‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”
— Matthew 15:8-9 [NAS]
In the above scripture, Jesus was speaking to the Jews concerning their religious traditions.
The word tradition has occupied a most distinguished place in the Jewish community. Among the Jews, “traditions of the elders” signifies what is called the “oral law,” which they distinguish from the written law: the written law contains the Mosaic precepts, as found in the Pentateuch (God’s doctrine): the oral law, the traditions of the elders, i.e. traditions, or doctrines, that had supposedly been successively handed down from Moses through every generation, but never committed to writing. The Jews falsely claimed that, when God gave Moses the written law, he also gave him the oral law, which, they also claimed to be the interpretation of the Mosaic precepts.
When Jesus said to them, “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” he is referring to their teaching the oral law as if it is an unwritten body of principles that God has given to govern His people. When, in fact, it is their intellectual interpretation of the written law plus their own ideas of how it should be.
Down through the ages man has applied his intellect to customizing the work of his Creator; and so, he has been self-led to put the finishing touch even to divine revelation! These self-appointed interpreters of the Holy Scriptures have established certain guidelines, rules and regulations (men’s doctrine) to be followed in the church. In today’s modern church these “traditions of men” are the customs, guidelines, principles or beliefs, viewed as a consistent standard of practice and in many cases contradict what is written in the Holy Scriptures. Such precepts have been passed along orally and/or by practice influencing the present; and may vary somewhat from one generation to the next. Even such traditions passed down with written instructions are subjected to each generation’s interpretation and intellectual scrutiny and will vary somewhat because of their understanding. If there were ever any foundational truths in such traditionalism, it is lost in the evolving process.
Thus, the Jews are not the only people who have “set aside” or perverted God’s word in order to practice the traditions of men: the modern Christian churches have acted in the same way. When the word of God is set aside for the teaching as doctrines the precepts of men not only is the word of God “made of no effect,” but His worship also is greatly corrupted; thus the worship service is in vain. Men must not mould the worship of God according to the traditions of men or to suit their fancy-it is not what they think will do- or is proper, innocent, etc., but what God Himself has prescribed, that he will acknowledge as His worship. However sincere a man may be in worship of his own invention, or of man’s commandment, yet it profits him nothing; Christ himself says it is in vain. To condemn such may appear to some narrow minded; but whatever may be said on behalf of the “sincere church of religiosity,” and others who have not had the advantages of divine Revelation, there is no excuse for the man the Spirit of God indwells and whose Bible lies open before him.
It is recorded in the Gospel According to John, the 4th chapter that while Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well the subject turned to worship.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24 NASU).
The English word worship comes from the Old English word worth-ship, a word which denotes the worthiness of the one receiving the special honor or devotion.
Notice in our Lord’s response to the woman’s question He did not specify or indicate a geographical location, no certain type of building with steeples and crosses, no temple or synagogue or no certain time or order of service and etc. Neither did He state a ritual or act to be performed or physical postures to be taken. Rather, He gave us the manner in which worship is to be conducted. He simply stated, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
“God is Spirit.”
This is one of the first, the greatest, the most sublime, and necessary truths in the compass of nature! There is a God, the cause of all things-the fountain of all perfection-without parts or dimensions, for He is ETERNAL-filling the heavens and the earth-pervading, governing, and upholding all things: for He is an infinite SPIRIT!
“True worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit—.”
Our God can only be pleased with that which resembles Him: therefore God can only delight in those who are made partakers of His own divine nature. Thus, to be acceptable to this infinite Spirit, the worshipper must be of those born of Him and their worship must spring from the soul or innermost being, through the influence of the Holy Spirit.
The scripture teaches us that you are “in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:9 NASU). Also, one must “set his mind on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5 NASU). “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14 NASU).
Next we look at worship in truth.
First and foremost we must know what the Holy Scriptures teach concerning worship; for the “true worshipers” worship in both spirit and in truth. A man worships God in spirit, when, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he brings all his affections, appetites, and desires to the throne of God; and he worships Him according to that divine revelation which He has given men of Himself, when every purpose and passion of his heart, and when every act of his worship, is guided and regulated by the word of God; not by the precepts of men. Obedience is an expression of love, thus worship must be from a pure, obedient and sincere heart. It is an expression of honor, respect and reverence; an attitude, a state of mind, and an activity designed to recognize and describe the worth of Almighty God by an individual or group of worshipers.
In summary, worship is a testimony of one’s love, adoration, respect, and reverence for his/her Savior in words of praise, deeds of obedience, hymns, psalms and spiritual songs as expressions of joy. Therefore, let us “pray without ceasing” and be forever humble and thankful in heart for salvation and to give the Lord first place in all things at all times; not setting aside a certain day, time or place but being of this attitude at all times. Let us also praise Him as the Guardian of our souls. Selah.
James C Sanford