Formations 11.06.2016: What Is God Worth?

Revelation 4

In 1939, Watchman Nee, a prominent member of the Chinese house-church movement, gave an address on the topic of “Waste.” In discussing the story of Mary’s anointing of Jesus, he explains,

What is waste? Waste simply means giving too much. If a shilling will do and you give a pound, it is waste. If two ounces will do and you give a kilogramme, it is a waste. A waste means that you give something too much for something too little. A waste means that the one who is receiving the something is not worth so much.

Waste is all a matter of what something—or someone, or Someone—is worth. And worth, as you’ve probably heard somewhere along the way, is the basis of our English word “worship.” When we worship God, we’re expressing how much we think God is worth.

St. Margaret’s Church, Lewknor, UK.

St. Margaret’s Church, Lewknor, UK.

So how much is God worth? When we gather for worship, will lackluster singing do? Would joyful, exuberant song be too over-the-top? Should we bring our whole selves to worship—thoughts, questions, fears, doubts, victories, and joys—or should we leave some of who we are back at home? Should we engage our bodies and all of our senses in worship, or is it enough just to sit and listen?

Seriously, how much is God worth? Was it too much when Mary broke open her vial of perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet? Was it too much when the wise men brought their gold, frankincense, and myrrh? When Isaiah said, “Here am I, send me”? When Paul said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”? When the elders in heaven cast off their crowns? Was all that worth it, or did those men and women give too much?

Revelation 4 is one of those texts that help us keep our focus on what matters most. In that chapter, John’s vision proceeds to the heavenly throne room and the worship God receives there. The imagery is odd and perhaps startling, with remarkable sights, fearsome noises, and unusual creatures. In the midst of this amazing panorama, God is praised for God’s holiness and worthiness to receive the praise of all creation.

Watchman Nee, “Waste,” Toward the Mark 1/5 (Sep–Oct 1972) 83–85 <>.

• What elements of corporate worship most often point you in a Godward direction?
• When has something different in the service enhanced your ability to worship?
• What components of worship are described in this passage?
• Why is God worthy of our worship?
• How does the worship in heaven engage the senses? What might that say for the way Christians ought to worship on earth?

Reference Shelf

Worship and Hope

The NT clearly records the birth of Christian worship from the womb of Jewish faith and expression. Christianity maintained much of what had been developed in the evolution of Israelite worship and its modification in the synagogues which arose during the exile. The major distinguishing feature of early Christian worship was celebration of the coming of the long anticipated Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Christian worship is structured around promise and fulfillment. The OT promises which were fulfilled in Christ warrant Christian hope that the promises as yet unrealized will be fulfilled.

Raymond Bailey, “Worship in the New Testament,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 971.

The Importance of Worship

No other work in the canon has such a strong emphasis on the transcendence of God. To experience John’s Apocalypse is to be brought in touch with the awesome majesty and mystery of the God of the universe. God is holy, the four living creatures remind us, as they sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the one seated on the throne. Like the prophet Isaiah, John declares the radical otherness of God. God is distinct from creation.

This emphasis on the transcendence of God is evident in the liturgical sections that undergird the entire Apocalypse. For John, the community of faith is a worshiping community. Worship is not an option or an addendum to the Christian life. Worship is at the heart of the people of God. John’s vision of the heavenly throne room is a worship setting. The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures offer prayers and words of praise to God day and night without ceasing. It is from within this worship setting that the majority of the book takes place. The visions of chapters 4–22 all originate from the throne room of God, while in the background the four living creatures and twenty-four elders continue their worship in song and adoration. They provide a never-ending heavenly chorus of praise that quietly sustains the movement of the Apocalypse, but that occasionally breaks forth in the book in an extended “Hallelujah.” It is no wonder that the lofty and inspiring music of Handel’s Messiah, and especially his “Hallelujah Chorus,” derives its text from the book of Revelation. Because John, like other apocalyptic writers, sees the events in heaven as models of earthly realities, the heavenly worship serves as a paradigm for the earthly worship of God.

The church is sometimes tempted to downplay the importance of worship, perhaps not explicitly, but implicitly in a variety of ways. Worship is demoted when little time is spent on careful planning of the church’s worship gatherings. Quality corporate worship seldom happens by itself. It requires serious planning and coordination by the individuals who lead the congregation in worship. Worship is devalued when the focus of the service is not on God. Although an important part of being the body of Christ is the shared community with other believers, the focus in worship should not be on the participants, but on the praise and adoration of God. Note the wonderful hymnic sections throughout the book of Revelation. They all direct one’s gaze and one’s adoration to God. The hymns are themselves an offering from the worshiper to God. Frequently, present-day worship is treated as entertainment. Music and sermons are chosen on the basis of their appeal to the worshipers, rather than on their ability to transport the worshiper to the throne of God. Congregational applause of choral music or solos (a practice becoming more common) is inappropriate because it shifts the focus from God to the performers. Music in worship is for the glorification of God, not for the entertainment of the congregation.

Worship is devalued also when it is not allowed to give voice to the full range of human feelings toward God. Granted, worship is primarily praise, thanksgiving, and adoration. Those themes should dominate both our private and corporate worship of God. But there are times when cries of anguish, despair, and even doubt are appropriate in worship. In Revelation 6:9-11, the souls of the martyrs under the heavenly altar cry out in agony to God, “How long?” Such cries have a rightful place in worship. Readers of the Hebrew Bible know that cries of lament, anger, and despair are often raised to God (cf. the books of Job, Psalms, Lamentations, and Jeremiah). In fact, the book of Psalms contains more psalms of lament than it does any other category of psalm. A faithful worshiping community is able to gather all its experiences and troubles and offer them up to God, confident that God will hear their cries of pain as read- ily as God will hear their hymns of praise.

Mitchell G. Reddish, Revelation, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 102–104.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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