Christian Worship

What Does It Involve?

“O come in, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before Jehovah our Maker.”
[Psalm 95:6]

What is “worship”?

Most people conjure up an idea when they use or hear the English word “worship”? To some it is attendance at a great cathedral with a huge organ and large choir of angelic voices, light pouring through stained glass windows, as a priest sprinkles holy water and spreads smoking incense. Others see worship more associated with a stage show in which there is loud singing and shouting backed up by a choir and numerous musical instruments. Often such persons believe they can only worship when associating within the above environments or locations. No matter how one may view the word “worship” many Christians would agree that the Bible ought to determine what is involved in worship.

In the Hebrew and Greek Bibles of the Jews and the Christians there are several words used in this context of “worship.” In Hebrew there are AVADH [Genesis 14:4; 15:13; 29:15] which conveys the idea of serving. HISH-TA-CHAWAH means to “bow”. [Genesis 22:5-7; 24:26, 27; Proverbs 12:25; Isaiah 44:17] SAGHADH involves an act of prostration in worship. [Daniel 3:5-7, 10-15, 18, 28]

In the Greek Bible also several words are used. LATREUO [Luke 1:74; 2:37; 4:8; Acts 7:7] is used of worship service. PROSKYNEO is among the most misused words often rendered “worship.” The word means before+kiss and conveys the idea of bowing in prostration to kiss the feet or fringe of the garment of one highly respected. In the Jewish Greek Bible it is Abigail who renders this kind of gesture before David. [1 Samuel chapter 25] [Compare also Matthew 18:26.] EUSEBEO incorporates the idea of fear, awe or reverence toward God. [Acts 17:23] THRESKEUO identifies more of a ritual or form of worship. [Acts 26:5; Colossians 2:18; James 1:27] SEBAZOMAI also mean to show reverence or veneration in worship. [Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7; Acts 18:7; 19:27; Romans 1:25) There are also words joined to THEOS [god] as in THEOSEBES [revering God; fearing God] as part of worship. [John 9:31; 1 Timothy 2:10]

Worship In Ancient Times

The first true indication of worship is found in the case of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4. Both brothers approach Yehowah with offerings, Cain with vegetables and Abel with the firstborn of his flocks. [Genesis 4:3, 4] Now God looked with favor on Abel’s offering and this pointed the way to similar sacrificial offerings to come, culminating in the sacrifice of God’s own Son. The first mention of such offerings being burnt on an altar is Noah following the Flood. [Genesis 8:20] Such altars and sacrifices are the focus of the worship of God throughout the patriarchal period. Though most assume that prayers were also involved, the actual mention of prayer does not occur until the woman Hanah is first mentioned as praying. [1 Samuel 1:10] David is next associated with prayer. [2 Samuel 7:27] Thousands of years pass from the first example of Abel’s worship before music is directly mentioned in an association of worship. That is in the case of the “song of Moses” upon being delivered through the Red Sea. [Exodus chapter 15]

With the giving of the Mosaic Law at Mount Sinai the worship of Yehowah becomes very defined with the formulation of scores of laws regarding the place of worship and the precise manner of it in “holocausts” or burnt sacrifices. Throughout the period of the Law of Moses such sacrifices, as well as prayer and music, characterize true worship acceptable to God.

The city of Jerusalem becomes the focal point of this worship, so much so that a servant of God far removed from the holy city must pray in that direction. [1 Kings 8:30, 35; 2 Chronicles 6:21, 26, 32; Daniel 6]

However, hundreds of years later during the time of the Prophets God became disgusted with Israel’s burnt offerings because of the hypocrisy associated with their worship. Even their prayers were rejected by Yehowah. [Isaiah 1:15] Indeed, the Hebrew Bible ends with the prophet Malachi condemning the Jewish priesthood and their sacrifices. [Malachi chapter 1]

Thus beginning with Abel the following become associated with ancient Hebrew and Israelite worship.

Worship and the Nazarene

Judaism still practiced the ritualistic form of worship when Jesus the Nazarene arrived as the Messiah. Because he was a Jew “born under the Law of Moses” we read of Jesus carrying out his ministry in the context of the synagogue and the Temple. What would he have to say about “true worship”?

Like the prophets, Jesus also condemned the religious hierarchy and their human doctrines and traditions. [Matthew chapter 23] We read what he said to these Jewish clerics in Matthew 15:7, 8,

“Hypocrites, Isaiah gave a good prophecy about you when he said, ‘This people honors me with their lips but their heart is distant. Their worship is worthless because they teach human commandments as doctrine.’” [NCMM]

So, little had changed from the time of Isaiah 700 years before and the generation in which Jesus lived.

How did Jesus himself worship? We do see several characteristics to his “form of worship.” He prays to his Father. [John chapter 17] He reads and relies on his Father’s inspired Words as found in the Hebrew Bible. [Matthew 4:1-8; John 17:17] His worship seems focused on two main things: first, the preaching and teaching of the good news of the Kingdom; and, a life of loving kindness and charity. On only one occasion is Jesus seen singing and this at the end of his ministry. [Matthew 26:30] What kind of worship is this?

We have a special occasion recorded in the Gospel of John chapter 4 where Jesus discusses worship specifically. In this he identifies two main characteristics of what he calls “true worship.” Let us read the account and identify these two features in John 4:19-24 when he chats with a Samaritan woman by a well:

“The woman said to him: ‘I see that you are a prophet! Our [Samaritan] forefathers worshipped [PROSEKYNESAN] in this mountain, but you [Jews] say that the place where it is necessary to worship [PROSKYNEIN] is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus told her: ‘Believe me, woman, that an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, will you people [render] worship [PROSKYNESETE] to the Father. You [Samaritans] are worshipping [PROSKYNEITE] that which you do not know. We [Jews] are worshipping [PROSKYNOUMEN] what we know, because salvation is of the Jews. But, an hour is coming, and is now [here], when the True Worshippers [PROSKYNETAI] will [render] worship to the Father spiritually and in harmony with Truth, because the Father is searching for such persons to worship [PROSKYNOUNTAS] Him. The God [is] Pneuma, and those worshipping [PROSPROSKYNOUNTAS] Him must of necessity worship [PROSKYNEIN] spiritually and in harmony with Truth.” [NCMM]

What did Jesus mean when he said that “true worshippers” would worship “spiritually and in harmony with Truth”? The Greek is literally “spirit and truth.” First, we look at the word “spirit” [PNEUMA] as a factor in worship. In the immediate context the place of worship has been mentioned - either Samaria or Jerusalem. This would suggest Jesus had in mind a form of worship that does not involve an earthly location or something material. So, no longer must a “true worshipper” pray facing Jerusalem as Daniel did.

Jesus makes it clear that such worship should be directed to “the God” [HO THEOS] and not to himself. The Nazarene’s reasoning is that “The God is a Spirit” and thus true worship would reflect this. It would not be a material form of worship that relied on place, direction, and objects of worship. But rather it would be a spiritual form of worship that did not depend on any of these things associated with worship in the past.

And, “worship in truth”? Several matters may be involved here. Jesus has already commended this dear lady as being “truthful” about her life. Thus, the true worshipper would be a person who was truthful or honest. But, Jesus also believed that God’s “word is Truth.” [John 17:17] He has told the woman that she worshipped “what she did not know.” Thus, true worship would involve a “full knowledge of the truth” as found in that same Book Jesus relied on. [2 Timothy 2:25 NCMM; 3:15-7] In addition to that Hebrew Bible called the Old Testament, Jesus himself indicates that some of his inspired disciples would produce their own “word.” And, this would be the basis for building the faith of others. [John 17:17, 20]

Worship in the Early Church

The early Christian Church did worship in “spirit and truth.” We see them relying on prayer often in the book of Acts and elsewhere. We see them singing hymns. We see them offering public praise as well as preaching and teaching the public.

Paul outlines home church meetings in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 where prayer, hymns, encouragement and education were all involved.

In addition to the above, there was another matter involved in Christian worship - charity. Paul compares charity and hospitality to sacrificial worship:

“By means of [Christ] let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to the God - that is, the fruit of lips confessing his name. Also, do not forget doing good and sharing [with others], for with such sacrifices the God is favorably pleased.” [Hebrews 13:15, 16 NCMM]

The disciple James also adds charity to formal worship:

Pure and undefiled worship before The God, even the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their afflictions. … My brothers, what is the profit if anyone says, “I have conviction,” but does not have works? Is just his conviction able to save him? [For example], if a brother or sister is living without adequate clothing and lacks daily food, and anyone of you says, ‘Go in peace. Keep warm and well fed’ -- but do not give them their bodily necessities -- what is the profit? Just so, conviction without works is dead by itself. [James 1:27; 2:14-17 NCMM]

Thus, the uncharitable person does not “worship in spirit and truth.”

A review of worship that is acceptable to God helps us find a balance in all of these facets. We read with a different perspective the godly psalm:

“I don't rebuke you for your sacrifices. Your burnt offerings are continually before me. I have no need for a bull from your stall, Nor male goats from your pens. For every animal of the forest is mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains. The wild animals of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, For the world is mine, and all that is in it. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Pay your vows to the Most High. Call on me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you, and you will honor me. … Whoever offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving glorifies me, And prepares his way so that I will show God's salvation to him." [Psalm 50:8-15, 23 WEB]

The prophet Micah echoes the same thought:

“How shall I come before Yahweh, And bow myself before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? Will Yahweh be pleased with thousands of rams? With tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my disobedience? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, To love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” [Micah 6:6-8 WEB]

May salvation be yours because you worship the God Yehowah “in spirit and truth”!

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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