Fruitful worship is sincere. Jesus explained that true worship requires spirit and truth, not spirit or truth.
“You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”
The first issue is that we need to know the truth about God. Jesus told the woman that she worshipped what she did not know. The Samaritan people lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. After the death of King David’s son Solomon, the kingdom had divided. The Samaritans sought to establish a separate religion from the Jews in the south at Jerusalem. To accomplish their goal they had to alter or reject God’s express provisions for worship and replace them with a new prescription.
The Hebrews then intermarried with non-Jews, and strayed even further from God’s truth.
We need the truth about God, and He has provided the Bible and His Spirit to guide us [John16:13]. Unfortunately, our culture is essentially biblically illiterate. Therefore it is difficult to know the truth, and difficult to worship.
Our tendency is to try to worship God on our terms rather than His. When we refuse to learn the truth, or refuse to obey the truth, it is rebellion, and not worship.
We can see this principle demonstrated in three examples of the Hebrews. First, the golden calf incident recorded in Exodus 32. The people became impatient while Moses had ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Covenant from God. The people waited less than forty days before they made a golden statue of a calf, and began to worship the idol. In this case, the people had yet to receive the Covenant, and sought to approach God as the Egyptians had. The principle is that if we don’t receive the Word of God we are likely to worship like the world.
The second example involves Israel’s first king, Saul, as recorded in 1Samuel13. Saul and the Hebrews were afraid of an imminent Philistine attack. In preparation for battle Saul offered a sacrifice to God. This appeared good, but as Saul knew, only the priests could offer sacrifices to God; not even a king could perform this function. Furthermore, Saul’s action was prompted by a lack of faith that Samuel would arrive on time to offer sacrifices as promised, and a lack of faith in doing it God’s way.
When Samuel arrived, he delivered the stinging correction as well as advising of the consequences. God was to take the kingdom from Saul and give the kingdom to David. Samuel explained to Saul that God was seeking a man after his own heart:
1 Samuel 13:14
“But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.”
The principle here is that sincere worship seeks after God’s heart, and is demonstrated by obedience and faith.
The third example involved returning the Ark of God to Jerusalem. The Philistines had captured the Ark in battle. After many years King David sought to bring the Ark to Jerusalem. The Ark was a tangible reminder to the Hebrews of God’s presence.
God’s word prescribed the specific manner that the Ark was to be transported. The Levites were to carry the Ark utilizing special poles. But on this occasion, the Ark was placed upon a cart being pulled by oxen. When the oxen stumbled, Uzzah touched the Ark to make sure it did not fall. The Lord struck Uzzah dead, because he was not allowed to touch the Ark. David was angry and afraid because of God’s Judgment of Uzzah. David likely wondered, “How could God be so harsh in judging Uzzah, and taking his life? Wasn’t he just trying to help?” David needed to learn that God will not allow us to approach Him any way we want to, but He has established how we must worship Him.
David left the Ark at the house of Obed-Edom outside of Jerusalem. God then began to pour out blessings upon the house of Obed-Edom to stir David to jealousy. David then hungered to restore his relationship with God; so he retrieved the Ark in the prescribed manner, and worshiped God.
The principle of this story is that God wants to bless worshipers, but we must approach God according to His ways. To truly worship we need to know the truth about God.
The second issue is that we have to approach God without hypocrisy. God wants us to approach Him with sincere hearts. Our English word sincere is derived from the Latin expression “sin ceros” meaning without wax. The term was related to the sculpting trade. When a sculptor made an error in his work he could correct the defect with a mixture of wax and marble fragments. The work would look fine until heat exposed the imperfection. A work that was pure or sincere was identified as “sin ceros.”
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for vain worship saying, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” [See, Mark7:7-8.] When we worship God as an assembly in song there are a variety of outward manifestations. Some will sing loudly, raise their hands to heaven, bend their knees, shed tears, or other expressions of worship. There is nothing wrong with these expressions as long as they are sincere. On the other hand, if the expressions don’t match the heart, then it is not truly worship. Fruitful worship is sincere. Worshiping God with an insincere heart is as fruitless as worshiping a false god with a sincere motive.
Here, we want to ask ourselves whether we are involved in some form of systematic Bible study. This is essential to help us learn the truth about who God is, and how we are to worship Him. Once we begin to learn the truth, do we desire to do it God’s way, or are we continuing to worship our way? Also, are our expressions of worship sincere, or are we seeking to impress people more than we are seeking to please God?