What do you think of when you hear the word “worship?” Do you think of attending a Sunday church service? Do you think of the Israelites offering sacrifices at the Temple? Do you imagine David tending sheep while strumming his harp and singing? Just what is Biblical worship?
That simple question, “What is Biblical worship?” includes many other questions.
- What does the Bible say about worship?
- Is there a right or wrong way to worship?
- What does God expect of me when I worship?
- Where and when should I worship?
Let’s dig in and see what we can learn from God’s Word!
What is Worship According to the Dictionary?
I always like to start learning about Biblical terms by understanding the English word. Something as simple as looking up a word in a dictionary (or an online dictionary!) can help. Then, I look for synonyms, antonyms, and the root meaning of the word in English.
So, I turned to my trusty computer and discovered that, according to the Merriam-Webster website, worship is defined as, “to honor or show reverence for as a divine being” (verb) and “reverence offered a divine being” (noun).
Reverence is not a commonly used word, so I looked it up as well. Reverence comes from the word “revere” which means “to regard as worthy of great honor.” Because “honor” shows up in the definitions of both worship and revere, I looked it up also. Honor (as a noun) means, “one whose worth brings respect.”
Moving on from definitions, I found:
- Synonyms for worship include adore, deify, exalt, glorify, revere, reverence.
- Antonyms for worship include blame, criticize, despise, disregard, and scorn.
- The root of “worship” comes from the old English word “worthship.” It means to describe the worthiness of an object or person.
Given all this information, I came up with a first rough definition.
Biblical worship is an act of exalting God to a place of honor and reverence because He is worthy.
What is Worship According to the Bible?
The Bible contains almost 200 verses that include a form of the word “worship.” Many of these verses are of condemnation for worshipping idols. But many also record acts of worship towards God as well as God’s pleasure at holy worship.
Of course, we know that the Bible wasn’t written in English. Therefore, it helps to find out what words are translated as worship, and how Bible scholars define those original words. I won’t go into the details, but from using the tools available on www.biblestudytools.com, I learned the following:
- Worship often means falling on the knees or face as an expression of reverence.
- Worship often preceded supplication which is the asking of favors or blessings.
- Worship was often a public display of honor or worth, although it could also be a private expression of faith.
- Worship means to acknowledge another’s superiority or importance.
- In the Old Testament, one of the words translated “worship” was more frequently translated as serving, working for, or being the slave of another.
Let’s look at the first definition I came up with and see how it might need to be changed.
I wrote: Biblical worship is an act of exalting God to a place of honor and reverence because He is worthy.
I think that’s a good start. But I also think that it doesn’t capture the entire picture of Biblical worship. It doesn’t contain the ideas of serving, of publicly proclaiming honor or worth, or of displaying worship physically (on knees or face).
Adding these ideas to the original definition, I came up with this:
Biblical worship is an act of exalting God in a place of honor and reverence because He is worthy. Worship is acknowledging the greatness of God both publicly and privately. Whether public or private, worship may include physical expressions of praise, reverence, and humility. Worship admits that God deserves all our devotion and service because He is so far greater than anyone or anything else.
Now that we know a bit about what worship is, let’s look at some of the other questions.
What does the Bible say about worship?
The Bible has plenty to say about both true worship and false worship.
- Abraham’s worship involved obedience and sacrifice (Genesis 22).
- Abraham’s servant worshipped in response to God’s guidance and answered prayer (Genesis 24).
- Worship of the Lord was frequently commanded (Exodus 3:12; 12:31; 24:1; Deuteronomy 6:13; 1 Chronicles 16:29; Luke 4:8).
- False worship is even more frequently condemned (Deuteronomy 8:19; 1 Kings 9:6-9; 2 Kings 17:16-20; Jeremiah 1:16; Ezekiel 23:49; Romans 1:18-32).
- Worship of idols was forbidden in the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:1-6).
Is there a right or wrong way to worship?
While there is no one “right” way to worship, we can learn about various parts of worship from the examples and instruction in the Bible.
- Worship can only come from a heart cleansed from sin (Nehemiah 9:1-3).
- Hearing the Word of God can prompt worship (Nehemiah 8:1-8).
- Worship often involves sacrifice (1 Samuel 1:3; Romans 12:1).
- Worship is rooted in the fear of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:13; Revelation 14:7)
- Worship is to be “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
What does God expect of me when I worship?
From the verses above we know God expects confession of sin and the fear of the Lord, at a minimum. However, depending on the place (public or private) some other elements were often included in worship. The following were all used in the public worship described in 2 Chronicles 29 when King Hezekiah restored worship to the Temple.
- Sacrifice for sins
- Musical instruments
- Bowing to the Lord
- Praises expressed with joy
- Psalms (the “words of David” – verse 30)
Where and when should I worship?
Since worship can be both public and private, anyone can worship the Lord anywhere. Just don’t use your freedom as an excuse to not attend church (Hebrews 10:23-25). Worship can be done
- In church
- At home
- In your “prayer closet”
- During your commute
- While hiking
- In the gym
- While serving at a homeless ministry
- While doing laundry
- When listening to a podcast
- With your family
- With two or three friends
- At a meeting of thousands
- Anywhere, anytime, with anyone
For Further Study
There is plenty more to learn about worship from the Bible. I will share a few passages to study just below, but first – one last thing to consider.
True believers worship God because of who He is. In John 4, Jesus said the Father desires to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. No-one can truly worship the Lord unless the person knows the truth about who God is. And that knowledge only comes from the Bible.
If you feel that worship needs a boost in your life, I urge you to study who God is. Study His nature, His character, His attributes. As you learn more of the truth about who God is, your response should naturally lead you to deeper and more frequent worship.
To help you know God better, I have created a free printable on the Attributes of God. You can find it in the Resource Library!
To know God is to worship Him.
Passages for further study:
- 2 Chronicles 6 – 7
- 2 Chronicles 29
- Psalm 66:1-4
- Psalm 86:8-10
- Psalm 95:1-7
- Revelation 4:1-11
A Psalm of Worship: Psalm 96
Sing to the Lord a new song;
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name;
Bring an offering and come into His courts.
Worship the Lord in holy attire;
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved;
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
Before the Lord, for He is coming,
For He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
And the peoples in His faithfulness.