Defining Worship

The word ‘worship’ is a difficult word to define. Our English word comes from the Old English which was originally ‘worthship’ which means to ascribe worth to something or recognize something as worthy. We worship that which we consider to be worthy. All human beings are worshipers. The question is not whether we worship or not, but rather who or what do we worship.

There are a number of words translated into English as ‘worship’ in our Bible. Examining the nuance of meanings of the original words helps clarify what biblical worship really is.

The most frequently used word in the Old Testament for worship is the Hebrew word shachah. It is used 81 times and denotes action, bowing down to do homage.

The most common word translated as worship in the New Testament is the Greek word proskuneo which literally means “to kiss toward.” It is used 51 times and was a symbolic act touching the hand to the lip and extending it in reverence toward the person being honored.

Another important Greek word for worship which is found 26 times in the New Testament is the word lateuo which refers to service rendered. When you put all these biblical ideas together you find that worship involves both attitudes (awe, respect, reverence) and actions (bowing, praising, serving).

I like how Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe put it when he defined worship as: “The believer’s response of all that he is – mind, emotions, will, and body – to all that God is and says and does.” In other words, worship is the response of our whole being to God’s whole being.

In order to worship, we must see God in His glory. Then we must respond appropriately. It’s not hard! It is the natural response to God’s glory. For example, in Revelation 1 John didn’t have to think about how to apply his vision of the resurrected, glorified Christ to his life. He fell at his feet like a dead man! Likewise, Isaiah, when he saw the Lord in Isaiah 6, said, “Woe is me for I am undone.” Every time the prophet Ezekiel saw God, he fell on his face. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Manoah to announce the birth of his son Samson, he said, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” (Judges 13:22). Job, too, responded similarly, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6). When one encounters the living God, there is always a response of fear, awe, reverence and repentance.

It is important to note that worship is a response. We do not initiate worship, we simply respond to God’s revelation of Himself. The pattern of worship in Scripture is always God’s revelation of Himself first, then human response to that revelation. The good news is that God has revealed himself to us in both the Word he has inspired and the world he has made. So let me encourage you to worship this week, not just on Sunday but every day as you respond to the glory of God as seen in creation and in Scripture.

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