How broad is the biblical concept of worship? And how accurate is your perception of it? Worship is to the Christian life what the engine is to a car. It is the most essential element.
Worship cannot be isolated or relegated to just one place, time, or segment of our lives. We cannot verbally thank and praise God while living lives of selfishness and carnality. That kind of effort at worship is a perversion. Real acts of worship must be the overflow of a perpetually worshiping life.
In Psalm 45:1, David says, “My heart overflows with a good theme.” The Hebrew word for “overflow” means “to boil over,” and in a sense that is what praise actually is. The heart is so warmed by righteousness and love that, figuratively, it reaches the boiling point. Praise is the boiling over of a hot heart. It is reminiscent of what the disciples experienced on the road to Emmaus: “Were not our hearts burning within us…” (Luke 24:32). As God warms the heart with righteousness and love, the resulting life of praise that bubbles up and overflows is the truest expression of worship.
What Is Worship?
Here is a simple definition: Worship is honor and adoration directed to God. We need to start with no more detailed definition than that. As we study the concept of worship from the Word of God, that definition will fill up with richness.
The New Testament uses several words for worship. Two of them particularly are noteworthy: The first is proskuneō, a commonly used term that literally means “to kiss toward,” “to kiss the hand,” or “to bow down.” It is the word for worship used to signify humble adoration. The second word is latreuō, which suggests rendering honor, or paying homage.
Both terms carry the idea of giving, because worship is giving something to God. The Anglo-Saxon word from which we get our English word is weorthscipe, which is tied to the concept of worthiness. Worship is ascribing to God His worth, or stating and affirming His supreme value.
When we talk about worship, we are talking about something we give to God. Modern Christianity seems committed instead to the idea that God should be giving to us. Religious television sometimes seems relentlessly focused on getting things from God. He does give to us abundantly, but the essence of authentic faith and true worship is wrapped up in the honor and adoration that we render to God. That consuming, selfless desire to give to God is the defining element of all genuine worship. It begins with the giving first of ourselves, and then of our attitudes, and then of our possessions—until worship is a way of life.
Worship in Three Dimensions
A key adjective, often used in the New Testament to describe proper acts of worship, is the word acceptable. Every worshiper seeks to offer that which is acceptable, and at least three categories of acceptable worship are specified in Scripture.
The Outward Dimension
First, worship can be reflected in how we behave toward others. Romans 14:18 says, “He who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God.” What is this acceptable offering given to God? The context reveals that it is being sensitive to a weaker brother. Verse 13 says, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” In other words, when we treat fellow Christians with the proper kind of sensitivity, that is an acceptable act of worship. It honors God, who created and loves that person, and it reflects God’s compassion and care.
Romans 15:16 furthermore implies that evangelism is a form of acceptable worship. Paul writes that special grace was given to him “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable.” The Gentiles who were won to Jesus Christ by his ministry became an offering of worship to God. In addition, they who were won became worshipers themselves.
In Philippians 4:18, Paul thanks the Philippians for a gift of money to help him in his ministry: “I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” Here, acceptable worship is described as giving to those in need. That glorifies God by demonstrating His love.
So worship can be expressed by sharing love with fellow believers, sharing the gospel with unbelievers, and meeting the needs of people on a very physical level. We can sum it up in a single word: giving. Acceptable worship is a love that shares.
The Inward Dimension
A second category of worship involves our personal behavior. Ephesians 5:8–10 says, “Walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” The word “pleasing” is from a Greek word that means “acceptable.” In this context, he is referring to goodness, righteousness, and truth, saying clearly that to do good is an acceptable act of worship toward God.
Paul begins 1 Timothy 2 by urging Christians to pray for those in authority, in order that believers may live tranquil lives “in all godliness and dignity” (v. 2). Note carefully those final three words: “godliness and dignity.” Verse 3 goes on to say, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”
So sharing is an act of worship, and that is the effect of worship on others. Doing good is also an act of worship, and that has an effect in our own lives. There is one other relationship that is affected by our worship—our relationship with God.
The Upward Dimension.
This third category, which marvelously sums up worship, is described in Hebrews 13:15–16. Verse 15 says, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” As we look at worship in its Godward focus, we discover that its distilled essence is simply thanksgiving and praise. With verse 16, the passage brings together all three categories of worship: “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
Praising God, doing good, and sharing with others—all legitimate, scriptural acts of worship. That draws into the concept of worship every activity and relationship of human living. The implication is that just as the Scriptures are dedicated to the subject of worship from cover to cover, so the believer should be dedicated to the activity of worship, consumed with a desire to use every moment of his life to devote himself to doing good to all, sharing our blessings with our neighbors, and praising God, who is the source of all goodness and every blessing.
Next time, we’ll see how these three dimensions of worship should radically reorder our priorities.