The Way we Worship
The worship of God is an important subject for Christians. Indeed there is nothing more important for us, for the simple reason that the church exists to worship God. The Lord says of her: “This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise” (Isa.43:21). Our calling is to glorify God’s great and holy Name and this is to be seen especially in the worship we offer to Him.
To worship God is to declare Him to be the supreme object of our esteem and affection. It is to say from the heart with the Psalmist, “O God, who is like unto thee!” (Psa.71:19) and, “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” (Psa.73:25). But how exactly are we to worship God?
This matter divides Christians and even churches. Part of the problem is that as sinners there is self in all that we do: we bring our likes and dislikes to the debate. But personal preference cannot be our guide here. Jesus said: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). What is it to worship God in truth?
Every element used in our worship must have biblical warrant if it is to be acceptable to the Lord. In the Old Testament God says: “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deut.12:32). In the New Testament it is the same, as shown by our Lord’s words to the disciples in the Great Commission: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt.28:20). This is known as the ‘regulative principle’ of worship.
According to the second commandment man-made additions in worship are ‘graven images’ and the seed of idolatry. If there is something they want to include in worship people tend to say, “Surely there is nothing wrong with it?” The question which should really be asked is, “Is there anything right with it?” In other words, does God approve of it? That a person may be sincere in his intentions is not the point.
We can apply this principle to what we sing. We have a command to sing: “Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing” (Psa.100:2). But what are we to sing? The Psalms are clearly appointed for praise: “Let us...make a joyful noise unto him with psalms” (Psa.95:1,2). Yet two verses tell us to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph.5:19; Col.3:16). What does this mean?
In several places in the Bible three terms are used to describe what is essentially one thing (e.g. Exod.34:7; Deut.30:12; Acts 2:22) and so it is here. We might also ask, What would “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” have meant to the Christians to whom Paul wrote? They would have recognised these terms as referring to existing compositions, namely the Psalter. In our English Bible, each of Psalms 120-134 is titled “A Song of degrees. Psalms 115-118, sung at the end of the Passover, are called a hymn (Matt.26:30). Jesus and His apostles sang nothing but psalms.
These psalms, hymns and songs are all “spiritual” or “Spirit-given”. Which hymn-writer could claim that for his compositions? The Psalms, being the inspired Word of God and appointed for singing, are suitable for the praise of God. They are full of doctrine and experience and they are full of Christ. Let us seek grace to sing them to God’s glory and our profit.