Worship: The Ultimate Priority, by John MacArthur (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), pp. 192, cloth $14.99
John MacArthur’s new book is a rewrite of his classic from thirty years ago. Though evangelical worship has degenerated further since then, he did not have to change much of the text; no doubt, due to its solid biblical basis to begin with. More importantly, his theme that a believer’s whole life should be an expression of worship is timeless.
In recent decades, the contemporary evangelical church has abandoned the sufficiency of God’s Word with regard to worship and has embraced pragmatism, i.e., whatever works. This has led to surveys of the unchurched instead of surveying the Scriptures, trying to meet “felt needs” of the churched instead of their true spiritual needs, and a priority of entertainment over spiritual edification. What is claimed to be contextualization (a necessity for missionaries in foreign cultures) is nothing more than old-fashioned consumerism in the U.S. It is the opposite of Jesus’ injunction to be in the world but not of it.
MacArthur takes the contemporary evangelical church to task vis-à-vis a biblical view of worship. “A solid, biblical understanding of true worship would be the perfect antidote to the pragmatic, program-driven, prosperity-obsessed mentality so many evangelical churches now cultivate.” He reminds us that worship is about God, not about us. Worship is not a performance we attend but a God-focused activity in which we participate.
Four fatally flawed examples of improper worship in the Old Testament are examined: the Children of Israel’s golden calf (Exodus 32:21-24), Aaron’s priestly sons’ use of “strange” fire (Leviticus 10:1-3), Saul’s kingdom-ending burnt offering (1 Samuel 13:11-13) and Uzzah’s deadly touching of the Arc of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:6, 7). What should we conclude? God is transcendent and holy, and our worship should be with reverence and awe, sacred rather than secular.
Recognizing that we cannot worship whom we do not know, MacArthur devotes several chapters to who God is and several of his attributes, e.g., holiness, omnipotence, omniscience. Like the Apostle Paul who came across an altar in Athens with the inscription, “To an Unknown God,” MacArthur proclaims God, who is revealed through his Word and his Son. And as Jesus himself said, “This is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
Worship is not just the music we sing on Sunday mornings or even the entire service. It is, as Romans 12:1 tells us, “To present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” This is a total commitment commensurate with loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. MacArthur is spot-on when he describes worship as “an essential expression of service rendered unto God by a soul who loves and extols Him for who He is. Real worship therefore should be the full-time, nonstop activity of every believer, and the aim of the exercise ought to be to please God.”
Worship: The Ultimate Priority will challenge your views of worship and heighten your view of God. It will also get you thinking about how you can worship God through your day-to-day activities, principally by honoring him by “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).