Worship today is often misunderstood as an experience. But Biblical worship is not just an experience that happens to us, it is also an attitude that comes from us. As with any Biblical truth, there are those who have fallen far from the truth on both sides of the truth.
On one side are those who “worship” through an emotional experience that many would agree identifies more with the world than it does with God. On the other side are those who “worship” stoically, perhaps out of a pure desire to separate from the world. But when we examine the Bible, a lot of our paradigms of what is right and wrong don’t match what Jesus taught or showed (no matter what side of the truth you find yourself on).
In Luke chapter seven, a Pharisee asks Jesus to come and have dinner. His motivates are unknown, so we can’t judge them. More than likely he either was truly curious about Jesus and wanted to get to know Him, or he was judgmental of Jesus and wanted to try and trap Him. Knowing what we know of the Pharisees, and reading what we read in the rest of the story, it would be safe to assume the latter. Regardless, what happens during their meal radically shakes to the very core everything I thought I understood about worship. Jesus and the Pharisee, whose name was Simon, are eating – probably relaxing on cushions next to a low table in typical Middle Eastern custom. Suddenly, a woman comes in. Women in general were not a respected part of Jewish culture, but this woman was especially worthless to them. She was a “sinner” – possibly a reference to her being a prostitute. How out of place she would have seemed, walking through the door into a crowd of the most religious sect in the entire country! But without a second thought, this woman bravely marched into that environment and blew everyone’s spirituality away with what she did next. She came carrying an expensive box of what the Bible describes as Alabaster – a beautiful, expensive perfume. As she stood before her Master and Savior, the love in her heart came flowing out of her eyes as she began to weep. She stooped down and did something culturally taboo – she let down her hair. As the tears flowed from her face, she bent over and began like a slave to wash the feet of Jesus, using her hair, her tears, and her perfume to do so. Her love for Jesus was completely evident in her actions – real worship that was passionate, expressive, and selfless. She didn’t care what it cost her, she didn’t care what other people thought, she just loved Jesus.
You would think when Simon saw this, he would have been ashamed at his lack of worship towards God. Here he was, supposedly the most righteous of all men, and yet this prostitute was worshipping better than he was. But Pharisees can only see the world through their lens, and instead of being convicted he began to condemn the woman. “Well if Jesus was ACTUALLY spiritual, He would know this woman is filthy and He wouldn’t let her touch Him!” he thought. (Pharisees are all about the external).
Jesus read Simon’s mind. And Jesus wanted to teach Simon a lesson. He began to tell Simon a story, and no doubt Simon became uncomfortable as the story uncannily confronted the unexpressed thoughts in his mind. Two people both owed the same man money, but one of those people owed much more than the other. “If both of their debts are abolished and forgotten by the creditor, which man will love him more?” Jesus asked Simon. Simon answered correctly – “The person who was forgiven most will love most.” Then Jesus nailed Simon with the moral of the story. Simon had done nothing for Jesus when Jesus came in. Simon hadn’t done even the minimal cultural traditions of caring for a guest. But this woman had gone above and beyond, with no regard to what tradition dictated or what people expected. What was her motive? Love. And why did she love? Because she had been forgiven. Here was Simon, a stoic, arrogant, self-righteous, religious professional unjustly condemning a sincere worshipper for one simple reason – Simon thought he was better than everyone else, and as a result had never experienced Christ’s forgiveness.
This is only one example of worship in the Bible, there are many others. We can’t pull our entire doctrinal practice of worship from one passage. But I do know this – truly forgiven people aren’t afraid to show it, regardless of cost, consequences, or culture. Unfortunately, I’ve met a lot of Pharisees who care more about governing worship than they do about giving worship. They prefer to sit back stoically and judge the sincerity of others rather than let the power of Christ’s love and forgiveness impact them emotionally. No doubt that sentence can be misconstrued to license fleshly actions, and that would also compromise true worship.
But ask yourself – are you a worship giver or a worship governor? Is your worship defined by expectations and traditions, or is it motivated by love? Is it expressive and real, or is it stifled and trite? Do we love Jesus enough to (heaven forbid) crack a smile while we sing His praise? Let a tear roll down our cheek as we think on His grace? Raise a hand in gratitude for His sacrifice? If not, then I wonder – do we truly understand and appreciate His forgiveness?
May all of our lives be lived to worship Christ to the best of our ability in the way HE tells us to rather than lived self-righteously and judgmentally the way WE think we ought to.