26. Acceptable Worship


Man is a worshipful creature. He has an innate desire to pay homage to a higher power. Yet, without knowledge of the one true God and the worship desired by that God, his worship will not be accepted.


There are several kinds of unacceptable worship. Paul mentioned one in his address to the Athenians on Mars’ Hill.

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So, you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” Acts 17:22-23.

While these people had erected an altar to God, they did not know him, and could not please him with their ignorant worship.

Jesus once condemned the Pharisees with the words, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’” Matthew 15:7-9.

The vain worship of these Jews consisted in placing their traditions upon a par with the commandments of God. Jesus told them, “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” Matthew 15:6.

Traditions and customs are not wrong within themselves, but when man makes law out of them, they become sin and void the worship which he offers to his Creator.

In Colossians 2:23 Paul speaks of certain ordinances, “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body.”

Will worship is that which is self-imposed as distinguished from that which is given by God. If a man says, “I know what the scriptures teach, but I prefer it this way, and I will have it the way I want it,” he is guilty of placing his will above that of God.

This is what Saul did when he personally offered a sacrifice to God, contrary to the law of Yahweh. 1 Samuel 13. This is what he did when he saved some of the flocks of Amalek to offer to God when the Lord had told him to utterly destroy them.

Samuel reproved the king by asking, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22. Assuredly, God will not accept our worship if we insist on offering our adoration contrary to instructions.


When Jesus once passed through the province of Samaria he stopped to rest at Jacob’s well outside the city of Sychar. There he engaged in conversation a Samaritan woman.

She soon said, “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” John 4:19-20.

To both the Jews and Samaritans the place of worship was extremely important, but they could not agree upon the proper locality.

The reply of Jesus was designed to show that the place is of little consequence, but that the manner of worship is of great importance.

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4:21-24.

Acceptable worship, then, is two-fold, it must be in spirit, or with the proper condition of heart. It must also be in truth, or in accordance with the way God has prescribed.

Worship, which is in spirit, but not in the way that he has ordained, is not pleasing to him. Neither is God satisfied with worship carried out in the right way, but which is devoid of the proper spirit. Acceptable worship requires both the spirit and the truth.


There are numerous obstacles to worshipping God in spirit. One is to allow worship to degenerate into a mechanical rite. For example, it is possible for one to eat the Lord’s supper while meditating upon other matters than the death of Christ. It is possible to sing hymns with the lips while the heart is far from God.

It is possible to say a prayer without actually praying. When we are guilty of these faults, we do not truly worship. A lack of complete consecration is often responsible for this condition.

To worship in spirit is to put out of one’s mind everything of the world and to completely centre the heart upon things spiritual. Likewise, self-righteousness can prevent the proper spirit of worship.

In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus relates the parable of the two men who went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee used his prayer as a means of boasting. The publican confessed his sin.

Jesus states that the tax collector was justified rather than the Pharisee because he had humbled himself. The Pharisee was so filled with self-righteousness that he could not prostrate his heart before the Almighty.

A heart filled with iniquity can also block spiritual worship. In the model prayer, Jesus implored, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12.

Not only will God not forgive our sins if we do not forgive those who wrong us, but it is impossible for us to have the proper state of mind with a heart full of hatred and bitterness. Nor can we expect God to accept our worship if our lives are overflowing with unrepented sins.

Some fail to worship God in spirit because they mistake aesthetic enjoyment for worship. The human emotions are pleased with beautiful music, but the enjoyment of the melodious strains of a spiritual song do not constitute worship.

One may leave the place of worship feeling comforted because of the spiritual atmosphere which he has enjoyed. But while this is most desirable, such a sensation does not of itself constitute worship if it has not been accompanied by a heart in tune with God.

Neither can the proper attitude of worship be found where there is a lack of reverence. We read, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” Hebrews 12:28.

Reverence is the profound respect which we hold for God. It is a condition of heart which expresses itself in our outward demeanour. If in the presence of the dead we maintain solemn silence, can we expect God to be pleased if our worship is filled with whispering and general inattentiveness?


If men could transport themselves to an assembly of the early Christians, they would be struck by the utter simplicity of their worship.

It was without many of the frills which have been attached to worship today. Something of the nature of that worship is described in Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Mention of the apostles’ teaching implies that teaching was a part of the worship of the early church. The apostles’ doctrine in which the Christians in Jerusalem continued is the same doctrine which we possess in the New Testament scriptures.

But while that which was taught is specified as being the apostles’ doctrine, the form of teaching in the early church varied.

Preaching, exhortation, reading of the scriptures, or joint study of the same, all constitute teaching of the apostles’ doctrine. However, Paul warns, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” 1 Corinthians 14:26. Any way of teaching which does not profit the church should be discontinued.

The early church continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread or the Lord’s supper. This institution was given to remind the worshipper of the death of Jesus Christ and to focus his attention upon the supreme sacrifice offered by the Lord. It will be studied in detail in another lesson.

Prayer also constituted a part of the worship of the first century Christians. That the Jerusalem church continued steadfastly in it simply means that they carried out the injunction, “Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

Of course, prayer should not be limited to public assemblies of worship but should be a part of the personal life of each individual Christian. This subject will also be studied further in another lesson.

The assemblies of the early Christians were filled with the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, unaccompanied by instruments of music.

Paul admonishes, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Colossians 3:16.

Again, he adds, “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:19.

In singing, we exhort one another while at the same time praising God. The emphasis in the scriptures is upon singing from heart, rather than upon the beauty of the harmony.

Naturally, the more beautiful the music the easier it will be to sing from the heart, but one should never refrain from singing because he has difficulty in carrying a tune.

The intentional omission of music in the worship of the Lord’s church may be explained by the fact that the Lord is more interested in that which proceeds from the heart than in any mechanical melody which we might make.

While an instrument of music can only make sound, the lips utter meaningful words which are an expression of the heart of the worshipper.

The period of worship was used by the first-century disciples as an opportunity to give of their financial means for the work of the Lord.

When Paul took up a collection at Corinth for the needy in Judea he exhorted the Corinthians, “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” 1 Corinthians 16:2.

Again, he wrote, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7.

From these two verses three principles of scriptural giving may be derived; we must give as we are prospered, as we purpose in our heart, and cheerfully.


While the early Christians gathered for worship as opportunity and need afforded itself, there was one special day of worship. This was the first day of each week, called the Lord’s day by John. Revelation 1:10.

It was on this day that Jesus arose from the grave and it as celebrated in his memory. Particularly on this day did Christians meet to eat the Lord’s supper, Acts 20:7. And as already noticed they used this day to give according to their prosperity. 1 Corinthians 16:2.

The Lord’s Day is the first day and should not be confused with the Jewish sabbath which was the seventh day. All Christians should faithfully worship God on this day, “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25.


Please proceed and fill in the evaluation sheet below with your answers.  Thank you and God bless your studies.

Go To Lesson 27