Worship: The Ultimate Priority – John MacArthur Book Review

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What is true worship, in spirit and in truth and is true worship being experienced in churches today?

True Worship

What is true worship, in spirit and in truth, and is true worship being experienced in churches today? Most Christians want to worship God and believe they are, but do they worship God in spirit and in truth? These are the ones whom God is seeking after to worship Him (John 4:23). When we call someone a “worship leader,” we usually mean the ones who lead the music portion of services, but it’s not just the music that’s part of the worship service; it’s also the preaching of the Word, and when the music teaches and admonishes us just like the preaching does, we are somehow changed. God’s Word has the power to change (Isaiah 55:11), but also, singing and preaching the Word must be part of our worship services. First of all, true worship is loving “the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Certainly, none of us do that perfectly, but part of our worship service is the adoration of God; corporately and privately. The temple’s only purpose was not for the presence of God, but for the worship of God (MacArthur, 15).

A Form of Worship

We can read examples where God was not pleased with Israel’s worship, and since God has not changed, He will not accept our dawdling in worship. With my own eyes I’ve seen where people/churches have created a god in their own image and in their own likeness, but God will not accept our “strange fire.” Today, pragmatism has won over biblical, verse by verse preaching. Activities have replaced Sunday school, Bible study, and discipleship or evangelism classes. Now churches offer classes on how to improve your family or how to handle your finances while little or no emphasis is given to the Great Commission. In the same way, worship services often focus on personal experiences of the congregants instead of the awesome, glory, power and majesty of God and His wonderful works of the past (those being found in Scripture!). Our feelings receive more attention (glory?) in services than the One we came to worship. The truth is, God is very displeased with worship that is in form only and has no real substance (P. 25), and without the preaching of the Word, there can be no real substance in services. One old pastor said, “If your church is not changing you, you should be changing churches!”

Worship in Preaching

I do not believe you can rightly worship God without hearing the Word of God, and I mean the Word expounded. The reading of the Scripture, with a good explanation of its meaning, causes us to want to worship. The children of God will respond to the Word of God with the Spirit of God and the by-product of that will be worship! We cannot help but worship God when we know Him better, and that’s where biblical preaching comes in. When preaching is verse by verse, chapter by chapter, and book by book, the verses remain in their proper context, thereby reducing the chances of a pretext, and usually a false one at that. It’s not just a good idea to have a reading of the Word, it’s commanded for church leadership (Acts 2:42; Col 1:25; 1 Tim 4:13; 2 Tim 4:2), so “preaching is an irreplaceable aspect of all corporate worship” (P. 36).

Worshipful Acts

Maybe you’ve never thought about evangelism as worship of God, but it is (Rom 15:16)! So is praying for one another, pouring out your adoration, reverence, and honor to God; that’s also worship (P. 43). We are not only commanded to worship God (Deut 6:13; Matt 4:10), we are commanded to glorify Him in our lives and bodies (1 Cor 6:19-20). We can do this in word and song (Psalm 148:1-14). Martha was busy doing, but Mary alone got it right, falling at Jesus’ feet, worshiping Him (John 12:2-8). Her “to-do list” was greatly overshadowed by the Lord God, Jesus Christ.

Personal experience or going through services chronologically should never replace the worship of the Person of Christ. You could call it, going through the motions, but obedience shows you really do fear God and fearing God gives Him glory (Rev 14:6-7). When we glorify God, we are worshiping God. When Achan’s sin was exposed by God (by lot), Joshua told Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me” (Joshua 7:19). We are giving God glory when we confess our sins, and that’s part of worship too.

God is Holy

The only attribute of God that is mentioned three times is that He is “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isaiah 6:3). Even though God is love, it doesn’t say God is love, love, love, or any other attribute for that matter, so first and foremost, God is holy. He is altogether different or “other” than any created thing (including us). Yes, we’re made in His image, but the image was marred in the Garden, and now we’re far from holy (Rom 3:10-12, 23). Infinitely far from holy, I would say! How holy is God? Jesus warned His listeners by telling them to “not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). Only that which is holy can enter the kingdom, so fear is a good thing; it can save your life and save your soul. Fearing God doesn’t mean you’re afraid of being struck down by God at any moment and you’re living in constant fear. Fearing God means having a deep, reverential, respect and admiration for Who God is. That type of godly fear gives Him glory (P. 60), and when you give Him glory, He is being worshipped. The disciples certainly feared God several times, and it was always after Jesus displayed His divinity supernaturally (Mark 4:37-41; Luke 5:8). They were fearful, and this caused them to worship…and this in turn, glorified God. That’s exactly what He wanted (Psalm 115:1).


Worship is not about what we get from God but about what we give to God. We worship, not to receive a blessing but to be a blessing to His holy Name. We give God glory, praise, adoration, and we worship Him because of Who He is, including what He has done for us. To worship Him in form alone (in spirit), meaning without truth (the Word of God), is a worshipping God in vain and worshipping in truth alone without the human spirit is just playing church. Dr. John MacArthur said that “The Word of God and the worship of God are linked by God’s Spirit” (P. 161). Without these elements, we are not worshiping God in the fullest, any more than we would be if we approached God with an impure heart and dirty hands. It is only she or “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully” (Psalm 24:4) that can approach God. I recommend this book for every pastor, church leader, elder or deacon, Sunday school teacher, or anyone that wants to fulfill God’s desire of seeking out and finding those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.

MacArthur, John. Worship: The Ultimate Priority. (Chicago: Moody Publishing, 2012).

The author was not paid or compensated for reviewing this book. The author has been a long time listener and supporter of Dr. John MacArthur (Grace to You) who has proven reliable in explaining Scripture and faithful in teaching/preaching the Word, verse by verse, for over 50 plus years.

Here is some related reading for you: What Does it Mean to Worship in Spirit and Truth?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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