Worship: Scriptural Definitions and Practical Applications for Public and Private Worship

Following is a worship primer drawing from some of my favorite sources on the topic. See footnotes at the bottom of this article.

I. What is Worship?

A. The term ‘worship’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon weorthscipe which later developed into worthship, and then into worship. “It means, ‘to attribute worth’ to an object. To worship God is to ascribe to Him supreme worth, for He alone is worthy.” 1

B. A definition: “Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His Holiness; the nourishment of mind by His Truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His Love; the surrender of the will to His purpose – and all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for our self-centeredness.” -Archbishop William Temple

C. Biblical words for worship 2

1. Old Testament

a. ‘Service’ (abad): all kinds of service including acts of adoration and chores; e.g., Ex. 3.12; 20.5; Dt. 6.13; 10.12; Jos. 24.12; Ps. 2.11

b. ‘Bowing down’ or ‘prostrating’(shachah): Gen. 22.5; 27.29; Exo. 34.14; Ps. 22.27

2. New Testament

a. ‘Service’ or ‘Worship’ (latreia) depending on the context; e.g. Rom. 12.1; Mt. 4.10; Lk. 2.37; Act 26.7; Heb. 8.5; 9:9

b. ‘Service to the community or state’ (leiturgia); e.g., Lk. 1.23; 2 Co. 9.12; Phil. 2.30; Heb. 9.21; 10:11

c. ‘Bowing down’ or ‘prostrating’ (proskuneo); e.g., Mt. 4.9-10; 14.33; Mk. 15.19; Act 10.25

3. Thus, Christian worship and service are one and the same. Worship is both narrow and broad, an event as well as a lifestyle. (cf. Ps. 95:1-7a and 7b-11).

D. Worship is revelation and response. God makes himself known to us in several ways: through His works in creation (Ps. 19:1); through His written word (Ps. 19:7); supremely, through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:18); and, through the Holy Spirit. (Jn. 16:13). We respond in service and adoration. 3

E. God alone is to be the object of our worship (Exo. 20.1-3), not men (Act 14.12-14) or angels (Rev. 22.8-9).

F. We are to worship Him with our whole being: mind, will, emotions, and body (Dt. 6.5; Lk. 10.27).

II. Why do we Worship?

A. Because He alone is worthy.

• “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” (Rev 4:11)

B. Because of His Acts of Redemption. He has acted in history.

1. “And He said, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” (Exo 3:12)

2. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2.9)

3. “Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.” (Isa. 12.5-6)

Practical Application

• Everything in our public worship services should be designed and carried out not to call attention to ourselves but to God and to cause people to think about Him.

• This should be the basis of our evaluation of its various elements – the preaching, public prayer, leading of music, the Lord’s Supper, the announcements and the offering.

• All of our spiritual gifts should be used in such a way as to glorify God rather than ourselves: “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet 4:11). 4

III. How we worship. 5

A. God-Centered Worship. Covenant Lordship involves control, authority and presence.

1. Control. Worship must be focused on the covenant LORD’s control, his rule as sovereign over creation, praising him for his “mighty acts” in creation, providence and redemption. (Ex. 15:1-18; Ps. 104; Zeph. 3.17; Rev. 15:3-4).

2. Authority. We bow before God’s authoritative power and his holy Word. We read and study his Word in worship (Act 15.21; 1 Tim. 4.13) and we go out to be doers of the Word, not hearers only. (Rom. 2.13; James 1.22-25; 4.11).

3. Presence. We experience God’s presence in worship. He comes to us to be with us. God met with his people in the tabernacle and the temple (Exo. 20.24). He rejoices over us with singing (Zeph. 3.17). The name of Jesus is Immanuel meaning “God with us” (Is. 7.14; Mt. 1.23). In New Testament worship, even a visiting unbeliever may be impressed with the presence of God in worship so that “he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (1 Cor. 14.25)

Practical Application

• When we leave public worship, we should not ask first ‘What did I get out of it?’ but ‘How did I do in my work of honoring the Lord?’

B. Gospel-Centered Worship

1. Though Adam and Eve enjoyed fellowship with God in the Garden they fell into sin. However, God continued to seek worshipers (Jn. 4.23) after the fall: Cain and Abel both bring offerings to the Lord (Gen. 4.3-4) and in the time of Seth, people “began to call on the name of the LORD” (Gen. 4.3-4)

2. The Israelites were conscious of sin and forgiveness in worship through their system of animal sacrifices which prefigured deliverance through Christ.

3. In New Testament worship God’s word tells us of our sin and God’s provision for forgiveness. Our eating and drinking in worship reminds us of the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11.26). Our worship centers around the life, death and resurrection of Christ and his coming again.

Practical Application

• Worship should bring us to repentance for any known sin in our lives, including sins against one another. Otherwise, our attempts at prayer and ministry are frustrated by God. (Matt. 18:15-18; Ezek. 44:6-14)

C. Trinitarian Worship. Trinitarian worship is aware of the distinctive work of the Father, Son and the Spirit for our salvation. After the work of Christ was complete on earth, the Father and the Son sent the Spirit to empower the church in its mission to bring the gospel to every nation. We worship God for initiating our redemption, we worship Christ for accomplishing our redemption, and we worship the Spirit for sealing our redemption, applying the work of Christ to our hearts, enabling us to understand His Word, filling us with divine gifts and empowering us for ministry in the world.

D. Vertical and Horizontal.

1. Ministry to God. This is the vertical aspect.

2. Ministry to One Another. This is the horizontal aspect. We love God (vertical). We also love one another (horizontal). (Mt. 22.37-40; Mk. 7.9-13; 1 Jn. 4.20-21).

a. We should not ignore the needs of the poor (Is. 1:10-17; cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-34; James 2.1-7)

b. We should edify other believers (1Cor. 14.26)

c. We should encourage one another to good works and not forsake assembling together. (Heb 10:24-25)

E. Broad and Narrow – see above

F. The Importance of Worship

1. The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

2. The goal of our entire life is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31) and to that end God is seeking worshipers (Jn. 4.23)

3. All of history culminates in “the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:14).

IV. Results of Worship 6

A. We Delight in God

1. In the Old Testament Psalms:

a. “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psa 16:11)

b. “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.” (Psa 73:25); also Psa 27:4; 84:1-2, 10

4. In the Early Church

a. At Christ’s birth: “The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” (Luk 2:20); also Mat 2:11

b. After his resurrection: “Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:27)

c. At his ascension: “And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luk. 24:52)

5. Worship gives us a foretaste of heaven: “And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.”” (Rev 4:8); also 5:12

C. God Delights in Us

1. God delights in his creation: “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” Gen 1:31

2. God delights in those he has redeemed: “You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD… you will be called, “My delight is in her,” …For the LORD delights in you….as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So your God will rejoice over you.” (Isa 62:3); also Zeph 3.17

D. We Draw Near to God

1. In the Old Covenant, believers could only draw near to God in a limited way through the temple ceremonies; most had to remain in the courtyard. Only the priests could enter the holy place and only the high priest once a year could enter the holy of holies but not without blood (Heb. 9:1-7).

2. But Christ, by his death, went into the holy place as mediator of the new covenant and high priest, offering His own blood for our redemption (Heb. 9:11-24).

3. Therefore we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…and since we have a great priest over… [us], let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. (Heb. 10:19-22)

4. So New Testament Christians are no longer worshiping, as it were, in the shadows of the Old Covenant tabernacle or temple, it is genuine worship in the presence of God himself through the blood of Christ. Christ our mediator has brought us into the holy place where God is. We have not come to Mount Sinai where Israel received the Ten Commandments, but to the heavenly Jerusalem where we worship God together with those already in heaven.

“For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them…But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” Heb 12:18-24

5. Our only appropriate response is this: “…Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” Heb 12:28-29

E. God Draws Near to Us

1. James tells us, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” Jam 4:8

2. In the OT , when God’s people praised him at the dedication of the temple, he descended and made himself known in their midst: “The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.” 2Ch 5:13-15

3. God dwells in the people’s praise. Though this was a unique occurrence accompanied by a visible cloud, David affirms that God, perhaps more often invisibly, inhabits the praise of his people: “Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.” Psa 22:3

F. God Ministers to Us through other Believers

1. Though the primary purpose of worship is to glorify God, the Scriptures teach that something occurs to us as we worship: we are built up or edified.

a. “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” 1 Cor 14:26

b. “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col 3:16); also Eph. 5.19; cf. Heb. 10:24-25

2. Also, God ministers to us directly as we come to Him in worship through Christ:

a. “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Pet 2:5

b. “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Heb 4:16

c. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:18

G. The Lord’s Enemies Flee. When God’s people worshiped him, at times he would fight for them against their enemies. This occurred when King Jehoshaphat faced the Moabites, Edomites and Syrians. He sent out the choir praising in front of the army:

“When he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army …When they began singing and praising, the LORD set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed.” 2 Chron 20:21-22

1Ralph P. Martin, Worship in the Early Church, 10.
2New Dictionary of Theology, 730-731.
3Ibid., 730.
4Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1005.
5Adapted from John Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth, 4-11.
6Grudem, 1005-1009.

Categories: Worship

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: