When we hear the word “worship” what readily comes to mind is music. That shouldn’t be surprising because in church the period where we sing songs with a slower tempo is referred to as the “time of worship”. It seems in our everyday language worship almost always means singing (unless the person makes it a point to say it’s not).
Worship is generally recognized as the period in the church service where we enter into God’s presence (generally through singing). And the worship leaders are the ones who are responsible for getting us there and in fact they are the ones who tell us when we have finally arrived. This makes the worship leader an extremely powerful and influential person when it comes to the church service.
But is this what it means to worship? Is being a true worshipper all about participating whole heartedly to the “worship” session in the church? Is this what it means to worship God in spirit and truth?
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.
Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” – John 4:19-20
In John 4, Jesus has an encounter with a Samaritan woman by a well. After an initial exchange (John 4:7-18) the woman realizes that Jesus is no ordinary stranger by the well. The woman the tries to find out his opinion on the appropriate place to worship. Why is Jerusalem the place where people ought to worship? This mountain has worked for us for generations.
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. – John 4:23-24
Jesus’ answer is where I think we should start when we want to find out what it means to worship.
Firstly, there is a redefinition of what it means to worship both for those who worshipped out of ignorance and for those from whom salvation came from (John 4:21-22). This redefinition makes a physical location for worship an obsolete concept. Worship is no longer centered around a place.
Secondly, God seeks true worshippers who will worship Him. True worshippers in this context probably means authentic or genuine worshippers. And what will mark out these worshippers is that they will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Verse 24 seems to say that this is the only appropriate way to worship God because God is spirit. In the previous chapter we are told that the only people who will enter the Kingdom of God are those who are born of the Spirit (John 3:5-6) and this is tied to believe in the Jesus Christ (John 3:13-18). Jesus is also describes himself as the Truth and the one who makes a Way for us to come to the Father so that we can have Life (John 14:6). I would suggest that to worship the Father in spirit and truth not only means that worship is no longer centered around a place but worship is now centered around a person…Jesus Christ. How we worship the Father is by believing in the Son and what He has done for us on the Cross.
One writer puts it this way:
John tells us that the Word became flesh and—literally—tabernacled among us (John 1:14). Jesus promised, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:20). In other words, Jesus’ body is now the temple, the place where God meets his people, manifests his presence, and deals with their sin (John 2:21–22). That’s why Jesus can say that an hour is coming when true worshipers will no longer need worship in Jerusalem, but will worship in spirit and truth (John 4:21–24).
…the Old Testament’s terms for worship have been applied to the whole lives of believers. In Romans 12:1 Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Now we don’t offer animals as sacrifices but our very selves. The Christian’s whole life is an act of sacrificial service to God.
Or consider Hebrews 13:15: “Through him [that is, Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Praise is our sacrifice, and we offer it continually—not just for an hour on Sunday morning. The fruit of lips that acknowledge God’s name includes songs of praise, but much more too: boldly confessing the gospel in public, speaking words of truth and love to others, bringing every word we say under Christ’s dominion.
This means that “worship” isn’t something we mainly do at church on Sunday. Instead, worship should suffuse our entire lives. For the Christian, worship isn’t confined to sacred times and places, because we are united by faith to Christ, the one who is God’s temple, and we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, making us both individually and collectively the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16–17, 6:19; cf. Eph. 2:22).