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A Life of Worship

We can worship God with our lips, but our true devotion to Him is our entire lives.

In Christianity, worshipping God generally entails attending church services, listening to sermons, reading the Bible, singing, dancing, praying, meditating, and so on. For centuries, people have paid their respects to God in various ways, and for some, this may be the extent of their understanding of what worship is. While all these practices are part of demonstrating our devotion to God, the earliest Christians (prior to 325 AD) understood worship prophetically: being that the true worship we offer God is our life

The Law  

In ancient Hebrew times it was customary for the worship of God to be done in specific holy places (the temple), using what would have been considered holy artefacts (such as altars), performed by holy men (priests or prophets), on certain feast (festival) days (1). All these instructions pertaining to worship are found in the Law. However, what the Hebrews did not understand at the time, was that the whole Law was meant to be understood and practised spiritually, or with prophetic understanding. Regarding this, Origen, a second-third century church father stated:

Then, finally, that the Scriptures were written by the Spirit of God, and have a meaning, not such only as is apparent at first sight, but also another, which escapes the notice of most. For those (words) which are written are the forms of certain mysteries, and the images of divine things. Respecting which there is one opinion throughout the whole Church, that the whole law is indeed spiritual; but that the spiritual meaning which the law conveys is not known to all, but to those only on whom the grace of the Holy Spirit is bestowed in the word of wisdom and knowledge. (2)

Spiritual understanding

Origen, who was acutely learned in scripture, emphasises that there is a deeper, spiritual understanding of the Law that can only be comprehended through the Holy Spirit, who reveals the “deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10). According to Strong’s bible dictionary, the deep things of God are His mysteries (3), which are hidden in scripture, only revealed to the righteous (4). We read in the book of Isaiah of God’s disapproval of the type of worship His people were offering Him, as it was not understood prophetically (they did not understand the deeper meaning). Through the Prophet Isaiah, God rebukes Judah for their rebellion and abominable worship:

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.

Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.

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.

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil,

Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:13-17, emphasis added)

Sacrifices, incense, and participation in the feast days were all being performed in worship to God; however, these were detestable and wearisome to Him. This is because, according to the apostle Paul, “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Rather, we are to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1). God was never looking to be worshipped by natural means of sacrifice, incense, or feast days, rather He gave us these natural Laws so that we can understand prophetically what it means to worship Him with our lives.

Honouring God

Concerning this, in his Stromata, Clement (of the second-third century) writes:

Now we are commanded to reverence and to honour the same one, being persuaded that He is Word, Saviour, and Leader, and by Him, the Father, not on special days, as some others, but doing this continually in our whole life, and in every way. Certainly the elect race justified by the precept says, “Seven times a day have I praised Thee.” (Psa_119:164) Whence not in a specified place, or selected temple, or at certain festivals and on appointed days, but during his whole life, the Gnostic in every place, even if he be alone by himself, and wherever he has any of those who have exercised the like faith, honours God, that is, acknowledges his gratitude for the knowledge of the way to live. (5)

Clement articulates that we honour God with our whole lives, not just on particular days or in specific places. Even alone, we honour God through living rightly (according to His Word). It is important to note here, that the word Law in Hebrew is Torah, and refers to the direction one is to take in life (6). Thus, the Law, when understood prophetically, provides us the way we are to live; and therefore, we worship God having the correct understanding of His Word, and living according to it.

In the same vein as Clement, Origen states:

The honor that we pay to the Son of God, as well as that which we render to God the Father, consists of an upright course of life. This is plainly taught us by the passage, “You that boast of the Law, through breaking the Law dishonor God.” . . . For if he who transgresses the law dishonors God by his transgression, . . . it is evident that he who keeps the law honors God. So the worshipper of God is he whose life is regulated by the principles and teachings of the Divine Word. (7)

As we read previously from Origen, according to the early church, the divine Word is the mystery of God’s Word that is revealed to those who seek to understand it (Proverbs 25:2; Matthew 13:11). Origen states that we worship God by having an upright course of life, which can only be obtained through understanding the Law prophetically. This is why Paul stated that even the physically uncircumcised man can be righteous, if he keeps the requirements of the law spiritually (Romans 2:25-26). In these times the law of circumcision was in effect, however it was practised physically, without the prophetic understanding. We encourage you to explore this topic further (hint: Romans 2:28-29).

Spirit and truth 

In the Gospel of John we read of Jesus explaining to the Samaritan woman that worship to God would not be limited to a particular city or place, but rather in spirit and truth. Jesus states, 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. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24). Tertullian (of the second-third century) comments on this in his Ethical Treaties: 

For this is the spiritual victim (1Pe_2:5) which has abolished the pristine sacrifices. “To what purpose,” saith He, “(bring ye) me the multitude of your sacrifices? I am full of holocausts of rams, and I desire not the fat of rams, and the blood of bulls and of goats. For who hath required these from your hands?” (Isaiah 1:11, LXX) What, then, God has required the Gospel teaches. “An hour will come,” saith He, “when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and truth. For God is a Spirit, and accordingly requires His adorers to be such.” (Joh_4:23-24) We are the true adorers and the true priests, who, praying in spirit, (1Co_14:15; Eph_6:18) sacrifice, in spirit, prayer, – a victim proper and acceptable to God, which assuredly He has required, which He has looked forward to for Himself! This victim, devoted from the whole heart, fed on faith, tended by truth, entire in innocence, pure in chastity, garlanded with love, we ought to escort with the pomp of good works, amid psalms and hymns, unto God’s altar, to obtain for us all things from God. (8)

Echoing Clement and Origen, we read Tertullian highlighting the ineffectiveness of performing natural sacrifices. Rather, the true sacrifice we offer to God (being the spiritual victim) are our spiritual sacrifices, which is our heart being tended with truth, in turn making us pure in our life. 


The true worshipper of God understands His Word prophetically, and thus his life will follow in step. In the words of the apostle Paul, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” (1 Corinthians 14:15). Now, maybe we see all this as irrelevant, because we do not worship in the ways the Hebrews once did, offering sacrifices and so forth. However, we must inspect our hearts and ask ourselves, do we only worship God on a Sunday at Church? Or at our bible studies? Or in certain places and in certain times. Or is our whole life our dedication to God, being a sweet-smelling aroma to Him always? (2 Corinthians 2:15). To God be the glory.

References:

  1. Watts, J., 1958. Elements of Old Testament Worship. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, XXVI (3).
  2. Origen, De Principiis (First Principles), Part 8
  3. Strong’s Hebrew and Greek definitions: ‘Deep things’ (G899)
  4. Thayer’s Greek definitions: ‘Mystery’ (G3466)
  5. Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Chap. VII [emphasis added]
  6. Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible: ‘Law’ (H8451)
  7. Origen, Bercot, David W., editor. Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (p. 699). Hendrickson Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  8. Tertullian, Part Third Ethical Treaties, Chap. I

All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010.