God is not desperate for our worship. God does seek worshipers (John 4:23-24) and must naturally receive worship as Creator (Rev 4:11). However, God does not so need our worship that He will accept whatever we give him. The stones can produce acceptable worship if we do not (Luke 19:40). God rejects unacceptable worship. Scripture describes five types of unacceptable worship.
1. God Rejects Worship Brought by the Wrong People
Unbelievers cannot offer acceptable worship (Heb 11:6). God’s worshipers must be spiritually alive (John 4:23-24). The Philistines could not worship with the Ark of the Lord acceptably (1 Sam 5-6). In order to be acceptable, worship must be brought by God’s people.
2. God Rejects Worship Offered to the Wrong God
God will not give His glory to another (Isa 48:11; Ex 20:2-5). God does not accept the worship presented to false Gods (Ex 34:14; Rom 1:21-2:1) or idols (Ex 34:17; Acts 17:29; 1 Cor 10:20). Worship can also be misdirected to material possessions, beautiful things, and personal desires (Job 31:24-28; Hab 1:15-16). In order to be acceptable, worship must be offered to the true and living God.
3. God Rejects Worship Resulting from Wrong Ideas
God does not accept worship that embodies false conceptions of His nature and character. When Israel worshiped the golden calf, the people addressed their praise to the true God (Ex 32:7-9). However, by directing their praise to God through the golden calf, the people exposed their false conception of God (Deut 4:14-19). Christians must guard the forms they use to worship because how people worship conveys what they believe. Culver rightly argues that even church architecture reflects doctrinal beliefs (Systematic Theology 971-75). In order to be accepted by God, worship must express correct beliefs about God.
4. God Rejects Worship Performed in the Wrong Manner
God rejected the worship of Saul (1 Sam 13:8-14) and the Pharisees (Matt 15:3) because their worship violated God’s commands. The example of Uzzah (2 Sam 6:6-7) shows God’s anger over the irreverence of such disobedience. Nadab and Abihu likewise lost sight of God’s character and were killed for attempting to improve the worship God commanded (Lev 10:1-3). In order to be accepted by God, worship must be conducted according to the manner God prescribes.
5. God Rejects Worship Presented with the Wrong Motives
God frequently rejected otherwise acceptable worship that was not motivated out of a sincere desire to bring God glory (Mal 1:7-10; Amos 5:21; Hosea 6:4-6; Isa 1:11-15). God killed Ananias and Sapphira for bringing an acceptable gift with the wrong motive evidenced by their lie (Acts 5:1-11). God is concerned with the attitudes of our hearts as we worship (2 Cor 9:7). In order to be accepted by God, worship must be presented with proper motives.
*Points 2-5 above are drawn from MacArtur’s The Ultimate Priority (pp. 7-12). In 2012, Moody republished this book under the title Worship: The Ultimate Priority. Due to minor changes, the pagination is slightly different (pp. 20-26).