About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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The Meaning Of Worship


Even though mankind worshipped in one form or another long before Abraham's day, the first mention of the word "worship" in most English Bibles appears in Genesis 22:5.  In response to God's command, and as an act of worship as the text states, Abraham offered his son Isaac as a burnt offering unto God.  In response to Abraham's act of worship God rescued Isaac and returned him to Abraham, not just for Abraham's sake, but for His own sake.  Isaac would be used as an instrument in the hands of God to accomplish His will on earth.  I believe this historic event is not only the template for all subsequent acts of worship, it defines Biblical worship to be the act of offering something of one's self to God that He can use to accomplish His will on earth. 


The Hebrew word "shakah" is translated as "worship" in Genesis 22:5 and elsewhere in the Old Testament.  "Shakah" means, "to bow, to sink, or to prostrate."  Abraham bowed his will to God as an act of worship.  The Psalmist, in Psalm 95:6, associated bowing down before the Lord as worship.  God, in Exodus 23:24, prohibits Israelis to bow down and worship other gods.  Bowing down before the Lord is an act of submissive obedience which is the stance we take when offering anything to the Lord as an act of worship.  


Worship was codified into the Law of Moses as seen in the Ten Commandments.  Israelis were to worship God and not bow down to other gods (Exodus 20:5).  Sacrificial offerings of various kinds were instituted as acts of worship (Joshua 22:27, 1 Samuel 1:3).  In response to these offerings of worship God could use Israelis to help accomplish His will on earth.


Other Old Testament passages tell us that worship is to be joyful (Psalm 100:2), from the heart, and not just from the lips (Isaiah 29:13).  Worship is to be offered in the presence of the Lord (Ezekiel 46:9) and as an act of obedience to God (Daniel 7:27). 


Daniel exemplified worship when he refused to bow down and worship the king's image.  Instead, he offered himself as a burnt offering in the furnace of fire.  As with Abraham's offering of Isaac, God rescued Daniel's life and returned it to him so he could serve God as an instrument in accomplishing God's will on earth. 


We now turn to the New Testament to see if it alters the meaning of worship.  The first mention of worship in the New Testament is found in Matthew 2:2 where the Magi worshipped the baby Jesus by offering Him gifts.  The next mention of worship comes from the lips of satan when he suggested that Jesus should bow down and worship him (Matthew 4:10).  In Matthew 15:9 Jesus echoed Isaiah 29:13 when He condemned the Pharisees because their worship was routine, traditional, hypocritical, and a matter of their mouths and not their hearts.


Jesus made an important contribution to the meaning of worship when He said that we must worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24).  Worshipping in spirit and according to God's truth introduces a New Testament element to worship.  There is no legitimate worship of God apart from the Holy Spirit's involvement.  There is no legitimate worship of God outside the boundary of Biblical truth.     


In Romans 12:1 Paul admonished us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.  This is language of worship and that's probably why the NIV states that the offering of our bodies "is true and proper worship."  Although the NIV uses the word "worship" to describe the offering of our bodies, the Greek word "proskyneo" that is translated as worship in the New Testament does not appear in the Greek text.  Instead, the Greek word "latreia", meaning, "service" is what the NIV translates as "worship".  Paul's point is simple.  When we offer our bodies as living sacrifices in worship to the Lord, we're offering our services to help accomplish His will on earth. 


In Hebrews 12:28 we are told to worship God in reverent awe, or fear, because He is a consuming fire.  If we really understood God to be the all-consuming fire that would bring judgment to the world, it would revolutionize all aspects of our worship.  We'd bow before Him and as an act of unadulterated worship offer what we have and who we are as instruments in accomplishing His will on earth.  


The second last command recorded in the Bible is found in Revelation 22:9.  After bowing before an angel John was told to worship God, not the angel.  So, from Genesis to Revelation, we see what worship is and what it isn't.  I conclude that if our worship is not offered in accordance with the Holy Spirit and Biblical truth, and, if it's not from a joyful heart, it's not worship.  If our worship is self gratifying, routine, traditional, hypocritical, and merely lip service, it's not worship.  If our worship is not suitable in serving God's will on earth, it's not worship.  With this in mind, much of what we call worship isn't worship.  There might not be anything inherently wrong with it.  It may be entertaining, pleasurable, beneficial, and even a blessing from God, but it's not worship.  Biblical worship is an act of submissive obedience.  It involves the Holy Spirit and is performed within the boundaries of Biblical truth.  It's the offering of what we have and who we are as tools in the hands of the Lord to accomplish His will on earth.  


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