The woman said to [Jesus], “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 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, shall you worship the Father….But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall 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 4:19-24).
These words from the lips of Jesus lay the foundation for our understanding of the most important aspects of worship. He spoke of “true worshippers” and described their qualifications. This indicates that there are people who are worshippers but not true worshippers. They may think they are worshiping God but they really aren’t because they aren’t meeting His requirements.
Jesus declared what characterizes true worshippers—they worship “in spirit and truth.” Thus it could be said that false worshippers are those who worship “in flesh and falseness.” Fleshly, false worshippers may go though the motions of worship, but it is all a show, as it does not stem from a heart that loves God.
True worship of God can only come from a heart that loves God. Worship, therefore, is not just something we do when the church gathers, but something we do every moment of our lives as we obey Christ’s commandments. Amazingly, the woman Jesus with whom was speaking had been married five times and was now living with a man, and she wanted to debate about the proper location to worship God! How representative she is of so many religious people who attend worship services while living daily lives that are in rebellion to God. They are not true worshippers.
Jesus once rebuked the Pharisees and scribes for their false and heartless worship:
You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me . But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt. 15:7-9, emphasis added).
Although the Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ day obviously placed great emphasis on the location where people worshiped, Jesus said that the location was unimportant. Rather, it is the condition of each person’s heart and his attitude toward God that determines the quality of his worship.
Much of what is called “worship” in churches today is nothing more than dead ritual acted out by dead worshipers. People are mindlessly parroting someone else’s words about God as they sing “worship songs,” and their worship is in vain, because their lifestyles betray what is really in their hearts.
God would rather hear a simple, heart-felt “I love You” from one of His true obedient children than endure the heartless droning of a thousand Sunday-morning Christians singing “How Great Thou Art.”