Let us talk about acceptable worship based on verse 24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” This is a clear word that God seeks true worshipers. So what is acceptable worship based on the Ten Commandments? Exodus 20:7 says: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
Anyone who violates that command will be punished. That’s the negative side. But later in Deuteronomy 6:4-6 it says, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” 6 These words I am commanding you today, they shall be on your heart.” Now there’s the positive side.
To love the Lord that way would preclude you taking His name in vain. This is basic in our relationship to God. We are to have no other god but the true God. That’s the part of the Ten Commandments in which we are first introduced to God’s law. We are not to make any graven image or any representation of Him. And we are not to take His name in vain. But just exactly what does that mean?
Because to be honest, we’ve all done it. What does it say when God promises to bring punishment for those who take His name in vain? Pretty serious, so we need to look at it. His name Yahweh appears seven thousand times in the Old Testament. We have it on our lips a lot; we use the name of God frequently. But are we in danger of taking that name in vain? Here are some ways we have done that.
First, anyone who curses God or blasphemes His name has obviously violated that command. Listen to Leviticus 24:15-16. “If anyone curses his God, then he shall bear his sin. 16 And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death by stoning him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.”
Now what does that mean? Since God is holy, anything that assaults the holiness of God, anything spoken about God that in any sense assumes that He is evil is to curse God or to blaspheme God. To think of God as unfaithful, unloving, unwise, lacking compassion, lacking mercy, lacking power; anything said against the glory of God, any accusation that God is in some ways flawed is blasphemous.
Secondly, we take the name of the Lord in vain when we falsely swear by His name. And that is to say when you are telling a lie but you want people to think you’re telling the truth, so you say, “I swear to God.” That’s using the holy name of God for evil purposes. Leviticus 19:12 says, “You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of the Lord; I am the Lord.”
There’s a third way that God’s name is taken in vain – and I’m just giving you some samples; there are many more. You take the Lord’s name in vain when you say you speak for Him and you do not; when you say you have heard from the Lord and you speak for the Lord and that is not true. You literally are using the holy name of God to validate your deception.
In Jeremiah 23 there were prophets in Israel who were constantly claiming to speak for God, and they lied. They, in verse 14, are identified as “prophets of Jerusalem who have done a horrible thing: committing of adultery, walking in falsehood, strengthening the hands of evildoers.” Verse 15, “Behold, I am going to feed them wormwood and make them drink poisonous water.”
Verse 16, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord.” Verse 18-19, “Who has given heed to His word and listened? 19 Behold, the storm of the Lord has gone forth in wrath, even a whirling tempest; it will swirl down on the head of the wicked.”
Verse 20-22, “The anger of the Lord will not turn back until He has performed and carried out the purposes of His heart; in the last days you will clearly understand it. 21 I did not send these prophets, yet they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. 22 If they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way.”
But there’s another way in which the Lord’s name is taken in vain, and that is through worship that diminishes His glory. In the Old Testament, particularly the book of Leviticus, the Lord gave instruction for how worship was to be carried on in the tabernacle with the people of God. And He ordained priests, the sons of Aaron, to lead worship. And He gave rules as to what was to be a part of that worship.
You might think it was great to be a priest, but it was deadly serious. Priests were literally executed by God on the spot for offering strange fire, some profane deviation from the prescribed forms of worship. “Warn Aaron and his sons who will lead the worship to follow the prescriptions laid out in Scripture to be careful with the holy things, so as not to profane My holy name.”
In Isaiah 1, this is also the issue. Isaiah is writing the revelation of God to, as he says in verse 4, “A sinful nation, a people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly, who have abandoned the Lord, despised the Holy One of Israel and turned away from Him.” Verse 11, “‘What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?’ says the Lord, “I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.”
Now the Lord says, “I hate all these things that you’re doing,” which He Himself prescribed. These are things God ordered for the people of Israel to do: offerings, and sacrifices, and festivals, and new moons, and Sabbath. But God says, “I hate it all.” Verse 16, He says, “‘Cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.’”
Verse 18, “Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. 19 If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’ Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” This is a terrifying judgment on false-hearted worship.
You could worship the Lord in vain by deviating from His prescribed forms of worship. You can worship the Lord in vain by having an unclean heart, a sinful heart. Matthew 15:8 says of Israel, “With their lips they honor Me, but their heart is far from Me.” Any form of worship that comes from an impure heart, any form of worship that is self-centered, shallow, hypocritical is taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Don’t think of Him or speak of Him or sing of Him in any way that reduces the glory that belongs to His name. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” If you’re going to fear the Lord you have to know the Lord. And you want to worship Him in a way that does not empty that name of any glory that He is due.
Worship can be a dangerous thing if you don’t come with clean hands and a pure heart. We’re all aware in the contemporary church there’s a frivolity and a superficiality in worship. You don’t want to be rushing into the presence of the Lord unless you know whose presence you’re in. When Isaiah found himself in the presence of the Lord, he said in Isaiah 6:5, “I’m a man of unclean lips. Woe is me.”
What is missing in contemporary worship is a vision of God. Scripture says clearly that we are all to bow to the Lord. We are under His sovereignty. Philippians 2:10-11, “One day every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” We’re called to have a clean, pure heart and clean hands, which means both on the inward and the outward behavior.
We are walking in obedience to the Lord. We come to give honor and glory to Him. And in the process of that, let us not think of Him as less than who He really is. People aren’t serious enough about the glory of God. Anyone who diminishes His name by shallow, loveless, self-centered expressions takes His name in vain. We don’t live in a reverent culture. We treat God in far too casual a manner as well.
In Matthew 15, our Lord is talking with Pharisees and scribes. And in verse 7 He says to them, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you” – and then He quotes from Isaiah 29:13, ‘This people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.” It’s empty worship when your heart is far from where your lips are. So if your heart isn’t right you are taking the name of the Lord in vain.
Romans 12:1, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” So worship is presenting myself as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God. Verse 2: “Do not be conformed to this world.” There are many people who want to design worship it so it’s conformed to the world.
What does God want in worship? We’re told when we gather together in fellowship we are to hear the Word read. Paul says to Timothy, “Read the Scripture, and then explain the Scripture.” “Speak to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Offering prayer, that’s another part. Our Lord said have Communion. Those are all expressions of worship.
The Reformers were so convinced of what God had laid down that they developed the regulative principle. This simply meant that we are to worship in a way regulated by divine revelation. John Calvin said, “God disapproves of all modes of worship not explicitly sanctioned in Scripture.” That wasn’t his opinion; that was the result of his understanding of God.
We can’t offer spiritual sacrifices of worship according to the will of God unless our bodies are offered as a living sacrifice and our minds have been renewed by the Word of God. Which then leads me to say expository preaching is the key to effective worship, to God being honored, and to God’s will being done. Acceptable worship is a product of understanding the Word of God.
In our contemporary time it’s more likely that churches are infatuated not with formal religion, but with informal religion, which can be nothing more than external, emotional, superficial kinds of psychological experiences that also empty God of His glory and are not marked by knowledge of Him or love for Him. There’s a huge emphasis on worship, but I fear a lot of it is fake worship.
What is worship? True worship is any and every expression of obedience, praise, honor, adoration, and gratitude offered to the true God by a regenerate soul who knows the truth about God and loves Him. And this is a way of life. This is not something we do only on Sunday. It’s that we do it collectively on Sunday, but individually this is how we live our lives, worshiping the Lord.
We are those, Paul says to the Philippians, who worship God in the spirit and have no confidence in the flesh. If you’re a Christian, you’ve been literally saved to worship. Go to the book of Revelation, look at chapters 4, 5, 11, 14, 15, 19, 22, and you’re going to have a glimpse of heaven. And everybody’s doing worship. Psalm 45: “My heart is overflowing.” My heart is bubbling over.
Look at Romans 11:33-36, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
We need to remind the church that music is not worship. Music is just poetry with a tune, a melody. Worship is what the heart does, music is just one vehicle. Everything you do in your life should be an act of worship to the Lord. When we come together, all of us as individual worshipers are riding the wave of our corporate gratitude and love to God in the glorious expression of collective praise.
People who do the music aren’t the worship leaders. The worship leader is the person who teaches the Scripture, because that’s where worship is born. Worship is stimulated not by music, but by understanding, by the reading of the Scripture, the preaching of the Scripture. But we are blessed to have music, to let our hearts overflow with words that we couldn’t come up with on our own.
Your praise can only go as high as your understanding goes deep. People who have a superficial knowledge of God have only a superficial capacity to praise Him. The height of your praise is directly proportionate to the depth of your understanding. When you understand the deep things of God, when you understand the truths of His glorious nature and work, your praise is directly proportionate.
So if you want to worship the Lord in a greater way, it doesn’t mean turn up the music. If you want to worship the Lord in a greater way, enrich your understanding of Him from the glorious Word of God. We thank You for the privilege that we have had to gather and sit at Your feet to hear the truth of Your Scripture. Give us a new understanding of the seriousness of worship. Let us pray.