|Worship in the New Testament
From the Introductory Study Guide: Understanding Ministry
McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt
- To explain how worship in the New Testament is different from worship in the Old
- To motivate people toward a lifestyle characterized by New Testament worship.
It is common for churches to say that their first priority is the worship of
God. This usually means that the corporate worship service on Sunday morning is the
most important activity in which the church engages. Often, that worship service is liturgical--characterized
by a set order of ritual, song, prayer, etc.
Is this what the New Testament teaches about worship?
A closer examination of the relevant biblical material affirms that worship is
indeed the first priority of the church, but the New Testament defines worship in a very
A Change in Sacrifices
Read 1 Pet. 2:5. This verse (along with vs. 9) teaches that all Christians
are priests. Whereas in the Old Testament, only select Levites had this privilege, every
Christian now has this privilege.
What do priests do?
In the Old Testament period, their main function was to carry out the worship of
God through the offering of sacrifices. There were essentially two different kinds of
sacrifices: sin offerings, which were offered for moral offenses, and thank offerings,
which were offered to express gratitude for God's goodness and blessing.
The New Testament tells us that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament sin offerings
through his death (Heb. 9:11-14; 10:1-14); therefore, we need never make such sacrifices
to God again. But as Christians who have benefited from his sacrifice, we have the
privilege to express our gratitude to God for Christ's work in many ways. Peter refers to
this in 1 Pet. 2:5 when he says that we "offer up spiritual sacrifices to God."
Peter does not specify here what these sacrifices are, except that they are spiritual, not
By studying other passages in the New Testament, however, we discover several
different "sacrifices" by which the Christian may worship God. It is important
to note that no one way is viewed as more spiritual than the others; all are important if
we want to have full-orbed spiritual lives.
Discussion Question: Do you think we can go so far as to say that churches
who practice a liturgy are wrong on that point?
Different Ways to Worship
- Offer God Your Whole Self:
- "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies
a living and holy sacrifice, well-pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of
worship." (Rom. 12:1)
- When an Israelite had received a blessing from God, he could have a priest offer up
an animal as a "whole burnt offering" to show God his gratitude. God was pleased
by this costly sacrifice, and expressed this by calling it a "soothing aroma."
(see Lev. 3:5,16)
- Paul says that as Christians, we have received the mercies of God through Christ's
work - a gift so fantastic that he spent the previous eleven chapters of this letter
describing it. How can we say "Thank you!" to God for such a fantastic gift? Not
by offering an animal, but by presenting to God something much more precious--our very
selves. We can "sign over the title deed" of our lives and say "God, I want
the rest of my life and every part of my being to be one long expression of my gratitude
for the gift that you have given me."
- We may think that this sacrifice is not very great because we have so many problems
and faults, but God says that it is "holy" and "well-pleasing" to him!
Notice that according to Paul, this sacrifice is our "spiritual service of
- The Greek word for "service of worship" is the word from which we get the
term liturgy. Paul is saying that the elaborate worship service enacted by the Old
Testament priests no longer has a place in Christian worship; it is now replaced by this
very personal sacrifice.
- Ask the group: What are some lines of thinking which oppose a person's
movement toward offering his or her whole self to God?
- Offer God Your Praise:
- "Through Christ then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to
God, that is, the fruit of the lips that give thanks to his name." (Heb. 13:15)
- Here is another spiritual sacrifice which pleases God--praising him and thanking
him for all that he is and all that he does for us. The practice of thankfulness to God is
stressed over and over again in the New Testament (see 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Col. 3:15-17).
Why is this? Does God need our gratitude so that he can feel good about himself?
- Such a view obviously does not befit the God of the Bible--he is the only being in
the universe who is completely self-existent and therefore needs nothing. We add nothing
to God by praising and thanking him. God is indeed pleased by our gratitude, but the ones
who benefit from this practice are us!
- As we choose (often against our present feelings and circumstances) to recall God's
blessings and then to thank him for these, we are keeping ourselves properly aligned with
reality. Rather than buying into the lie that we are mistreated and unfortunate, we are by
faith asserting the truth--that we are fantastically blessed beyond anything that we could
ever deserve! In spite of our rebellion against God which deserves his wrath, he has
forgiven us, adopted us into his family, guaranteed us eternal life, given us a
significant role in his purpose, indwelt us with his Spirit, provided us with Christian
friends-- and the list goes on and on.
- The author's emphasis here is that we should worship God in this way
"continually." The idea that Christian worship takes place only (or especially)
in a corporate worship meeting is utterly foreign to this verse. Because of Christ's
payment for our sins, we have the privilege to draw near to God and communicate to him in
this way at any time: in the morning when we wake up, on the way to work, during the busy
day, when we are together with other Christians, alone in our room, etc.
- It is wonderful to praise God with other Christians in song (Eph. 5:19), but this
should be only the "tip of the iceberg" of our thanks to God.
- Ask the group: What do you think erodes thankfulness in Christians? What do
you think promotes thankfulness in Christians?
- Offer God Your Material Resources:
- "And let us not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God
is pleased." (Heb. 13:16)
- The author touches on two more ways in which we can worship God: doing good and
sharing. "Sharing" probably refers to the generous giving of our material
resources to God's people and God's work. This is explicitly identified by Paul as a
sacrifice which pleases God: "But I have received (your money gift) in full, and have
an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a
fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God." (Phil. 4:18)
- Many Christians regard giving financially to God in the same way that they pay
their taxes to the I.R.S. - they have to do it, and they look for ways to give as little
as possible. Paul's view is very different from this. He says that giving is a privilege
(2 Cor. 8:4) and something that we should do generously (2 Cor. 9:6), as an expression of
our commitment to God (2 Cor. 8:5).
- When we give our money to God in this way by supporting our local church, other
Christian workers and ministries, and helping the needy, God regards this as an expression
of worship fully as spiritual as praising him. This is because giving of our money
represents a giving of ourselves, since money represents the time and effort and
creativity that we have invested in order to gain it. Such giving is also an expression of
our trust in God's faithfulness to continue to meet our material needs--which Paul tells
us God will fully supply (Phil. 4:19).
- Ask the group: How can a Christian make the transition in his or her
thinking from the "I.R.S." outlook on giving to the "privilege"
outlook on giving?
- Offer God Your Service to Others:
- "And let us not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God
is pleased." (Heb. 13:16)
- The other sacrifice mentioned in this verse is "doing good." This phrase
refers to ministry--performing deeds of loving service to other people as representatives
of Christ. When we relate to the people God brings into our lives with Christ-like,
sacrificial love, God regards this as an expression of our worship to him. " . . .
walk in love, just as Christ loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a
sacrifice as a fragrant aroma."
- God is pleased by this kind of life-style not only because he wants to love people
through us, but also because this demonstrates that we are living with an attitude of
trust in his love for us. We are motivated to love others because we understand and
believe in the love that God has for us (1 Jn. 4:16-19).
- Every day, God gives us dozens of creative opportunities to say "thank
you!" to him in this way-- serving our spouses, caring for our children, performing
deeds of service for those in need, showing and sharing the love of Christ to our
neighbors, those at work or school--the examples are endless.
- We also have the special privilege of worshiping God through the exercise of our
spiritual gifts. Paul speaks of his own apostolic ministry in this way: " . . .
because of the grace that was given to me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to
the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the Gentiles
might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit." (Rom. 15:15,16)
- After urging us to present our lives to God as an act of worship in Rom. 12:1, Paul
goes on to urge us to express that worship through the use of our spiritual gifts (vs.
6-8). As we discover our spiritual gifts and exercise them regularly in the service of
others, and give God praise for the fruit of this ministry, we discover a form of worship
that is uniquely satisfying!
- Ask the group: What differences do you think it would make for you when
facing situations (mentioned in the previous sentence) that you consciously thought about
serving the Lord himself via serving this person?
- (Responses might include: less fear, more boldness, more respect, more energy and
resolve, deeper care about what you're doing, etc.)
What if we emphasize one form of worship to the virtual exclusion of another?
Consider the different mixes of exclusions, the possible motives behind each mix, and the
possible outcomes of each.
Prior to this study, which of these forms of worship did you understand the least
and why? Which do you think is your strongest/weakest? Why?
It should be clear from this study that worship in the New Testament is a
lifestyle made up of many kinds of activity, not necessarily a corporate meeting.
Why is this so important? When Christians view worship as the most
important priority (which is correct) but have a superficial view of what worship is, the
result is often a superficial and dichotomized Christian life. Such Christians are
faithfully committed to attending the Sunday worship service, but because they view that
as the essence of worship, fail to develop a lifestyle of whole- hearted commitment to
God, thankfulness, financial stewardship and ministry. God is more pleased and we are more
fulfilled when we develop lifestyles characterized by the full-orbed worship described in
the New Testament.
See Also: "What is Worship?" an essay by
Lee Campbell, PhD.
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