b) The worship of the true God in a wrong form
God will not accept the worship of a false god, nor will He accept the worship of the true God if offered in the wrong way. Why? Because the worship of the true God is very specifically established in Scripture, along with the proper mode and manner.
An illustration of worshiping the true God in a wrong form is found in Exodus 32. Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the law from God. And while he was gone, the people, under Aaron's leadership, decided to gather all their gold together, melt it down, fashion it into a golden calf, and worship it. Now, they were not worshiping some other deity; the golden calf was their representation of Jehovah God. They reduced God to an image and were worshiping Him in an unacceptable way. When Moses returned from Mount Sinai and saw what was going on, he got so angry that he threw down the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written and shattered them (v.19). Even God's wrath was so great that He threatened to destroy the entire generation (v. 10); but He was gracious (v.14), and only 3,000 men lost their lives as they were executed on the spot (v. 28).
God will not accept worship that is offered to Him in an unacceptable manner. It's unacceptable to reduce God to an image, a material representation, an idol, or anything that is a result and product of one's own thinking. I often hear people say, "I worship God as I perceive Him to be." Well, if your definition of God doesn't square with the Word of God, your worship is unacceptable-even though you may identify it with the true God.
That leads me to a third kind of unacceptable worship:
c) The worship of the true God in a self-styled manner
Not only is it unacceptable to worship God by reducing Him to an idol or image, but it's also unacceptable to reduce the activity of worship to some personal definition. Let me show you what I mean by giving you a few scriptural illustrations of people who worshiped God in a self-styled way.
(1) Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-2)
Aaron, the high priest, had two sons, Nadab and Abihu, who were entering the priesthood. Leviticus 10:1 records for us the great day of their ordination into the priesthood. This was the first actual day in which they were to lead the people in the worship of God. But look what happened: "And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer [which, when filled with incense, was symbolic of worship, as its fragrance rose to the nostrils of God], and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord."
It's very possible that Nadab and Abihu were drunk, because in verse 9 the Lord gave the following stern warning to Aaron, suggesting to us that his sons were drunk: "Do not drink wine or strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die." So, it may well have been that Nadab and Abihu got drunk, went into the Tabernacle, and began to fool around and do things that were not according to God's law for the priesthood-so God devoured them with fire! God will not accept self-styled, self-invented modes of worship. We are not to worship God on our own terms; we are to worship Him according to the terms prescribed in Scripture.
(2) Saul (1 Sam. 13:8-14a)
King Saul worshiped God in a self-styled manner. In 1 Samuel 13, starting in verse 8 we read, "And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed; but Samuel came not to Gilgal, and the people were scattered from him. And Saul said, Bring here a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering."
"Now," you say, "is that any big deal?" It sure is! Nobody was allowed to function at the altar except for the priests. Saul wanted to put on a display of power and confidence before the people, so he intruded into the priestly office. Verse 10 continues, "And it came to pass that, as soon as he had ceased offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might bless him. And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash, therefore, said I, the Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the Lord; I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering. And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee; for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel forever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue. The Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart."
God will be worshiped only by someone who is after His own heart. In other words, someone who obeys God's Word. Because of Saul's self-styled worship, there would never again be anyone in Saul's line on the throne.
(3) Uzzah (2 Sam. 6:1-9)
Uzzah was a member of a group known as the Kohathites, who were responsible for transporting the Ark of the Covenant. The Kohathites were raised, from the time they were small, to know nothing but how to transport the ark, and, according to Numbers 4:15, it was never to be touched. The ark had large rings on its sides, through which the Kohathites slid poles and lifted them to their shoulders. This was always how the ark was to be transported - and Uzzah knew that. He was trained from childhood to do it that way, but he took the liberty of putting it on a cart. That was his first mistake, because God will not be handled at the whim of man in a self-styled way-no matter how good the intentions. So as the ark was being transported on a cart (which was in violation of the rules God had set down), verses 6-7 tell us, "And when they came to Nacon's threshing floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it [i.e., it looked like it was going to fall off the cart]. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error, and there he died by the ark of God."
You see, Uzzah knew better. He had been trained all his life to never touch the ark. But in his own way, he thought he could intrude into God's commandments. The true God cannot be worshiped in a self-styled way!
(4) The Pharisees
The Pharisees tried to worship the true God with their own self-styled system-not according to God's commandments or standards, but according to their own inventions.
(a) Matthew 15:1-9-"Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, who were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread [i.e., a traditional, ceremonial washing]. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?"
You see, they told Jesus that He wasn't worshiping according to their tradition, but Jesus told them that they weren't worshiping according to God's commands. They had invented their own system.
In verses 4-6, Jesus gives them an illustration of how their traditions violated God's commands. Then in verses 7-9, He says, "Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth near unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."
God isn't interested in all the holy hocus-pocus that goes on in so many "Christian" churches where the traditions of men have been substituted for the commandments of God. God is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth-not through images, rituals, or liturgies.
(b) Matthew 23:23-28-The Lord further indicted the Pharisees in the following passage: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, who strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess....For ye are like whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity."
So, what I'm trying to show you is that there is a category of unacceptable worship. One cannot worship false gods or the true God in a wrong form or in a self-styled manner. It must be according to the prescription of Scripture.
d) The worship of the true God with a wrong attitude
If we eliminate all false gods, all images of the true God, and all self-styled modes of worship, our worship will still be unacceptable if our heart attitude isn't right. This kind of unacceptable worship really hits us right where we live. Very few of us worship a false god or an image of the true God. And most of us don't invent our own ways to worship God. We try to worship according to Scripture. But a question each of us needs to ask himself is: Do I have the right attitude? If you don't, it's unacceptable to God!
Let me show you some passages that develop this truth.
(1) Malachi 1:6-14; 3:13-15; 4:1-6
Malachi the prophet indicted the people of God because of their sin. In this marvelous prophecy he pointed out at least seven monumental sins of which they were guilty. But the one that stands out and dominates them all is that they were involved in worshiping God with the wrong attitude. They were just going through the motions, with their hearts far from God.
Let's look at Malachi's indictment. Starting in 1:6, we read, "A son honoreth his father, and a servant his master; if, then I be a father, where is mine honor? And if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, In what way have we despised thy name? Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, In what way have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table [or 'altar'] of the Lord is contemptible."
Do you know what they were doing? They were treating their worship with contempt. It was strictly a function, strictly a routine, strictly a ritual. Not only was their heart not involved, but they were actually bringing to God that which was the least rather than that which was the best. But before we pounce on them with both feet, may I remind you that to come to worship with any kind of a wrong attitude-any kind-is to have contempt for worship.
Now, what were they doing? Verse 8 tells us that they were offering the blind for sacrifice. In other words, they would bring blind animals to sacrifice because they were useless to them. A blind animal, since it would have difficulty finding food, would probably die anyway; so they would get rid of it by sacrificing it to God. In addition to that, the blindness might have been caused by disease, so they were offering God diseased animals as well. The worship that they offered to God was to give Him what they couldn't use.
Verse 8 continues: "And if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts. And now, I pray you, beseech God that he will be gracious unto us. This hath been by your means; will he regard your persons? saith the Lord of hosts." In other words, "If this is how you treat God, how do you think He's going to treat you? Do you think He's going to regard you any differently than you regard Him?"
Then he says in verse 10, "Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for nothing? Neither do ye kindle fire on mine altar for nothing. I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand." There are some things that God won't accept-worship offered in a materialized way, in a self-styled way, and in a half-hearted way.
Verse 11 continues, "For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the nations, and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name and a pure offering; for my name shall be great among the nations, saith the Lord of hosts." God told them to bring a pure offering. When they were to sacrifice a lamb, it was to be the best lamb in the flock-without spot or blemish. But they weren't doing it!
Look at verses 12-14: "But ye have profaned it, in that ye say, The table of the Lord is polluted; and the fruit of it, even its food is contemptible. Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! And ye have sniffed at it, saith the Lord of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering. Should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord. But cursed be the deceiver, who hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing; for I am a great King, saith the Lord of hosts, and my name is terrible among the nations."
Remember, Malachi started out indicting the priests. The priests were the leaders in the sin, but it filtered all the way down to the people. The whole system was rotten from top to bottom. They had contempt for the table of the Lord-and the key is in verse 13, where it says, "Behold, what a weariness." To them the whole exercise of worship, they probably said something like, "What a drag! We have to go down there and worship again. Well, let's just get rid of that blind or lame lamb-we don't need it!" They went through the function and the form, but their hearts weren't in it. There was no reality there.
In chapter 3, they went even further. In verses 13-14 they apparently start to bad-mouth God: "Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? Ye have said, It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?" In other words, they decided that they didn't make enough money serving the Lord-there wasn't enough profit in it.
The results of unacceptable worship are in chapter 4:1, 3: "For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn like an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch...And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts."