Biblical Worship

In the transition from the Old to New Testament, all of the core essentials remain:

  1. The word Greek word for “worship,” proskuneō, means “to encounter God and praise Him.” For centuries the Jewish people had encountered God in the temple for worship. But when Jesus arrived on the scene, He spoke metaphorically of Himself as the temple (John 2:19–22). Through His resurrection from the dead, Jesus became the spiritual dwelling place where God and His people would meet (see Matthew 12:6; Hebrews 10:19–20; Matthew 18:20)
  2. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the object of our worship. He alone is worthy of worship (1 Chronicles 16:25; Psalm 96:4–5). Worshiping God means crediting to Him the absolute worth that He alone deserves. He is our Creator (Acts 17:28; James 1:17; Revelation 4:11), Redeemer (Colossians 1:12–13; 1 Peter 1:3), and Lord (Psalm 22:27). The Father, Son and Holy Spirit receive worship (Matthew 14:33; 28:17; Luke 7:16; Philippians 3:3); the holy angels worship God and refuse to be worshiped themselves (Revelation 19:10; 22:9)
  3. In John 4:23–24, Jesus made it clear that the physical location of our worship is no longer relevant: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23–24). True worship takes place on the inside, within our hearts or spirits, which is the dwelling place of God (Psalm 103:1–2; Ephesians 2:22)
  4. When the Old Testament prophet Jonah said, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land” (Jonah 1:9), he was speaking of a lifestyle wholly dedicated to glorifying God. The apostle Paul also defined worship as an all-encompassing way of life: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1)
  5. Humans were created to worship God (Psalm 29:1–2; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 1:3–6; Philippians 2:9–11).  Believers participate in specific acts of worship whenever they celebrate God’s worthiness and greatness by giving honor and glory to His name. Worship can be expressed in words, shouts, singing, bowing down, raising hands, and many other ways. The psalmist urges the faithful to enter into acts of worship: “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (Psalm 95:1–2)
  6. Twelve aspects of biblical worship:
    • Through receiving of God’s Son: John 1:11-12
    • Through reading of God’s Word: Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; 1 Tim. 4:13
    • Through studying God’s Word: Acts 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:15
    • Through teaching God’s Word: Acts 2:42; 6:7; 1 Tim.4:6; 2 Tim. 1:13
    • Through preaching God’s Word: 2 Timothy 4:2
    • Through keeping the ordinances: 1 Corinthians 11:2
    • Through prayer, supplications: Acts 2:42; Eph 6:18; Phil 4:6; Col. 4:2
    • Through singing: Eph. 5:19; Col 3:16; James 5:13
    • Through sacrificing our bodies: Romans 12:1
    • Through the sacrifice of praise: Hebrews 13:15
    • Through sacrifice of good works: Hebrews 13:16
    • Through sacrifice of our substance: Philippians 4:18

Throughout the Bible, people express godly worship in a variety of ways, from building altars and offering burnt sacrifices to praying and singing. The worship of God or gods was often equated with regular service. In fact, God used the phrase “worship and serve” when He referred to a people’s allegiance to Him or to an idol (Deuteronomy 5:9; 11:16; Jeremiah 25:6; Luke 4:8).  Some practices, if not closely monitored, can take the focus off of God and onto the worship itself, making those worship styles unbiblical. Some of those practices include:

1. Music. Some Christians equate worship with the musical portion of the church service. While music is a vital part of expressing our hearts to God (Psalm 96:1;149:1; Exodus 15:1; Ephesians 5:19), the music itself can become the object of our worship. When sensational music is the sum total of the worship experience, we must ask, “What exactly is being worshiped?” When musical style and performance become more important than seeking or glorifying God, music has become a negative. We are no longer worshiping God, but worshiping the experience. If the beat, lyrics, arrangement, or performer takes center stage during a time dedicated to worship, then Jesus is not the one being exalted—our soulish satisfaction has become the star.

2. Personal freedom. In some churches, freedom of expression can become an unbiblical worship style. When those in attendance are more focused upon their own outward manifestations of “worship,” such as running around the room, screaming, or wild flailing of limbs, the corporate gathering has shifted from the worship of God to a contest between uninhibited attendees. Scripture never endorses chaos as part of a corporate gathering. In fact, Paul chastises the Corinthians for allowing their services to get out of control (1 Corinthians 14:26–33). Instead, he reminds the church that everything, including personal freedom of worship, must be done “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

3. Lack of joy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many churches have adopted an unbiblical worship style by creating a dull, somber atmosphere, devoid of any emotion. Many in attendance believe they have done their duty to God by enduring an hour of dry orthodoxy once a week, but where were their hearts? They may call this worship, but it is far from it. Jesus rebuked this kind of joyless legalism when He quoted the prophet Isaiah: “These people worship me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8; cf. Isaiah 29:13). Going through the motions of honoring God while secretly wishing the time away is not worship at all. He takes no pleasure in our joyless offerings (2 Corinthians 9:7).

4. Tradition. Man-made tradition has been the bane of true worship since before Jesus walked the earth. He rebuked it then, and He rebukes it now (Mark 7:7–8; Colossians 2:8). What we sometimes call “worship” is nothing more than a feel-good exercise filled with comfortable practices handed down to us from our parents and grandparents. Many people consider themselves part of a certain religious group simply because that is how they were raised. They never think to question the unbiblical traditions, rites, or exercises this church adheres to because the practices are so familiar. Many times these extra-biblical practices actually contradict scriptural truths but are excused because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Any worship style can be unbiblical if it is not coming from the heart. The Samaritan woman asked Jesus a technicality about worship, and His answer is one we must all follow. He said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). When we are exalting the truth of Scripture, when we are personally losing ourselves in the adoration of God, we can engage in true worship whether in a crowded cathedral or alone in the desert. When our lives are dedicated to honoring God in all we do, we are living a lifestyle of true biblical worship.