The Essence of Worship

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Matthew 15:8-9
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 15; Matthew 15

Affection: Worship is more than singing praise songs [1]. How we spend our money, love others, schedule our time, work – these activities can be acts of worship because all of them are opportunities to honor God. No matter how many activities we do, however, we are not worshipping if our hearts are a million miles away. Worship must engage our heart in affections toward God. As Jonathan Edwards once wrote, “Without holy affection, there is no true religion” [2].

Law: The Pharisees were the Jewish religious and political leaders in Israel. They were obsessed with obeying and promoting the laws found in the Torah as well as other rules that they added to help them better keep the law. Here, in Matthew 15, they confronted Jesus about one of their additional rules. They asked him why his disciples did not wash their hands when eating, in accordance with the tradition of the elders. Yet Jesus did not answer them. Instead, he exposed their hypocrisy for caring more about tradition than the word of God. Then he indicted them, saying that Isaiah prophesied about their hypocrisy seven hundred years earlier: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” [3].

Worship: Jesus was not diminishing law-keeping as an act of worship [4]. Rather, he was saying that there is a way of law-keeping that is not worship – namely, when activities of worship are disassociated from hearts of worship. The essence of worship is a state of the heart. When we sing praise songs, spend our money, love others, plan our schedules and work, how do we set our affections on God so that our activities are transformed into acts of worship? Are we, for example, consciously aware of our fallen nature [5], which turns even our good acts into filthy rags [6], so that we increasingly long for Christ and his atoning sacrifice? [7] Are we filled with awe, fear, gratitude, joy and hope, as we praise him for his unending love and grace for sinners like us? [8]

Prayer: Lord, We confess that we come to you sometimes with acts of worship that are disconnected from hearts of worship. Forgive our hypocrisy so that our worship is not in vain. Stir our affections for you, as we taste and see your goodness. Amen.



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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 15 (2:46 minutes) – here

Matthew 15 (4:28 minutes) – here



[1] See Romans 12:1.  |  [2] Jonathan Edwards. Religious Affections.  |  [3] Matthew 15:8-9 ESV  |  [4] After all, he came to fulfill the law, not abolish it. See Matthew 5:17.  |  [5] See 843 Acres. “Toward a Theology of Sin.” 7 January 2013. 843 Acres. “The Waters of the Flood.” 8 January 2013. 843 Acres. “The Covenant of Grace.” 9 January 2013.  843 Acres. “The Sword of Christ.” 10 January 2013. 843 Acres. “Our Search for Security and Praise.” 11 January 2013. See also Psalm 51:17; 38:18; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10.  |  [6] See Isaiah 64:4.  |  [7] See 843 Acres, “The Greatest Problem in the Universe.” 14 January 2013. See also Psalm 42:1; 73:25-26.  |  [8] See Psalm 100:4; 32:11; 43:5138:2; 33:8.

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