust what His Son did on the cross as the only way to be reconciled to Him?
- are you ready to become one of His worshippers?

- now, what else can we learn from our text?


IV.  Worship Must be Passionate.


- Jesus said, we must worship God “in spirit”.
- now it’s very important to note that our Lord is not talking about the Holy Spirit in this phrase.
- that’s why the word “spirit” is not capitalized in the various translations, which is an interpretive issue on the part of the translators, but an accurate one.
- the idea here is that genuine worship flows from the inside out...from a heart that is on fire for God, in love with God, seeking to joyfully follow and obey and adore God.
- and please notice the argument of the verse carefully...the logic of the text is that “in spirit” is contrasted to “in truth”  [which we’ll talk about in a minute].
- God has made our hearts with the ability to both think and feel.
- we have cognitive abilities, and we have emotional abilities...
- and yes it is true that our emotions must be controlled with right thinking...we’ll talk about that balance in a later message...
- its also true that our physical bodies must be controlled by a biblically informed mind...we’ll take an entire message on the subject of the body later this summer as well.
- but the point here is that worship must not just be a passive, cognitive, lifeless exercise.
- we are to worship God “in spirit”...in a way that all of the faculties of our inner person are brought to bear on the process.

V.  Worship Must be Intelligent.


- Lord willing, we will spend more time on this concept two weeks from today [15th].
- but Jesus said, we are to worship in spirit and “in truth.”
- and when you think about this contextually, our Lord is contrasting true worship that was about to unfold because of His death on the cross with the two wrong extremes that the woman at the well was familiar with.
- On Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritans worshipped, they were known for their emotionalism and their ecstatic speech---but they had ignored key truth from the Old Testament...so they had the spirit without truth...
- on the other hand, at Jerusalem, where the Jews worshipped, they had made OT truth an old, dry, lifeless set of rituals...it was truth without spirit....
- Jesus chooses this person...
- a woman...
- a Samaritan woman...
- a Samaritan woman who was laden with sins...
- I’ve got some very good news for you...
- the day is coming, very soon...when there will be a third way.
- because of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection...the perfect blend and balance of these concepts will be available...
- people can worship God in spirit and in truth.

- John MacArthur made these very important comments... The worship that occurred on Mount Gerizim was enthusiastic heresy.  The worship offered at Jerusalem was barren, lifeless orthodoxy.  Jerusalem had the truth but not the spirit.  Gerizim had the spirit but not the truth.  Jesus rebuked both styles of worship when he said, ‘God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.’  The two enemies of true worship are Gerizim and Jerusalem.  Sincerity, enthusiasm, and aggressiveness are important, but they must be based on truth.  And truth is foundational, but if it doesn’t result in an eager, excited, enthusiastic heart, it is deficient.  Enthusiastic heresy is heat without light.  Barren orthodoxy is light without heat. 

- That, in a nutshell, describes the balance I’m trying to argue for this morning.
- the contemporary Christian music movement many times is like Gerizim...
- the conservative Christian music movement many times is like Jerusalem....
- may God give us the biblical balance...the ability to worship in spirit and in truth.

[apply --- think about which ditch you tend to lean toward --- talk about which ditch you believe churches like ours are in].

VI. Worship Must Be Christ-Centered.


- I who speak to you am He.

- will also discuss this in more detail three weeks from today [the 22nd].

- could conclude with the story of Matt Redman’s story – Beckett,

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video