"Ye Worship Ye Know Not What"


     The prevailing notion that "worship" to God is unqualified and without condition is absolutely without biblical foundation. Also, not only is the premise without foundation, but it stands diametrically opposed to what the Bible actually teaches about worship. Man often confuses who has the authority to define acceptable worship and the conditions of worship. Be it known that man has no such prerogative. God is the object, if you will, and only God has the right to state the type of worship He desires and demands.

     The caption of our study, "Ye worship ye know not what" was stated by Jesus to the woman from Samaria (John 4: 22). The woman was a worshipping woman, yet, Jesus essentially told her that her worship was in vain. She worshipped, but knew not what. Notice the full statement made by Jesus:

     "22: Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 23: But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24: God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4).

     Before we progress in our study of "Ye Worship Ye Know Not What," consider the act of worship:

     There are three nouns and five verbs translated worship in the Greek New Testament. Mr. W. E. Vine sums up the conclusion to "worship," "…broadly it ("worship," dm) may be regarded as the direct acknowledgement to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deed done in such acknowledgment" (Expository dictionary of New Testament Words). The Bible speaks of "ignorant worship" (Acts 17: 23, KJV). The Athenians were ignorantly worshipping the God of heaven (Acts 17: 16-23). They had one idol, included in their pantheon, with the inscription "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD" (Acts 17: 23). God was unknown to them because they had rejected a knowledge of him (Rom. 1: 22-25). As a result, their worship was not accepted (Acts 17: 23-31). We also read of "vain worship" (Matt. 15: 9). Vain worship was and is worshipping God "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15: 9). Ignorant and vain worship are condemned (Matt. 15: 1-9

     Worship, I submit, is adoration and acquiesces to God. One verb, proskuneo, means obeisance. It is a compound word, made up of pros, towards, and kuneo, to kiss. Sebomai, another of the five verbs, especially suggests the act of revering or a feeling of awe. Thus, the worshipper must approach God worshipfully and willing, as it were, to prostrate himself before the august presence of God. Answered prayer is contingent upon being a worshipper of God and doing His will (John 9: 31).

     Let us now return to Jesus, the Samaritan woman, and her situation. The celebrated commentator Albert Barnes comments thusly on John 4: 22:

     "Ye worship ye know not what - This probably refers to the comparative ignorance and corruption of the Samaritan worship. Though they received the five books of Moses, yet they rejected the prophets, and of course all that the prophets had said respecting the true God. Originally, also, they had joined the worship of idols to that of the true God. See 2 Kings 17:26-34. They had, moreover, no authority for building their temple and conducting public worship by sacrifices there. On all these accounts they were acting in an unauthorized manner. They were not obeying the true God, nor offering the worship which he had commanded or would approve. Thus, Jesus indirectly settled the question which she had proposed to him, yet in such a way as to show her that it was of much less importance than she had supposed."

     Worship incorrectly directed, whether ignorantly or willfully, is not a new problem. Idolatry was a major problem in one of the most learned and celebrated cities of the world in Bible days, as we earlier saw. Paul said, "…the whole city (Athens, dm) was given to idolatry" (Acts 17: 16).

     Idolatry necessarily implies an object or pantheon of the worship and an associated set of beliefs. The fact is, every false system of worship has its own god. This is true whether it be Hinduism or Islam or modern day denominationalism. I am aware that the just made statement is both strong and one that will illicit much disagreement. However, just stop and think about the statement. Some of the darkest and most benighted worship systems the world has know, some involving self mutilation and even child sacrifice have a conceptualized object or deity as well as a protocol of worship of the object, albeit totally foreign to the Bible. Now, seriously consider some of our man-made religions: There is the object or deity and the protocol for worship. The respective practitioners may be dedicated; however, their worship is wrong, just as in the case of the woman from Samaria.

     These religions may even refer to their object of worship as "God" or "Jesus" and speak of such Bible words as "salvation" and "grace," their views, concepts, and definitions are removed from those found in the Bible.

     When they speak of "God," they refer to an ill defined being who accepts any and everything, and one who sponsors confusion, and arbitrarily "saves" (cp. Heb. 5: 8, 9, I Cor. 14: 33, 40). When they use the word "grace," they mean some condition that denudes man of any responsibility and tells man to, "…sit back and do nothing, Jesus did it all on the cross." Put another way, "The way a man lives has nothing whatsoever to do with the securing of his salvation or the maintaining of salvation" (cp. Phili. 2: 12).

     The Bible reveals God, his nature and will. The Bible presents God as "love" (I John 4: 16, 3: 16). He is both provident and provisional. The same Book tells us that God demands man’s obedience (Heb. 5: 8). In the matter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, Jesus later explained that man must worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4: 24).

     The Samaritan woman may have been dedicated to her worship and her idea of God, but she was wrong in both her concept of God and also pertaining to the will of God. As a consequence, Jesus said, "…ye know not what ye worship." Also, her manner of life was not in keeping with the will of the true God (cp. John 4: 16-19). Again, I reiterate: The teaching that "…just as long as one worships, it matters not the way one worships" is patently false.

     Alas, America today is becoming more comparable to idolatrous Athens, wholly given to idolatry and false gods. Religion continues to flourish and multiply, but Christianity is becoming increasingly sparse. People continue to speak of "God," but of whom do they really speak? All types of preachers can be seen and heard on television, teaching all manner of contradictory plans of salvation and presenting a plethora of worship acts, but, frankly, I am afraid Jesus would also say to them, "…ye know not what ye worship."

     Notwithstanding what we have observed and deduced from John 4, many persist in saying, "I just do not agree with you!" I would invite these people to be specific. Do they disagree with the statement, "…ye know not what ye worship" in the context of false religion? If so, it is not I with whom they disagree, but the Son of God himself. Is it that they do not agree with my application today of Jesus’ words? If a religion is false today and the object of worship of that religion being correspondingly spurious, how can Jesus’ words, "…ye know not what ye worship" not apply? Again, it is not really I with whom they disagree, but Jesus the Master Teacher.

     It seems that a hard lesson learned by man is that Jesus has "all authority" in religion and man has none (Matt. 28:18). Jesus’ words are spirit and life (John 6: 63). Moreover, Jesus’ words shall judge us in the last day (John 12: 48). It is, indeed, sad and with great consequence that man disagrees with Jesus!

     Another condemned and idolatrous object of worship is "will worship" (Col. 2: 23). Will worship is when one is so focused on his own will that he worships it or puts it above all else, even God. Paul wrote of some "…whose god is their belly" (Phili. 3: 19). Hence, the object of their worship was their own selfish interests and appetites.

     It should not be a surprise that not a few disagreed with Jesus while Jesus walked the earth and spoke the will of his Father. Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount was given with false religionists and false religion as its target (Matt. 5, 6, 7). Jesus denounced the false religion so common when he lived on earth and condemned in the strongest of terms the promoters of pseudo religion (Mark 14, Matt. 23). Hence, Jesus’ actions and responses to false religion circumstances were congruous with his teaching "ye know not what ye worship."

     Relative to the Sermon on the Mount, in a familiar and often quoted passage, Jesus taught the must of worshipping and serving God according to God’s directives. Jesus presents this ideal under the building on the rock versus building on the sand illustration. Consider Jesus’ words and the emphasis he places on "doing the will of the Father."

     "21: Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22: Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23: And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. 24: Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 25: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. 26: And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: 27: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. 28: And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: 29: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matt. 7).

     It is regrettable that there are so many who are misrepresenting the will of God in the matter of worship. When we realize the nature of true worship and how truth is an important component or element in acceptable worship and how the Samaritan concept of worship was inconsistent with the scriptures, just as much of the worship today, it is much easier to accept Jesus’ statement to the woman from Samaria, "…ye worship ye know not what…."