What does it mean to worship, according to the Bible? Have you ever studied this?
I am convinced that the question what does it mean to worship is one of the most important and misunderstood truths in all of the Bible.
Worship is one of the most talked about, and yet least often defined subjects. And misunderstanding what it means to worship GOD has tremendous and widespread impacts on human, Christian and church history.
If you are like me, you’ve frequently heard and/or used phrases like the following at some point in your life:
- “It’s time for church.”
- “Our worship services are at [insert your time here].”
- “Let’s go to worship.”
- “We worship at [insert title here] church.”
- “There are five acts of worship.”
While it is likely that the others involved in the conversation understood the intended message, after studying the subject of worship I am convinced that these phrases reflect an incomplete or inaccurate understanding of what it means to worship.
The words we use matter because they reflect our understanding. If we speak inaccurately we probably think inaccurately. If we understand correctly, it’s important that we speak correctly.
In the New Testament (NT), the Holy Spirit used six Greek words that are translated “worship” according to Strong’s Concordance:
- proskuneo (4352) – This is the most commonly used Greek word for worship in the NT and it means “to fawn or crouch, i.e. (lit. or fig.) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore):— worship.”
- sebomai (4576) – to revere, i.e. adore:— devout, religious , worship.
- doxa (1391) – glory (as very apparent), in a wide application (lit. or fig., obj. or subj.):— dignity, glory, honour, magnify.
- latreia (3000) – to minister (to God), i.e. render, relig. homage:— serve, do the service, worship (-per).
- eusebeo (2151) – to be pious, i.e. (toward God) to worship, or (toward parents) to respect (support):— show piety, worship.
- ethelothreskeia (1479) – voluntary (arbitrary and unwarranted) piety, i.e. sanctimony:— will worship.
The most frequently used word for “worship,” proskuneo, conveys the idea of a person physically bowing or falling flat on the ground before GOD. Based on my study of worship I have concluded the following:
- Worship is an action (a verb) that an individual may perform both while alone (Matt. 8:2) or in the presence of others (Matt 2:11).
- It is possible to worship any being or object. NT examples exist that discuss worshiping: GOD (Acts 24:14), Jesus (Matt. 2:2,8 – as a baby; Matt. 13:52 – as a man; Matt. 28:17 – after the resurrection; Mark 15:19 – in mockery), Satan (Matt. 4:9), other men (Acts 10:25), angels (Col. 2:18) and of course there were numerous OT examples of worshiping idols.
- It is possible to worship something or someone by bowing or falling prostrate before it/them, regardless of the sincerity of that individual’s attitude. This is precisely what the soldiers did to Jesus as they mocked Him (Mark 15:19).
- In the case of worshiping GOD, however, it is also possible to physically bow before GOD without worshiping Him acceptably—the individual’s heart must be properly aligned (John 4:23-24).
- To live as a disciple of Jesus—that is, “according to the Way”—is to worship GOD (Acts 24:14).
Therefore, we worship GOD individually on a daily basis as we conform ourselves to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29) and present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1).
As part of that daily process we also worship when we assemble together (Heb. 10:25) and stir up each other (Heb. 10:24) and edify one another (1 Cor. 14:26b)—because these collective activities are just as much a part of GOD’s will as individual instructions, such as “love one another” (1 John 2:10) and “visit the widows and orphans” (James 1:27).
In other words, to use our familiar terminology, showing love to my brother on Monday is just as much an “act of worship” as properly partaking of the Lord’s Supper on Sunday.
I am convinced that having a proper recognition of biblical worship is critical to our understanding of the Scriptures, the first century church, and therefore how we should live individually and what we should do collectively.
If an individual recognizes that a disciple of Jesus worships daily, then:
- They recognize that every activity they engage in (and avoid) provides an opportunity to worship GOD. The concept that there are “five acts of worship” is man-made and incorrect.
- They are less likely to view the location where the church assembles as inherently and uniquely holy. The church itself is holy (because she is sanctified by the blood of Christ), not a building, house or meeting place.
- They will understand that every day is special, and not just Sunday.
- They will see that GOD cares about how we live, the choices we make, how we speak, what we think about, and how we dress all the time. We need to be reverent towards GOD at all times—don’t misunderstand me—but the concept of “putting on our Sunday best” so we can “go to church” is a tradition born of a mindset with an improper understanding of what it means to worship.