Sycophancy is not worship

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13)

“Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs.” (John 6:26)

​One of the interesting experiences I encountered during my early days in Lagos was the gathering of youths in front of event venues to give special hailing to guest with the sole intention of receiving money from them. The praises are usually in Yoruba mixed with some pidgin English and once, I asked for some interpretation and was blown away by the high praises. 

Arriving at an event, well dressed, to receive such high praises makes most people dip hands into their pockets to dole out money to these professional ‘hailers’. This well crafted art is nothing more than sycophancy. Sycophancy is a big industry in Nigeria and I call it an industry because it employs many Nigerians and pays some well. Our political and religious leaders have a large following of sycophants.

Sycophancy is a major attribute of our current way of life (culture) and as the church has struggled to separate herself from the world, she has imbibed this attribute and confused it with worship. As long as the confusion exists, God is deprived of what is duly His alone. It is important for you and me to self-examine ourselves to ensure that we are not sycophants but worshippers that our Lord, Jesus Christ, told us God, the Father, actively looks for.

“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.” (John 4:23)

The Cambridge Dictionary defines sycophancy as the “behaviour in which someone praises powerful or rich people in a way that is not sincere, usually in order to get some advantage from them.” I will add that this behaviour is usually obsequious (obedient or attentive to an excessive degree). The same Cambridge Dictionary defines worship as “to have or show a strong feeling of respect and admiration for God or a god.” As believers, worship to us means the expression of reverence and adoration, the submission of our will and the surrendering of our lives to God the Father.

Similarities in both
While the definition seems to make clear the difference, in reality they look similar and on the surface, it is difficult to differentiate. So, what are these similarities?
– Recognition of someone important. Neither is offered to someone who isn’t important, powerful or influential.
– Involves outward expressions (bowing down, lifting up hands, loud voice, enthusiasm submission, commitment, etc).
– Blind loyalty which sometimes could border on fanaticism.
– Focus on their target and no one else

Key differences
But there are clear differences that may not be outwardly visible. God surely knows the difference.
– The motive: Sycophants’ main motive is to get so they will manipulate and act deceptively to achieve their aim. Worshippers’ main motive is to give with no focus on what they will gain in return.  
– Focus: Sycophants focus on what God can do or has done for them but worshippers focus on who God is.
– The heart: The worshipper’s heart is yielded to God so he acts from the inside out while the sycophant’s heart is fully in his control so he acts from the outside.
– Circumstance-based: Worshippers give worship in good times and also in terrible times; circumstances have no effect on their worship. Sycophants give worship when things are good but switch off when God doesn’t seem to be in control anymore. They then search for an alternative important person to give their sycophancy to in return for a blessing.
– Target: Sycophants are drawn to anyone who displays problem-solving power and, therefore, they are focused on pleasing men (the channel), particularly their pastor.  Worshippers are focused on pleasing God (the Source) alone. 
– Sycophants live for self (focused on their agenda) but worshippers live for God (focused on His agenda).

Why is this important to differentiate?
The fact that we sing a slow song passionately, bow our heads/knees, lift up hands, lie prostrate and do any other so-called worship activities, doesn’t equate to worship of God. We may walk away feeling the emotions of worship but as far as there is sycophancy, it is not the worship our Father is actively looking for and He will always reject sycophancy.

For whom He is, God alone must be worshipped. He said in His word (Isaiah 42:8), “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols.” The sooner we undertake a self examination to see what we’re doing wrong, the sooner we get the help of the Holy Spirit to correct our ways and give God true worship.

Importantly, we’re currently in a season of preparation for a great visitation (a revival) by God. The proper understanding of worship and the giving of true worship to the Father are an essential part of preparation.

It is has become a trend for churches and interdenominational groups to hold worship services and concerts. The fact is, most of these are sycophancy and it is so because worship is seen as a tool to get from God, not a lifestyle to be lived daily. Worship should be the motive of everything we do individually and corporately.

So, I appeal to you dear brother and sister, allow the Holy Spirit examine your heart and reveal your true state – sycophancy or worship, and then help you become the worshipper who worships the Father in spirit and in truth. Again, this is what God, the Father is actively looking for.