In his 2012 update to his 1983 classic, John MacArthur seeks to convince us what life is all about: Worship – The Ultimate Priority. Published for the 30th straight year by Moody Press, the book is chock full of biblical truth in 211 pages.
The blurb by the publisher says:
“Worship is so much more than what is sung or played in church on Sunday morning. John MacArthur takes you step by step in a discovery of who and how to worship. From the existence of God and His attributes, to instruction on the right and wrong ways to worship God, MacArthur never strays from teaching and explaining what the Bible says. This book makes it Biblically clear that worship is all about how we prioritize and live our daily lives to honor and glorify God. Make worship your ultimate priority!”
It has been many years since I first read this book, and it was a great reread. Pastor MacArthur divides the book into 15 chapters (and an appendix). I have divided the book into 4 segments. Overall this is a theology of worship, and it drives to the goal of helping us understand what it means to worship in spirit and in truth. The book weaves the normative Bible passage of worship – John 4 – throughout. The insights into this passage are fascinating. In relating Samaritan worship to some contemporary religions he writes:
“Pagan religions consist of nothing but fleshly ritual. The fact that such ceremonies are often beautiful and moving do not make them true worship” (p. 40).
The first section comprises 4 chapters wherein he describes the crisis facing the church as it regards the confusing popular definition of “worship” and what goes on during the Sunday morning meeting. He teaches what worship is and who is qualified to worship. In this section, I felt like I was reading this book for the first time when I read chapter two – and then I realized that this chapter was an addition to the edition – and a welcomed one. I had considered the regulatory principle only briefly in seminary, and sporadically since then in blog mentions. Although I prescribe to a pretty tight regulatory principle in the churches I’ve led, the senior pastors that I’ve served under did not. This created some tension and ended up making the worship service weak. What Dr. MacArthur brought to my attention was the connection between the regulatory principle and sola scriptura. Chapter 3 focuses on “acceptable worship,” which is based on praising God, doing good, and sharing with others.
The second segment of the book is a theology of God which undergirds why He alone is to be the focus of our worship. Our God can be known, and He has made Himself known to us as Creator, a Person, One, a Spirit, a Trinity, unchanging, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnisapient, and holy. Here MacArthur explains the Gospel and why is it so hard for us to rightly worship God. Some cannot worship at all because they have not repented of sin and sought refuge in the only God. Throughout the book, but notably in this section the theme of life-as-worship appears which clarifies worship as a lifestyle, and not just a Sunday event. In this section there are some moments when the following questions are addressed: “Does God change His mind,” and “If God is omniscient, why do we pray”. What I found helpful was Pastor MacArthur’s applications of the big theological truths of scripture. If you’ve ever wondered just how many ways omnipresence, omnipotence, holiness, and omniscience apply to your life, you will be pleased when you read this section of the book.
The third section teaches us how to be a worshiper of Jesus Christ. A New Era has been ushered in by the Messiah’s work on the cross, and that New Covenant changed everything. God relocated where worship occurred. Whereas it formerly happened in Jerusalem under the law, now, in Christ we worship anywhere because believers are the temple (both individually and corporately) of the Holy Spirit. We are encouraged and expected to worship with enthusiasm prompted by biblical truth of God’s greatness. To avoid vapid emotionalism on one extreme, and dull, stilted formalism on the other, we need to meditate on truth. To that end, our worship services need to have truth brought to bear in preaching so that our minds are full of the good things of God. This also affects the lyrics of our music, and the words of our prayers so that they are solidly biblical. And we must also sing and pray with vigor – with head and heart.
The fourth section drives home the message that worship is giving glory to God. If you have never thought deeply about the glory of God, this is a section to read. As MacArthur traces the glory of God through both testaments and makes logical connections between how we live and how we worship in our churches, my “glory” IQ went up substantially.
The appendix takes a few pages to address music in today’s church. The reader will be challenged because we all seem to love at least one hymn, gospel song, praise chorus, or contemporary worship song that has weak, pointless, unbiblical, sub-biblical or possibly even anti-biblical lyrics.
Throughout the book, I tried to capture the definitions of worship:
“[W]orship is honor and adoration directed to God” (p. 43).
“Worship is ascribing to God His worth, or stating and affirming His supreme value” (p. 44).
“…it’s distilled essence is simply thanksgiving and praise” (p. 46).
“[W]orship is our innermost being responding with praise for all that God is, through our attitudes, actions, thoughts, and words, based on the truth of God as He has revealed Himself” (p. 165).
If you are looking for a book to give you a handle on worship, I can think of none better. The sheer volume of Scripture that Pastor MacArthur cites makes this book almost devotional. I highly recommend this book.