Word Study: WORSHIP
What is “Worship” as used in Scripture? In the New Testament, there are nine Greek words translated into English as “worship”. However, only one is used extensively.
“proskuneoo” is the word most often used and translated as “worship. It is a compound word from “pros”, meaning forward or toward, and “kuoon”, meaning dog. When combining, it has several implications:
1. Expressing allegiance to a master;
2. Bowing down before a master;
3. Licking the master’s hand, as a dog might do;
4. Crouching down in honor and obedience to a master;
5. Bending the will to the master.
This word, “proskuneoo” is used 60 times in the New Testament. In each case, the immediate context will indicate which implication is being considered.
Currently, “worship” has become synonymous with singing, especially in the style of “praise and worship” music, choruses which exalt the Lord, expressing a desire to honor His character and acts of redemption.
One reason that this word needs to be clearly defined is the way in which it is used in churches. “Worship” is not the musical time, nor the giving time. Worship by its biblical definition is not any single activity, it is “bending the will”. In true worship, every activity is subservient to Jesus Christ.
When this word, “worship” is misdefined it creates a theology of emotions that are manipulated and referred to as “worship”. This is a spiritually dangerous step.
Examples of “worship”
I. Matt 2:1-2 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” RSV
This is the first use of “worship” in the New Testament. Here, the wise men from the East have come to worship Christ. Notice several things here:
1. They have been made aware of Christ because of God’s Word, a prophecy;
2. They made a clear decision to make a long, difficult journey to present themselves to Christ;
3. They bowed down in honor;
4. The presented gifts as a reflection of presenting themselves in allegiance to Christ.
What we immediately learn is that “worship” is a considered choice, recognizing from Scripture Who Christ really is, and bowing down in allegiance. Bowing down is an act of prostrating one’s body. However, the implication is the “bowing down of the will and heart”.
II. Matt 4:9-10 “All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” RSV
Jesus is being tempted by Satan. The final attempt Satan uses is to provide Jesus with world domination in a way that God the Father has not chosen. The “falling down to worship” is more than a physical position, it is expressing full allegiance. Jesus answers that only God is worthy and allowed to be worshipped. Then Jesus includes another term of worship: “serve”. Worship is more than praising in words, it is a life of serving, giving full and total devotion and allegiance to the Master.
Now, this is an extremely important truth regarding the meaning of “worship”. Jesus Christ adds that worship must include serving.
III John 4:19-24: “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” RSV
Jesus meets a woman at the well of Samaria. He has gone to this place in spite of the disciples fear. As Jesus speaks to the woman, she comes to realize that there is something different about Him. She begins to speak about “worship”, most likely to get Jesus off of the subject of her sinful lifestyle.
Each time the word “worship” is used in these verses it is “proskuneoo”. The context shows a formal kind of worship, the kind that the Old Testament Jews conducted when they went to Jerusalem. It was only at the Temple in Jerusalem that God’s Presence was a reality. So, for this context, the woman is speaking about formal worship times, like what might happen in a church service today.
However, the Lord Jesus Christ challenges her idea and understanding of “worship” and changes it. He says that the time is coming that “worship” will not be in a particular place or time but in the minds and spirits of people. In other words, true worship is not an outward activity, but an inward allegiance.
IV. 1 Corinthians 14:24,25: “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” RSV
This is the only time that the letters of the New Testament uses this word, other than twice in Hebrews and in Revelation. The Apostle Paul is teaching the Corinthian church about the existence and proper use of spiritual gifts. Here he is discussing the difference between “speaking in tongues” and “prophecy”. In this context, “prophecy” means to speak God’s Word. This is what pastors and teachers are called to do today. Therefore, it is by the speaking of God’s Word that an unbeliever will recognize Truth, be able to repent, and then worship in spirit and in truth.
It is noteworthy that “worship” is not discussed or taught throughout the letters of the New Testament. These letters are for the spiritual instruction and growth of Believers. Worship is understood to be a way of life, an allegiance to Christ. It is not taught as a way to bring God’s Presence.
V. Rom 12:1-2 “I appeal to you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” RSV
This comes after the Apostle Paul has written a great deal of doctrinal Truth to the Church in Rome. He concludes that, in light of all that he has shown God to be, the only proper response is to “present your bodies a living sacrifice”. Then he calls this a “spiritual act of worship”.
Once again, worship is a life of full and total allegiance.
Consider what it means to be a “living sacrifice”. What are some of the characteristics of an Old Testament sacrifice? How does this contribute to understanding what it means to be a “living sacrifice”?
It could be said that worship at the gathering of the church is only possible for those who worship before they get to church, those who worship with their lives as living sacrifices.
VI. Activities of times of Worship
While “worship” is full and unwavering allegiance to Jesus Christ, there are many instances of actions that express true worship.
1. Singing: surely this is a wonderful way to express emotions and compassion toward the Lord Jesus Christ. However, it is not meant to be the main activity or meaning of worship. There is great confusion regarding God’s Word today because music has become the definition of worship.
2. Giving: the New Testament teaches that finances all belong to the Lord, and we are to give cheerfully and abundantly. The Lord does not demand 10% as in the Old Testament, but He requires giving to be the result of trust and gratitude for His grace.
3. Attending church services: gathering together for encouragement, learning God’s Word, praising the Lord are important parts of worshipping the Lord. We need each other, we need to learn the deep things of the Word so we can grow spiritually.
4. Serving: there are innumerable ways to be active inside and outside of the church. Serving is what the Lord Jesus Himself indicated is a vital part of worship. Everyone is meant to be involved. To be a spectator is an act of non-worship.
Jesus said in John 4:23, that the Father seeks those who will “worship in spirit and in truth”. This is the human spirit responding to the truth of God’s Word. May every true Believer worship in the way God intends.