What about the word "worship"? What does it mean? To begin with, where is it first used? "Worship" is first used in Genesis 22. What happened in that context? Abraham is instructed by God (as a test) to take his promised son, Isaac, and sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah. Abraham, whose faith in God is unsurpassed, made preparations and began the journey early the next day to the specified location. As they neared the place on the third day, Abraham said to his servants who traveled with them - "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you" (Gen. 22:5). As the narrative continues, Abraham and Isaac both do come back to the servants. Abraham, passing God's test with flying colors (so to speak), was willing to sacrifice his son at God's command, but the Lord provided a ram instead at the last moment. The Lord then reiterated His promises to the great patriarch.
Some have defined "worship" as to kiss the hand; to reverence; to pay homage to. This concept is surely seen in the actions of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham showed his reverence to God by what he was willing to do. He bowed down, so to speak, and was willing to pay homage to God--to kiss God's hand metaphorically--by offering his son on an altar, simply because God said to do so.
I've considered this narrative many times and am still utterly amazed every time I read it. Abraham loved God so deeply. His trust here knew no limits. But, let's take the rest of our time together to consider five principles regarding what we can learn about worship from Abraham. Although Abraham lived approximately 4000 years ago, you will see that these lessons are timeless and still very important today in the Christian age.
1. WORSHIP MUST BE BASED ON THE WORD OF GOD.
The day before God spoke to Abraham, it would have been wrong for him to sacrifice Isaac on an altar; it would have been murder! The day before God spoke to Abraham, the patriarch would have had no authority to take Isaac's life. This underscores an important truth: An action is right (or authorized) when God says it is right. This applies for worship! Whatever God says is proper regarding approaching Him in worship is proper.
To please God, we must act as He has directed. That's what Abraham did, even in this extreme request. We must remember James 2:26, which teaches that faith without works is dead. Abraham's faith came by hearing the word of God (cf. Rom. 10:17), trusting the Lord, and then obeying Him. Abraham's faith was unmovable because He listened and did not doubt God's word; he obeyed promptly and fully (cf. Heb. 11:19).
Abraham did not attempt to alter the worship his God had commanded. He did not suggest: "What about offering Ishmael or Sarah instead?" God did not have to spell out all the ways not to offer the sacrifice He commanded! He specified Isaac, and that's who Abraham brought. Abraham didn't try to substitute. Is this sinking in, friends? Our worship today must be founded on God's word. Cain tried to worship God his own way, but God was displeased (cf. Heb. 11:4; Jude 11). If we try to worship God on our terms, we will fail to really revere Him as He deserves.
Today, God has instructed the public preaching to be done by men (cf. I Tim. 2:11,12). He has commanded that we sing and make melody in our hearts (cf. Eph. 5:19). We have as much right to encourage women to preach publicly or to use pianos and guitars in our assemblies as Abraham did to offer Ishmael or Sarah instead of Isaac. He had no right to make that change and neither do we!
2. WORSHIP INVOLVES ACTION.
Abraham told his servants that he and Isaac would worship and return. Worship was not just a mental exercise for Abraham, and it must not be just a mental exercise for us today. Proper worship involves proper actions coupled with proper thoughts.Hebrews 11:17 states - "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac." Proper thoughts led Abraham to proper actions. And today we must have both. It is possible to have actions in the assembly that seem proper but are not pleasing to God since the mind is not engaged accordingly. In contrast, it is possible to have pure desire and a focused mind, but fail to please God due to improper actions (caused by ignorance). Consider these five examples for Christians and the need to have proper action and proper thinking for all.
It should be clear that worship involves action. Since action is not continuous, neither is worship. There is a starting and ending time to worship. All of life is not worship, though all of life should be service (cf. Rom. 12:1,2).
3. WORSHIP SHOULD COST US SOMETHING.
After David sinned in conducting an unauthorized census, he was commanded to build an altar in a certain place to stop the resultant plague. He traveled to that location to comply. The land was owned by a generous Jebusite. The man offered the land to King David for free and was even willing to supply animals for the burnt offerings. However, there is a great lesson in David's reply - "No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which costs me nothing" (II Sam. 24:24). David believed that an offering that cost him nothing was vain.
Worship should be a costly presentation to God! Worshiping in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:24), will cost us time, money, concentration, and energy. And these are costs we should pay joyfully! Heb. 13:15,16 - "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
I feel badly for those who leave the assembly thinking: "I didn't get anything out of worship." Worship is not about getting; it's about giving! It's about prostrating our souls and minds before Almighty God and renewing our commitment to Him, His word, and His church! Godly worship is not about you and it's not about me!
4. WORSHIP INVOLVES SEPARATION FROM THE WORLD.
Abraham prepared for his journey to Moriah, got up early in the morning, and left. The worship God commanded demanded separation from his home--a three day journey to slay his son! It demanded separation from his servants (lest they try to stop him).
What about us? We cannot worship God in spirit (with all our mind) unless we can separate ourselves from the world. It's not enough for your body to be in the pew. Is your mind separate from the cares and distractions of the world? We must endeavor to minimize distractions (like noisy kids, cell phones, trips to the bathroom, whispering, etc.). When you enter into the assembly to worship, pray for a mind free from the business of the world. Clearly focus on God and be separate from the world in worship.
5. WORSHIP RESULTS IN BLESSINGS TO THE WORSHIPER.
Can you imagine the difficulty of walking up Mt. Moriah in Abraham's sandals? But think of the spring in his step coming back down with his son beside him! God's blessings to Abraham are intimately related to the entirety of the Scriptures (and to us, indirectly). God blesses his faithful ones greatly!
Just think of the blessings Abraham might have forfeited had he not trusted in God and worshiped Him as he had been directed. The wise will worship God as He directs. The church of Christ attempts to do that in each assembly, but much of worship is dependent on the individual and what happens above the neck! God will bless His faithful followers and worshipers. He will bless those who worship in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:24). He will bless those who are not presumptuous or inclined to worship Him just any way they please.
Dear listeners, I believe Abraham met God in worship, and I believe we can meet God in worship today. But, it won't happen on accident! True worship today requires actions specified by the New Testament. True worship will be costly to us and it demands our separation from the world. Ultimately, our worship results in great blessings from the Almighty!
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will!