Christian Worship

INTRODUCTION

What is Christian worship?  We hear this word frequently in church, usually part of the term “Praise and Worship.”  However, do we really know and understand true Christian worship?  Apart from the cliché’s and church slang, can we really explain to someone what Christian worship is?  This study is going to look at the concept and practice of Christian worship.  We will examine the early church’s conception and practice of worship and insight from the Old Testament scriptures (the Hebrew Bible).

I hope that this study will give you a better understanding of true Christian worship.

worship defined

What does the word worship mean?  The following are standard definitions of the word “worship” taken from Bible dictionaries.

  1. The expression of one’s devotion and allegiance pledged to God (deity)
  2. Religious rituals which salute, revere, or praise a deity
  3. Human response to the perceived presence of the divine

The Bible also gives us other insights into worship. First, the English word worship originates from an Old English word, “worthship,” which was a word that denoted the worthiness of the one receiving the special honor or devotion.

Sometimes, the word “prostrate” indicates an act of worship.  One would prostrate oneself in response to the presence of God. Below are some illustrations.

Genesis 17:3 (NKJV) — Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying:

1 Kings 18:42 (NKJV) — So Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees,

Job 1:20 (NKJV) — Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped.

Mark 5:22 (NKJV) — And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet

John 11:32 (NKJV) — Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

The phrase “to bow down” is also used to denote an act of worship.  See Genesis 24:52 (compare this with Genesis 23:7; 27:29).

Worship is also associated with performing a sacred service or the offering of gifts.  See Acts 7:42; 24:14 for example.

For many people, worship is something we give to God.  However, worship is not really about what we do but rather a response to who God is.  True worship is a human response to God.

Likewise, we should be careful not to consider ritualistic activities as true worship.  In many church services, people are instructed when and how to worship God.  There is the praise and worship section of most church services. You are guided when to worship through song, by raising your hands, praying, etc. However, you may respond to God differently.

What would you do if you found yourself directly in God’s presence?  Would you begin to ask him about all of the mysteries that plague your mind or the problems you have? No.  You would probably do what the others have done in the Bible. You would drop in fear and worship.  Your response to his presence would likely be severe.

Scripture Lesson

Now let’s look at various scriptures that use “worship” to identify a particular concept or thought.

To prostrate oneself

Matthew 2:2 (NKJV) — saying, “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.”

In this scripture, the word “worship” comes from a Greek word that means prostrating oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore).  See also Matthew 4:9-10.  So the Magi (wise men) in this scripture wanted to pay homage to the King of the Jews.

 

Revere

Matthew 2:2 (NKJV) — saying, “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.”

In this scripture, the word “worship” comes from a Greek word that means to revere, adore, devout—religious.  See also Mark 7:7.  This verse gives an example of false worship.  The worship here was religious and not true worship, which we will define shortly.

 

Receiving dignity and praise

Luke 14:10 (NKJV) — But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.

At first glance, this appears to contradict our present knowledge about worship.  It seems that Jesus was condoning the worship of men.  However, we need to understand how the word “worship” was used in this verse, and then it will become clear.  The word “worship” here comes from a Greek word that means glory, dignity, honor, or praise.  Therefore, in that context, the use of worship in this verse is understandable.  It is OK for us to receive praise or dignity from others.

 

Pious towards

Acts 17:23 (NKJV) — for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:

In this verse, “worship” comes from a Greek word that means to be pious towards.  In this case, the Ephesians were pious towards an unknown God.

 

Worship of Idols

Acts 17:25 (NKJV) — Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.

Worship here means to wait upon menially, to relieve (of disease)-cure, heal.  This denotes the concept of idol gods that are formed by man’s hands.

 

Ceremonial observance

Colossians 2:18 (NKJV) — Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

Worship here means a ceremonial observance.  This scripture deals with the practice of some to revere angels as well as heavenly bodies in general.

 

Service

Acts 19:35 (NKJV) — And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus?

The word “worship” used in this verse means to sweep—a temple-servant.  By implication, it means a votary (consecrated by a vow or promise).

Christian worship is a response to the presence of God that is expressed in several ways.  Worship comes from the heart and is not something we merely give to God.

Practiced worship

How do we worship God?  Is there a set way that Christians are instructed to worship God?  Consider the typical church service.  Usually, the praise and worship leader or the minister leads the congregation to worship the Lord somewhere in the service.  Sometimes we are told to raise our hands, sing, etc.

New Testament Worship

Joy and thanksgiving because of God’s gracious redemption in Christ characterized New Testament worship.  Therefore, the early Christian’s worship focused on the saving work of Jesus Christ.  Also, true worship occurred under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  See John 4:23-24 and Philippians 3:3.  Our worship of God is something that is done apart from, but not excluding, outward activity.  We worship God in spirit because God is Spirit.  True worship, therefore, comes from within our very souls and expresses itself outwardly in various ways.

The Worship Service

Historically, the Christian worship service was for celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ and was held on the first day of the week (See Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2).

Christian worship services were first held in private homes and possibly in synagogues as well.  The New Testament does not give specific instructions on conducting a Christian worship service.  However, there are certain common elements in the early church’s worship service.  These are listed below.

  • Prayer—prayer seemed to have had a leading place in the worship service
  • Praise—either individually or collectively by hymns sung together
  • Bible lessons—probably the focus was on the messianic prophecies about Christ. Bible lessons also included the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Please understand that the early church did not have a New Testament Bible as we do today.  Most of their scriptures were the scriptures in the Hebrew Bible and then the epistles.  The canon as we know it was not entirely developed until hundreds of years later.
  • Prophecy—inspired preaching by one filled with the Holy Spirit. See Ephesians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 12:28.
  • Collection of Contributions—Money, property, and other items were collected to help the poor and assist those in need. Since the first Christians were Jews, some were ostracized by their Jewish communities and found it hard to acquire items for daily sustenance.

Historically worship was not associated with Christian church meetings.  This should be more understandable given our understanding of what worship is.  The early Christians came together for edification by reading the scriptures, praying, and fellowship.  Worship was and is something that we do when we come face to face with God.

Consider the following scriptures, which are some references in the Bible regarding early Christian church meetings.

  • Acts 2:42, 46
  • 1 Corinthians 14:26
  • Ephesians 5:19-20
  • Colossians 3:16
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

These meetings were gatherings of Christians who desired to fellowship together and celebrate the works of Jesus Christ, especially his resurrection.

Divine Presence

The awareness of divine presence is essential for Christian worship.  Jesus promised that he would be with two or three that came together in his name (Matthew 18:20).  So the heart of Christian worship is the power of Christ’s presence in a gathered community of disciples.  See John 14:12-14; Acts 2:43-47, 4:9-12, 32-37; 1 Corinthians 5:3-4; Revelation 2:1.

Therefore, true Christian worship must be in the presence of God (Christ).  Without this presence, our worship is no more than physical activities.  We can also see here how vital personal experience of God’s presence is in corporate worship.  Each person experiences the loving presence of God and responds by worshipping God (honoring, adoring, and reverencing).  The actual activities used to do this vary.

Also, keep in mind that worshipping God could involve service to him.  Remember that worship is also to honor and revere him.  Therefore, we can honor God in many ways. Service is one way to do it, such as ushering, ministering, evangelism, being a doctor, store owner, helper, police officer, or whatever God has inspired you to do.  Our worship is all about God and our response to him.

Conclusion

True Christian worship comes from the heart and is a response to the presence of God. That response may manifest in several ways. True Christian worship is always personal, even though we may worship together in a church gathering, for example.

Above all else, we should understand that true Christian worship comes from within.  First, there must be knowledge of God and an awareness of his presence (See Proverbs 3:4-5).  There must also be reverence, honor, adoration, and love for God.  We worship God because of who he is.

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