Gallup reported this week that “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time.” “In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999” (news.gallup.com). New Testament Christians know the spiritual value of being members of a local body of saints (1 Cor. 12:12-27). The Lord arranged local churches for our spiritual edification (which includes worship), the spread of the gospel, and relief of needy Christians (Acts 2:42-45; 4:32-35; 11:22; 20:28-35). Churches of Christ assemble on the first day of the week to offer God worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Scripture shows how true worship honors God and strengthens Christians in the faith (1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19). Therefore, membership in a local church is a responsibility of great importance to Christians (Acts 9:26-28; Rom. 16:2). Being a member of a local church identifies each Christian as part of a working group of believers striving to do God’s will (Rom. 12:4; Eph. 4:16; Rev. 2-3). Christians will be active members of faithful congregations (there is no floating membership or “membership-at-large” in the New Testament). May each Christian be committed to fully participating in assembled worship and the other scriptural work given the local church by the Lord (Heb. 10:24-25).
23 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. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:23–24, NKJV)
First-century Christians regularly came together on the first day of the week to worship God (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 14:26; 16:2; Heb. 10:24-25). True worshipers follow the teaching of Jesus taught about worship. It is “in spirit and truth.” Worship “in spirit” calls on the heart as the source of our worship of God. For example, prayers and songs must be with the spirit and understanding; it is not rote ritualism (1 Cor. 14:15). True worshipers praise God “with understanding” when they sing (Psa. 47:7; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). A heart far from God that goes through the motions of worship is an abomination to Him (Matt. 15:7-9). True worshipers also worship God “in truth.” His word reveals what worship He accepts. Churches of Christ gather every Sunday to pray, sing, eat the Lord’s Supper, thankfully give as we have been prospered, and listen to the teaching of God’s word (Acts 2:42; 20:7; Eph. 5:19; 1 Cor. 14:26; 16:2). Souls who worship “in spirit” are careful to give God the “in truth” worship He accepts. New Testament Christians did that. We aim to do the same today. We hope you will, too.
32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him. (Mark 12:32–34, NKJV)
Obedience is worthless when it does not come from a heart given to God completely. The scribe in today’s text perceived this truth when Jesus told him the first of all the commandments was to love God fully (Mk. 12:28-30). May we grasp this fundamental truth; Out of the heart comes the obedience that pleases God. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jno. 14:15). Without love for God in our hearts, our outward actions of obedience are null and void. Christ calls us to be obedient children, so we will not discount the place of obedience in the Christian’s life (1 Pet. 1:13-16, 22). Obedience from the heart pleases God and frees us from the bondage of sin (Rom. 6:17-18).
9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. 10 He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (2 John 9–11, NKJV)
From pulpits and pews, people speak of “salvation issues.” True, there are issues of personal conscience and choice (on which God has not given a divine pronouncement) that qualify as non-salvation issues (Rom. 14:1-5). But today’s passage is not of that sort. The doctrine of Christ has been revealed and recorded in the Scriptures. We are called to abide in His doctrine (the truth, Jno. 8:31-32). The Scriptures reveal issues that affect salvation. Here are some: 1) Sin is a salvation issue (Rom. 6:23). Violating God’s will (and tolerating its transgression) brings eternal death. 2) Worship is a salvation issue (Jno. 4:22-24). We cannot offer God vain worship (void of “spirit and truth”) and be saved despite sinful worship (Matt. 15:7-9). 3) False doctrine is a salvation issue (2 Tim. 2:16-19). Men strayed from the truth and overthrew people’s faith with their iniquity when they taught error about the resurrection. For this reason, John warned us not to have fellowship with those who teach error (2 Jno. 10-11). 4) Spiritual neglect is a salvation issue (Heb. 2:1-4). Failure to grow in Christ is a sin that brings punishment (v. 3). Simply put, when God speaks His will, it becomes a salvation issue (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4).
8 “‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:8–9, NKJV)
The heart we bring before God in worship must be pure, holy, and pious. Our worship must be “in spirit” (Jno. 4:24). The actions we bring before God in worship must accord with His word. Worship must also be in “truth” (Jno. 4:24). Today’s text teaches the value of doctrine (truth) in worship by contrasting it with the vain worship produced by men’s commandments. Many people and churches say doctrine is not essential as long as your heart is sincere. By doing so, they have forgotten what Jesus taught in today’s passage. By applying Isaiah 29:13, Jesus said hearts are corrupted (“far from Me”) when people try to worship God while following the commands of men. Vain worship results. Our attitude in worship is to be reverent and humble (Psa. 5:7; 89:7). Worship is not a casual affair that honors people; it is a time of holiness before the Lord (Lev. 10:3). Our actions in worship are to follow God’s truth, not men’s traditions bound upon worshipers (Mk. 7:6-9). Worship is accepted by God when worshipers respect Him and bring before Him the worship His word approves (Rev. 5:13-14). God seeks true worshipers, not vain worshipers (Jno. 4:23). Therefore, let us scrutinize our hearts (spirit) and our hands (conduct) and worship Him “in spirit and truth.”
1 Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, give to the Lord glory and strength. 2 Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come into His courts. 9 Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth. (Psalm 96:7–9, NKJV)
Psalm 96 is a call to worship the Lord God because “He is coming to judge the earth” (Psa. 96:13). He is sovereign over every kingdom of earth and over every family of people who inhabit it. People of every nation are called on to attribute to the one true God the glory and strength by which He reigns, provides, and judges us all. Worship is about honoring God, not ourselves (v. 8). We must bring our offerings into His presence with holiness and reverence. Jesus teaches us to worship God “in spirit and truth” (Jno. 4:24). His gospel reveals the offerings of praise that God accepts (Acts 2:42). These offerings consist of the Lord’s Supper, praying, singing, giving, and teaching God’s word (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 14:15, 26; 16:1-2; Eph. 5:19). The Old Testament repeatedly teaches us God will not accept whatever we decide to give Him as worship, but that which He instructs us to give Him in worship. From Cain and Abel to Nadab and Abihu, from King Saul to King Uzziah and more, we learn God only accepts worship from hearts that reverently give His commanded worship. Let us give God the homage He is due. May we ever come before God with praise and adoration from hearts that fear Him and with lives devoted to holiness.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16, NKJV)
The word of Christ is not merely the word about Christ, but the word that belongs to Christ. It is the message of the cross, the word of truth, and the gospel of our salvation (1 Cor. 1:18; Eph. 1:13). We are called to let His word be at home in us, not as an infrequent guest, but as a constant resident. With the word of God abiding in us, we can overcome the wicked one (1 Jno. 2:14). But, Christ’s word must dwell in us richly along with “all wisdom.” Doing so equips us to “walk worthy of the Lord” (Col. 1:9-10). We must do more than know the word of Christ. We must use His word correctly and wisely. With the word of Christ and wisdom combined in our hearts, we can teach and warn one other with the music of praise Christ approves. Singing songs of praise reveals our thankful hearts while also teaching God’s word to each other. We do not need to add another kind of music (instrumental) to accomplish the teaching and admonition singing achieves. Indeed, the word of Christ does not teach us to add playing music to singing music as a form of worship. Adding instrumental music to our singing worship adds another kind of music to what the word of Christ says. Doing so does not “let the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom.” When we add to the word of Christ, we act foolishly.
20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.” (1 Corinthians 11:20–22, NKJV)
Sinful attitudes and conduct were interrupting and corrupting the worship of the church at Corinth. Their misunderstanding and abuse of the Lord’s Supper exposed divisions between rich and poor brethren. The inspired remedy Paul taught was to partake of the Lord’s Supper properly and to eat their regular meals at home (1 Cor. 11:22, 23-33, 34). We see an underlying worship principle in this passage. Acceptable worship is about God; it is not about us. We are not the ones who decide what makes worship right, good, and pleasing to the Lord. Yet, that seems to be a prevailing attitude in worship gatherings around the world. The Scriptures do not support the premise that sincerity alone justifies acceptable worship. Heartfelt worship without truth guiding it is self-soothing, not Deity honoring. Truth-guided worship that does not spring from the heart is empty, even hypocritical. May we be true worshipers who worship God in spirit and truth (Jno. 4:23-24).
12 When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? 13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. 14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. (Isaiah 1:12–15, NKJV)
Acts of worship do not conceal evil hearts and sinful conduct from the eyes of God. God took no pleasure in the many sacrifices Israel offered Him (Isa. 1:10-11). Her heart was far from God; her hands were full of death (Isa. 29:13). Even when Israel offered sacrifices and observed days taught in God’s law, He refused them. This shows contempt for God and for His holy worship. True worship must combine a pure heart of reverent honor for God with the acts of worship God’s word approves. This is worship “in spirit and truth.” This is the worshiper God continues to seek (Jno. 4:23-24).
By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. (Hebrews 11:4, NKJV)
Vital teaching is given here on the nature of faith and worship that is “by faith.” First, we learn what is evident from Cain and Abel; not all worship pleases God (Gen. 4:4-5). Why? Because not all worship is “by faith.” Faith results from hearing God’s word and following it (Rom. 10:17). Abel did that, but Cain did not. Like Abel, we must hear and follow God’s word concerning acceptable worship. Otherwise, we follow Cain’s path of worthless, faithless worship. Second, God testified Abel was righteous based on his gifts. God said Abel’s “by faith” worship pleased Him (cf. Heb. 11:6). The question for us is, “Who is bearing witness that our worship is by faith and pleasing to God?” We can rule out our personal feelings. Cain felt his worship was good (see his angry reaction, Gen. 4:5). Acceptable worship is not defined by how a person feels about it, or by how he feels when he offers it. Billions of souls feel their worship pleases God, yet that does not make it so (Prov. 14:12). God’s word testifies that worship in spirit and truth is “by faith” (Jno. 4:23-24). All other worship, by definition, is not by faith. What is God testifying about the gifts we bring Him? Are they “by faith,” or are they faithless?