Worship from the Heart (part 3)

Volume 14, No. 8 (August 2019)

The Principle at Work

New Testament Examples

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:21-22,27-28)

“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matthew 15:8-9)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:25-28)

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He answered them well, asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to Him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that He is one, and there is no other besides Him. And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:28-34)

Usually in the gospels the Jewish leaders posed questions to Jesus in order to trap, embarrass or ridicule Him (e.g., Matthew 16:1; 19:3; 22:15; Mark 10:2; 12:13; Luke 11:53). But this scribe is different. Remarkably, he affirms Jesus’ answer to His question, and in fact expands on it himself. Even more remarkably, Jesus tells him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Undoubtedly this is because Jesus can tell from the scribe’s words that he sees things as God Himself sees them, with His priorities!

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and He saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. (Luke 21:1-3)

It was her heart of gratitude and generosity that made her gift more than others’ large sums. God didn’t need the gift; He was looking for a heart of worship.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24)

Because “God is spirit” (4:24)— that is, not a physical being but a spiritual one—then our worship must likewise begin in the inner, immaterial part of our being: it must be genuine, from the heart.

Probably Jesus had the Jewish leaders in mind when He insisted on “worship in spirit” (even as He likely had the theologically wayward Samaritans in view as He advocated “worship in truth”). Jesus, like His Father, has no tolerance for worship which is external only, no matter how carefully and painstakingly performed.

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son…” (Romans 1:9)

Paul’s ministry began on the inside!

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. (Romans 2:2:28-29)

God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

We hear that verse so often we can become jaded to it and not take the time to think about what it means. . . . The term cheerful describes the disposition of the heart, the attitude of the soul in the giving of the gift.” (R. C. Sproul, A Taste of Heaven: Worship in the Light of Eternity, 28-29)

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. (Ephesians 5:18-19)

Spirit-filled song begins in the heart before it ever makes it way to our lips!

You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)

Our sacrifices are inward ones of praise (cf. Hebrews 13:15)


Music and liturgy can assist or express a worshiping heart, but they cannot make a non-worshiping heart into a worshiping one. The danger is that they can give a non-worshiping heart the sense of having worshiped. So the crucial factor in worship in the church is not the form of worship, but the state of the hearts of the saints. If our corporate worship isn’t the expression of our individual worshiping lives, it is unacceptable. (John MacArthur, The Ultimate Priority, 104)

Don Carson gives us a helpful perspective on the different outworkings of heart worship under the two covenants:

The way wholly loving God works out under the old covenant is in heartfelt obedience to the terms of that covenant, and that includes the primary place given to the cultus [sacrificial system]; and the implications of this outworking include distinctions between the holy and the common, between holy space and common space, between holy time and common time, between holy food and common food.

The way wholly loving God works out under the new covenant is in heartfelt obedience to the terms of that covenant; and here the language of the cultus has been transmuted to all of life, with the implication, not so much of a desacralization of space and time and food, as with a sacralization of all space and all time and all food. (Don Carson, Worship by the Book, 40)

In other words, it is not that there are no longer any holy times or places; but rather that every time and place is now holy! (“Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God,” 1 Corinthians 10:31.)

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