Worship has innumerable forms. The Moslem worships Alla in prayer by turning toward Mecca five times a day and repeating the same prayer. At some time in his life he makes a pilgrimage to Mecca where he will walk around the Kaaba seven times and kiss the sacred black stone.
An American Indian may have worshiped by erecting a totem pole, offering up tobacco in the peace pipe, by sacrificing a finger joint or even a human being.
Satan worshipers allegedly sacrifice infants and use some of the organs of mutilated animals. All of us would probably be willing to acknowledge that these forms of worship are misguided and erroneous although those who follow these practices do so with great sincerity.
Then, of course, there are the pagan forms of worship which we find within civilized America. There are those who worship the sun by taking off their clothes in nudist colonies.
There are those who would have us understand that they find it much easier to worship God on the golf course or out on the lake or in the woods on Sunday morning.
We should expect considerable confusion in this matter of worship from those who have departed from the central truths of the Scriptures. But most distressing of all is the confusion which exists within the Protestant, evangelical, fundamental Christianity concerning the meaning of worship. Robert Webber, in an article in Eternity magazine, made this condemning statement concerning the ignorance of the Christian in the matter of worship: … the majority of evangelical lay people don’t have the foggiest notion of what corporate worship really is. To questions such as: Why does God want to be worshipped? What is the meaning of an invocation or benediction? What does reading the Scripture, praying, or hearing a sermon have to do with worship? I received blank stares and bewildered looks.11
In preparing for this message, I have consulted a number of books and articles, and if they are representative, not only do the laymen not know what worship is, neither do the so-called scholars.
The Importance of Worship
Some may wonder why all the fuss over this matter of worship. Before we go on to try and define what worship is, let us first begin our study by dealing with the importance of worship.
The first reason for our study of worship has already been suggested. Simply stated, we need to study worship because there is so much confusion and so little understanding and practice of worship.
Negatively, there is a second reason why we should search the Scriptures on the subject of worship. It is because of the severe consequences of false worship.
- Cain’s sacrifice was rejected by God because it was false worship (Genesis 4:5).
- Three thousand people died in one day because of the false worship of the golden calf fashioned by Aaron (Exodus 32).
- The kingdom of Israel was divided because of the idolatry and false worship of the nation (1 Kings 11:31-33).
- The fall of Jerusalem was directly attributable to the apostasy and false worship of the nation (Jeremiah 1:16; 16:11; 22:9).
- Misdirected worship was the cause of untold hardship and suffering in the Old Testament.
- In the first chapter of Romans, Paul wrote that God was justified in condemning man because he worshiped in error: For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Romans 1:25).
Satan fell from heaven because he sought worship for himself rather than submission to his Creator. Satan today seeks those who will worship and serve him (cf. Matt. 4:9).
The third reason, and by far the primary one for considering the subject of worship worthy of our consideration is because worship is of great importance to God. That is the clear teaching of passages such as John chapter 4.
But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers (John 4:23).
God is seeking men and women to be worshipers of Himself. But this worship must be worship that is “in spirit and in truth.” It is not enough to be a worshiper of God; God is seeking true worshipers. It is only in the Word of God that we can learn what worship is pleasing to God.
Why, then, should we devote ourselves to the study of worship? Simply because it is a matter of great importance to God and because false worship leads to dire consequences. With all the current confusion on the subject, we must return to the Scriptures for our infallible guide to true worship which pleases Him.
The Essence of True Worship – Words Used for Worship
A brief glance at a good Bible concordance will reveal that there are a number of Greek and Hebrew words which are rendered ‘to worship’ or ‘worshiper.’ In the Scriptures, there are three pairs of words which underscore for us the three primary elements of true worship.
Humility. The most frequent word in both the Old and New Testaments is one which means to make obeisance, to bow down, to prostrate.12 The Hebrew word is shaha…, and the Greek word is proskuneo. Both words denote the act of bowing or prostrating oneself in submissiveness and reverence. The outward posture reflected an inner attitude of humility and respect. The word might be used of men showing respect for men as well as a response to deity. As the word relates to worship, it denotes a high view of God and a condescending opinion of self. Thus, true worship views God in His perfection and man in his imperfection.
Reverence. Another pair of terms underscores the attitude of reverence. The Hebrew word is yare…, and the Greek term is sebomai. The idea of both the Greek and the Hebrew is that of fearing God. It is not so much the fear of terror and dread so much as it is the fear of wonder and awe at the majesty and greatness of the infinite God. Davidson differentiates ‘humility’ from ‘reverence’ in that the first pair of terms focus inward. We are aware of our finiteness and sinfulness in the light of His infinity and perfection. The second pair of terms focus outwardly upon the awesome majesty of God.13
Irreverence is antithetical to worship. No doubt, it was the irreverence of the Corinthians at the Lord’s Table that required such severe discipline as sickness and death (1 Corinthians 11:30). Paul said that they did not ‘judge the body rightly’ (1 Corinthians 11:29). If I understand Paul correctly, he is saying that to participate in the remembrance of the Lord’s Table, to partake of the elements which symbolize the body of our Lord in a light or irreverent way is to bring upon ourselves the discipline of God. Drunkenness and frivolity at the Lord’s Table reveals a spirit of irreverence which is diametrically opposed to true worship.
Service. The third pair of terms employed for worship in the Bible emphasize service. The Hebrew term, abad, and its Greek counterpart, latreuo…, denotes the idea ‘to work, to labor, or to serve.’ In the Old Testament this service was most often priestly service. In the New Testament we are told that we are all priests of God (1 Peter 2:5,9), so that this term does not apply only to the service of the few, but of the entire congregation of believers in Christ.
In addition, service and worship were often linked in the Old Testament. It is no surprise, then, when we find Satan tempting our Lord to worship him (Luke 4:7). Satan was not asking our Lord simply to fall to the ground before him. He was asking the Lord to acknowledge him as sovereign and to surrender to him in service. This is why our Lord responded, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only’” (Luke 4:8).
Worship and service cannot be isolated, but rather they must be integrated, if it is to be true worship.