The word “worship” has quite a few definitions, aspects, understandings, and connotations. However, our main goal here will be to understand God’s definition of “worship” and pursue that. To compare the difference between God’s view and the world’s view on worship, we’ll look at the modern–day understanding of worship first. Wikipedia pretty much nails it and their accompanied etymology (study of word origins) is accurate, too:
Wikipedia: Worship is an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity.
Etymology of the word “worship,” according to Wikipedia: The word is derived from the Old English weorþscipe, meaning worship, honour shown to an object, which has been etymologized as “worthiness or worth-ship”—to give, at its simplest, worth to something.
What or whom in the universe would you say has the highest worth or worthiness? For Christians, the answer is God, Yahweh, and Jesus said so twice:
Matthew 4:10 (REV)
“For it is written, Worship Yahweh your God, and serve him only.”
Luke 4:8 (REV)
“It is written, Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
(By the way, in both of these passages, Jesus was quoting Old Testament scripture to the Devil.)
God set the standards for the Israelites to worship, and they’re listed with very specific detail in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In other words, God told Israel exactly where, when, how, and whom to worship—Him! Many people today worship in a similar ritualistic way, utilizing one day of the week in a particular building with a set service format at a set time, with the same prayers recited and rituals performed. However, because of God’s grace available through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, things have changed and we as children of God can worship Him anywhere, any time and in a vast variety of ways.
Praise and Worship Go Hand in Hand
Checking history, we see that believers have offered praise and worship to God many different ways. In the Old Testament, we read of animal sacrifices, observing holy days, and special attire and music-just to name a few. In the history of the church age, we find choirs with hymns, Gregorian chants, contemporary artists and bands with songs, singing and speaking in tongues with the interpretations, and spoken prayers from the heart as examples. In fact, praise and worship are so closely linked that many churches today have a “praise and worship” committee. “Hallelujah” is the Hebrew word meaning “to praise God” and even the youngest of Christians often praise God, saying “Hallelujah” without even knowing the Hebrew language. Praise is “halal” and God is “yah”, an abbreviation of Yahweh, sort of like His nickname. God not only tells us His name, He tells us His nickname! If that isn’t an invitation into the intimacy of praise and worship, what is?
Worship is Not Only Praising But in its Fullest Sense Also “Obeying” God
In both the Old and New Testaments, one of the main meanings of worship was to bow down or to prostrate before a King, person, or object being worshipped. In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace because they wouldn’t worship (bow down) to Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. The Magi also worshipped, i.e. bowed down, before Jesus in Matthew 2.
Physical worship involves bowing down before God, a person, or an object, i.e. an idol. True worship involves bowing down in obedience to God. As it was for Israel, so it is for us today. Above all else, God wants our obedience, our true spiritual worship, and He always has.
We were created in the image of God and because of that, we can relate to God’s attitude regarding parenthood. Would you be pleased if your children thanked you, said wonderful things to you, and sang songs about how great you are… but then didn’t listen to your instructions, teachings, advice, or guidance? Without obedience, our worship is empty and vain.
The first time worship is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 22:5
Genesis 22:5 (REV)
Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey while the boy and I go over there and bow down in worship, then come back to you.”
We know from context that this first recorded worship service took place after God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, who he loved, as a burnt offering on mount Moriah. God did not want Abraham to simply get down on his knees and bow. He wanted him to be obedient even to the point of sacrificing Isaac. As we know, God stopped Abraham, and Isaac lived and became a direct ancestor to the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ named Jesus of Nazareth.
The Many Ways of Worship
Now that we know that our obedience is fundamental in our worship of God, we can turn our focus on how to obey. We start by obeying God’s written word to the best of our ability. That requires understanding the commands God gave to man in the Old and New Testament, and which ones apply to us now so that we can follow them. Some commands are universal and apply to everyone, as in “love your neighbor,” while other commands are to groups or individuals and are often personal very specific and timely. Consider Noah, Moses, Abraham, Peter, Paul, John, and of course, Jesus. They all had unique and specific callings along with commands requiring their obedience. These are people whose lives we can study, learn from, and then grow.
What about other people who were called to specific obedience to God throughout history. Regarding politics and government, do you think people like Washington, Jefferson and Adams were called to obey God during their lives and times? In theology, consider Gutenberg, Luther and Tyndale. In the field of music, Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven come to mind; and in the field of science, there were men such as Kepler, Pascal, Galileo, and Newton who were obedient and used their gifts in pursuit of some of the answers to questions God asked in Job 38 and 39. These are just a few classic examples of known Christians who used their God-given gifts in obedience to their callings.
Whatever gift or gifts we have, Christians are commanded to be obedient and use them to the glory of God and for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Almost all Christians worship God through prayer, through song, and so forth. However, we should also be worshipping God through our giftings and callings, and we do that by manifesting the spirit He’s given us. One of the most famous verses on Christian gifts and callings is in Ephesians:
Ephesians 4:11-12 (REV)
“And he gave some apostles, and some, prophets, and some, evangelists, and some, pastors and teachers.” 12for the equipping of the holy ones for the work of ministry, with a view to the building up of the body of Christ.
Yes, these are the famous five ministries within the Christian church, but God and the Lord Jesus Christ have an extensive variety of gifts and callings they give to the children of God. If giftings were restricted to apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, who would, feed the hungry, help the homeless, build brick- and- mortar church buildings, schools and shelters, encourage believers, or hug, kiss, and pray for those in need? The list is likely endless-because God’s giftings are innumerable. And what’s hard for many of us to really understand is that in His eyes, no one’s giftings and callings is more important than anyone else’s. We are all members of the “Body” of Christ and as 1 Corinthians says:
1 Corinthians 12:18b (REV)
“God has set the parts, each one of them, in the body, just where he wanted them.”
We need to be obedient in our giftings and callings, because that’s what is most profitable for the Body. If you don’t know what your gifts or callings are, you can start with loving God and loving your neighbor-that’s every Christian’s calling! Then God will open doors and reveal more specifically where He wants you to go and what He wants you to do.
Jesus Christ, the Ultimate Worshipper
Finally, as followers of Christ, we should know what Jesus said about worship. When he answered the Devil regarding worship, both times he said to “worship” God and “serve” only Him. THAT is ultimate obedience. Later, he told the woman at the well in John 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (REV).
Are you born again of God’s spirit? Do you know the truth? If the answer to both questions is yes, then you need to be obedient to both the “spirit” and the “truth”. THAT is the core of Christian worship.