God’s Plan for Worship

Family in Church

‘Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in 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 an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth’” (John 4:20-24).

In this chapter, Jesus spoke with a Samaritan woman by a well. The discussion covered several topics, one of which was the issue of worship. After she “perceived” Jesus to be “a prophet” (John 4:19), she brought up a question about worship. In Jesus’ answer, He explained to her some basic principles about worship. These instructions are helpful for us as well.

In this article, we are going to look at what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman and what He teaches about God’s plan for worship. There are four basic points we can take from His instruction on this occasion.

The Worship PLACE

‘Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father’” (John 4:20-21).

The Samaritan woman’s initial question was about the place of worship. The Jews worshiped in Jerusalem, the Samaritans at Mount Gerizim (“this mountain”). Which was right?

Jesus explained that neither place would be the designated place of worship. Paul also stated this principle when he spoke to the Greek philosophers in Athens: “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). The apostle told the church in Corinth, “You are a temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16). In context, he was referring to the local church being this temple.

Even though there is no designated place of worship, assembling is important. From the time when the church was established, togetherness was emphasized (Acts 2:44-46; 20:7; et al.).* The Hebrew writer made it clear that assembling with others was to be a priority, rather than having the “habit” of “forsaking our own assembling together” (Hebrews 10:25). No specific place or type of location is mandated in the New Testament for our worship, but assembling together is. This implies a place for worship of some kind.

Worship with KNOWLEDGE

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).

After addressing the place of worship for the Jews and Samaritans, Jesus brought up another point. In worshiping God, the Jews worshiped what they knew and the Samaritans did not. In other words, the Samaritans did not properly understand God.

Part of Jeremiah’s prophecy about the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) indicated that those under it would not need to be taught about God: “‘They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:34). Under the old covenant, the Jews were part of God’s people by nature of birth – they were born into this covenant relationship. Under the new covenant, people would be “born again” to become part of God’s people (John 3:3, 5). Therefore, when Christians come together for worship, we necessarily do so with the knowledge and understanding of who God is and why we are to worship and serve Him.

However, the assembly of the church in which worship would be offered would not be closed to everyone except those who already knew God and were part of His people. In Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth about their assemblies, he explained that these gatherings would still be open to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:24). However, even then, there would be an emphasis on God and making Him known (1 Corinthians 14:25). Therefore, worship necessarily requires worshipers to have a knowledge of God.

Worship in SPIRIT

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit…” (John 4:24).

Jesus indicated that for worship to be pleasing to God, it must be offered “in spirit.” This refers to our inner being. The word is defined in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon as “the power by which a human being feels, thinks, wills, decides.”

In order to worship in a way that pleases God, we must have the proper attitude. This will include the following:

  • We recognize that God is worthy of our worship – Throughout Psalm 100, the psalmist gave reasons why God is worthy of worship – He is God, He created us, He leads us, He is good, and He is faithful (Psalm 100:1-5). Paul explained that the Lord is our Creator, sustainer, and Savior (Colossians 1:13-17). This makes Him worthy to be praised.
  • We come before Him with reverence – The Hebrew writer said that we are to “offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). When we recognize who God is and what our place is before Him (cf. Psalm 8:3-4), we ought to display an attitude of reverence and respect when we approach Him.
  • We assemble with gladness – The psalmist expressed the attitude we need to have as we consider opportunities we have to assemble with others to worship God: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1). We are not to be of the attitude of the Jews in Malachi’s day who viewed worship as a chore that was “tiresome” to them (Malachi 1:13). Instead, we are to recognize how fortunate we are to be able to worship God. This should cause us to look forward to opportunities to worship rather than grudgingly assembling out of necessity.

Worship is not to be something we do just because we have to do it. We must have the attitude that we want to come together to worship God because we recognize that He is worthy of our worship.

Worship in TRUTH

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in…truth” (John 4:24).

To follow truth means we are following an objective standard. God’s word is truth (John 17:17), so to worship Him in truth is to worship Him according to His word and the instructions that are contained in it. Heart-felt worship is good [see previous point], but it must also be what God has instructed.

Therefore, to worship God in truth, we need to look to His word to see what actions are to be included in our worship. We can determine this by seeing what the church of the New Testament did under the direction of the Lord’s apostles. The New Testament describes the church being engaged in the following “acts” of worship:

  • Singing – Paul instructed the church in Ephesus to “[speak] to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). While this passage is not limited to the assembly of the local church, it does include it. Singing was done when the church assembled (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:15, 26). It is the act through which we praise God together and encourage one another.
  • Praying – Assemblies in the first century also included prayer (1 Corinthians 14:15). When Peter and John were released after their arrest for preaching the gospel, they immediately went to their brethren and they “lifted their voices to God with one accord” and offered a prayer to Him. Through prayer we make petitions to God. Doing this together reflects a common purpose.
  • Preaching/teaching – When the church in Troas “gathered together,” Paul delivered a message to them (Acts 20:7). Later in the same chapter, he met with the elders of the church in Ephesus and described the teaching that he did among them (Acts 20:20, 31). The church is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) and one of the ways in which a congregation proclaims the word of God is through the teaching and preaching done in the assemblies of the church.
  • Giving – Paul instructed the church in Corinth about a practice he directed others to do as well. They were to give “on the first day of every week” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). The funds that are collected can then be used by the church to do its work. Therefore, through this act of giving, we have fellowship with one another in a common work.
  • Lord’s Supper – This was another activity the church did when then “gathered together” (Acts 20:7). It is a memorial of the death of Jesus that is carried out according to the Lord’s instructions which He gave when He instituted the practice (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; cf. Matthew 26:26-28). The New Testament never describes this as something done by individuals on their own or by Christians outside of the assembly of the church. Instead, this memorial is observed when the congregation comes together (1 Corinthians 11:33).

In order to worship God in truth, we need to pattern our worship after what we find in the New Testament rather than according to the customary practices among religious groups today.


God is seeking for people to be His worshipers (John 4:23), but we must worship Him in His way. Rather than doing things our way in our worship, we need to worship Him “in spirit and truth.


* For more on this point, see the article, The Church Gathered Together.

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